Road-tripping from Phoenix? Here are 6 destinations to set your sights on
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With its dry, sunny weather and picturesque surroundings, Phoenix, Arizona, is a popular year-round destination with plenty of fun attractions. But for travelers eager to get out of the capital, there are also many great routes within driving distance of the Valley of the Sun.
You can explore the surrounding trails, incredible natural landscapes and smaller cities just beyond Phoenix, which offer iconic views and plenty of history — if you’re anything like me, learning the backstory of a destination is an important part of any trip.
Whether you just want to discover a new favorite destination, or you spent way more time inside than usual this past year and are itching for a scenic escape, here are six of our favorite road trip destinations for a day trip or weekend getaway from Phoenix.
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Gold Canyon, Arizona
Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour
What to do in Gold Canyon
If you’re interested in getting some exercise while discovering the region’s history, head to the Hieroglyphic Trail. This moderate 1.5-mile trail is located in the Superstition Mountains and leads to a steep valley where you can take in sweeping views of the landscape as well as ancient petroglyphs from Hohokam natives who called the region home about 1,500 years ago. With a 3-mile round-trip hike, you’re sure to meet your step goal for the day. Afterward, pop into Wahoo’s Restaurant and Bar located on Topaz Drive in Gold Canyon for beer-battered mushrooms and the namesake three-pound burger with house-made jalapeño cream cheese and bacon.
Where to stay in Gold Canyon
Gold Canyon has a few places to bed down, but one of our favorites is Gold Canyon Golf Resort & Spa. The hotel features two 18-hole golf courses, Dinosaur Mountain and Sidewinder, and offers beautiful views of the Superstition Mountains. Starting at $265 per night, you can easily relax and unwind here after a day of hiking and golfing — just be sure to book with a credit card that will help you maximize your travel purchases, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x).
Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours
What to do: Located northeast of Phoenix, this town is popular with hikers. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon or a long weekend thanks to its cool breweries (grab a pint at Lumberyard Brewing) and coffee shops (refuel at Kickstand Kafe). Travelers can also use Flagstaff as a comfortable overnight stop before venturing on to the Grand Canyon, which is only about 2 hours away.
Like Gold Canyon, Flagstaff is surrounded by trails. Head east to Walnut Canyon, with its sheer, vertical cliffs, to see endemic plants and animals, such as mountain firs, canyon wren and elk. It’s the perfect place to enjoy meaningful time outdoors if you’ve been working from home.
Where to stay: To get a taste of downtown Flagstaff, stay at the Hotel Monte Vista. Open since the mid-1920s, the Hotel Monte Vista is just off historic Route 66. Guests can grab a drink at the cocktail lounge, which was disguised during Prohibition as a newspaper publishing house. Room rates start at $100 per night.
If you’d prefer to book a stay with points, Marriott has four properties located right in Flagstaff — just be sure to compare the cash rates before emptying your points balance since rates start at $139.
Palm Springs, California
Distance from Phoenix: 4 hours
What to do in Palm Springs
Honestly, who doesn’t want to escape to California for a long weekend these days? Quirky Palm Springs is the perfect road trip destination for travelers seeking a sunny escape with excellent golfing, great food and stunning midcentury modern architecture. Tee up at the reopened Escena Golf Club, where you can also elbow up for California-fusion fare.
If golfing isn’t your thing, venture out to Cabazon Outlet Mall, a sprawling shopping paradise for travelers looking to snag a deal at shops ranging from Adidas to Columbia and Puma.
Where to stay in Palm Springs
Spend the night at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel, where rates start at 60,000 IHG points or less than $200 per night. Guests will enjoy spaces filled with midcentury furnishings, though the rooftop pool is the property’s crown jewel.
For Marriott loyalists, the Triada Palm Springs, an Autograph Collection property, has a central location and rates from $275 or 40,000 points on off-peak nights. Just beyond Palm Springs, the clifftop Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage will set you back 50,000 points on off-peak nights. Cash rates can drop as low as $250 but can exceed $600 per night.
San Tan Valley, Arizona
Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour
What to do in San Tan Valley
For a family-friendly adventure, visit Schnepf Farms, an organic farm where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. With 300 acres, Schnepf Farms is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and naturally grown, pesticide-free produce (peppers, cucumbers, kale and green onions, among others). They are especially known for their peaches, and picking season is usually in May.
If you’re into clean eating, check out the Queen Creek Olive Mill. You can tour the grounds and learn how to make extra virgin olive oil, the best uses for it in the kitchen and why it’s so healthy.
San Tan Valley also has incredible trails and peaks to explore, including the Goldmine Trail. The trail is relatively steep and takes you to the highest point in San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Goldmine Mountain.
Where to stay in San Tan Valley
Schnepf Farms has several RVs and Airstreams available for rent for travelers in search of a weekend glamping trip. Some of the rentals come with outdoor seating and uninterrupted mountain views. Most rentals start at $198 a night and you can’t beat the location.
Coyote Buttes North, Utah-Arizona border
Distance from Phoenix: 5.5 hours
What to do in Coyote Buttes North
Though quite north of Phoenix, this stunning area is worth the drive — and a far cry from your home office. Visitors will be drawn to The Wave, a natural phenomenon in the Coyote Buttes North area along the Utah and Arizona border. This copper-and-tan-banded rock formation attracts photographers from around the globe.
Expect a six-mile round-trip hike to and from The Wave. You can hike there with a guide, but if you plan to navigate the trail on your own, a map and compass or GPS is recommended. Only a certain number of permits are available each day to hike to The Wave, so it’s important to plan in advance.
Related: 8 survival tips for wilderness hikes
You can also explore around Kanab, Utah, while you’re in the area. As the name implies, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park features vibrant sand dunes that are known to move as much as 50 feet per year, so even if you’ve been before, the view will be slightly different every time you return.
Related: The best U.S. state parks
Where to stay in Coyote Buttes North
The Grand Circle Bed and Breakfast is a charming place to stay with easy access to beautiful trails in the area. Rates start at $105. This is just one of multiple hotels in the Canyon Collections group. Others include the Canyons Boutique Hotel and Canyons Lodge and Quail Park Lodge, among others. There’s also a Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Kanab for IHG loyalists. Rates start at $113 and IHG members can redeem a reward night for 30,000 points.
Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours
What to do in Tucson
The West is full of beautiful national parks, but one of the most iconic symbols of the West is the cactus — and Saguaro National Park is full of them. Declared a National Monument in 1933 by Herbert Hoover, the park has a long history. Learn about cacti in the gardens on the east and west sides of the visitor center and take in beautiful sunsets on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (a half-mile hike) from the Javelina Rocks pullout on the east or from the Gates Pass on the west side. Hit up Sonoran Dogs for bacon-wrapped franks or The Neighborhood for their award-winning Michelada.
Where to stay in Tucson
Camping at the Saguaro National Park is an option but plan ahead because it’s first come, first served. The campsites are not accessible by vehicles, so visitors must hike there. Camping permits start at $8 per campsite per night.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more upscale, stay at the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa, located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. With views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, this Westin property has an ideal location with even better views. For a standard room, Marriott Bonvoy members would need 30,000 points per night during off-peak dates, and cash rates may be an even better value, starting as low as $105.
Related: The best hotel credit cards for 2021
Featured photo by Dusty Pixel Photography/Getty Images
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