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17 Awesome Day Trips from Scottsdale

17 Awesome Day Trips from Scottsdale

Within just a few hours from the Scottsdale area, national parks are waiting to be explored, forest trails beg to be hiked, and ancient ruins wait to be discovered. Day trips from Scottsdale showcase top-notch museums, incredible scenery, and lots of diversity in the array of things to do.

Here are 17 of our favorite day trips from Scottsdale, from the quick trips to day-long jaunts. Looking for stuff to do in town? Here are our favorite things to do in Scottsdale with kids.

17 of the Best Day Trips from Scottsdale

Quick Day Trips from Scottsdale (under an hour away)

Papago Park

day trips from Scottsdale are as close as papago Park
Papago Park | Photo Courtesy of Visit Phoenix, By

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 15 minutes

The picturesque Papago Park lies just outside of Scottsdale, with several family-friendly outdoor attractions in a beautiful Sonoran desert setting. Trails for mountain bikes and hikes wind between sandstone buttes, past fishing ponds and picnic tables, and through a variety of cactus.

The most famous trail here leads to the iconic “Hole-in-the-Rock.” After hiking a short .2 miles up the backside of the butte, look out over the park through a large viewing window carved overtime by wind. The best views are at sunset when the golden hour light reflects across the park.

If you are loving this desert flora and fauna, stop into the Desert Botanical Garden where over 50,000 desert plants are on display. The gorgeous gardens burst with color, especially in the springtime. Stroll through trails while learning about the vast variety of cactus, succulents, and desert wildflowers. 

Desert Botanical Garden
Photo by Desert Botanical Garden

The Cactus Kids Club at Desert Botanical Garden offers preschool and toddler programs, included with admission, that take place Saturday and Sunday mornings. The rest of the time, visit the The Cactus Clubhouse play space and seasonal butterfly exhibit to keep kids entertained. You can also pick up a kid’s trail guide and bingo game.

Another popular activity at Papago Park is the Phoenix Zoo. Exotic and local animals fill the 125-acre grounds. Families especially enjoy the free and low-cost animal encounters like the petting zoo, monkey village, sting ray and giraffe feeding, and camel rides. 

Love parks? Check out these 15 Best Parks in Phoenix.

Downtown Phoenix

Science Demonstration by Arizona Science Center
Photo by Arizona Science Center

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 30 minutes

Take a short day trip from Scottsdale to Downtown Phoenix, where you’ll find museums, culture, and tasty treats. The daytime vibe is family-friendly, with many events and attractions focused on kids. 

The one that kids love the best is The Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Step into your imagination while playing and learning. Explore a three-story climbing structure and wander through a pool noodle forest.

In addition to the regular children’s museum offerings like play stores and kitchens, at The Children’s Museum of Phoenix, kids can create their own forts, shoot scarves through pipes, and drive through a pedal powered car wash. Be sure to stop by the art studio to add a personal touch to the ongoing community art project plus create your own masterpieces to take home.

Walk across the street to the equally entertaining Arizona Science Center. The hands-on approach to learning scientific principles feels more like playing than learning. Check out the bed of nails, the weather simulation, and the human stomach slide. 

Rosson House museum in Phoenix
Rosson House Museum at Heritage Square, photo via Visit Phoenix, by An Pham

Heritage Square, located right between these great museums, is also fun to explore. Weekend events and festivals frequently happen here, like the Phoenix Flea.

At the Rosson House Museum, families can tour and learn about a restored 1895 Victorian home. And the award-winning Pizzeria Biano is a great place to eat artisanal pizza and handmade pasta.

While downtown, visit Margaret T. Hance Park. The fun Fiesta Bowl PLAY area features giant desert animals to climb around, a dragonfly teeter totter, and a seasonal splash pad. Older kids might enjoy checking out the koi fish in the Japanese Friendship Garden, or the Irish Cottage at the Irish Cultural Center.    

Keep exploring with our article, Top 10 Fun Things to do in Phoenix with Kids.

Apache Trail

The Apache Trail is one of the best day trips from Scottsdale
View from the Apache Trail, photo by Visit Phoenix

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 40 minutes

Arizona State Route 88, known as Apache Trail, winds into the Superstition Mountains, past lakes and desert vistas. This popular desert drive is worth traveling for the views, but to make it an even more exciting day trip, there are a few fun attractions to stop at along the way.

The first stop is Goldfield Ghost Town. Reconstructed buildings from the late 1800’s and weekend gun shows transport visitors to this town’s wild west mining roots. Goldfield is one of the best ghost towns in Arizona.

While here, take a ride on the Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad to hear about the history of the Superstition Mountains and Goldfield. You can also tour an underground mining tunnel, shop for old west souvenirs, and even ride an exciting zipline.

Continue your drive down the Apache Trail to Lost Dutchman State Park, one of the best state parks in Arizona. A hike around the 2.4-mile Treasure Loop Trail is a great way to experience the Superstition wilderness. Check in at the ranger station to earn a junior ranger badge and find out if there are any ranger programs going on.

Paddle boarding at Canyon Lake
Paddle boarding at Canyon Lake, photo by Starboard & Port

After the park, wind your way up to Canyon Lake. Boat and kayak rentals are available at the marina. Or let someone else drive the boat on Dolly’s Steamboat Lake Tours, where you’ll float past canyon fingers and may even spot some mountain goats on the cliffs. 

Just a few minutes past Canyon Lake is the tiny town (or stretch of buildings) known as Tortilla Flat. The saloon is a fun place to get lunch, with huge portions and fun decor.

Next door at the Country Store, try the Prickly Pear Gelato, or pick up some Prickly Pear BBQ Sauce to eat later. A small museum and artifacts show some of the history of the area. Make sure to check it out before moving on.

The rest of the Apache Trail is unpaved, and lately often closed due to fires and landslides. Continuing along this route leads to dramatic overlooks and ends at Roosevelt Lake. 

Saguaro Lake & the Salt River

Kayaking the Salt River
Kayaking the Salt River

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 45 minutes

When the weather is hot, there’s nothing better than getting out on the water. Saguaro Lake and the Salt River are some of the best day trips from Scottsdale in the spring and summer.

Saguaro Lake is a great place to take a boat out for some water skiing. Rentals are available at the marina. You could also bring your own kayak or paddleboard and launch from the Bagley Flat recreation area. 

Another lake activity is the Desert Belle tour boat cruise. On this cruise, a guide will teach you about the area as you explore the canyons and cliff sides from the water. They also offer on board snacks to purchase and live music cruises on the weekends.

Stewart Mountain Dam on Saguaro Lake
Stewart Mountain Dam on Saguaro Lake

The Stewart Mountain Dam separates Saguaro Lake from the Salt River. In the winter, the Salt River is more like a small stream. But from about April to October, this dam releases water to make the river accessible for recreation.

Grab a kayak, paddleboard, or tube to float down the scenic Salt River. Keep an eye out for the wild horses that live in the area, as well as river otters and bald eagles.

Wild Horses on the Sale River

We recommend booking a tour with Riverbound Sports who will handle the loading and unloading of your kayaks, plus shuttling you to and from the river and share great snacks and info along the way. On our April tour with Riverbound Sports we saw dozens of wild horses and two bald eagles. It was incredibly peacful and scenic the entire way.

A shuttle service and tube rentals are available through Salt River Tubing. If you have two drivers, you can also do the trip on your own.

Trekaroo Tip: The weekend crowd isn’t always family-friendly, so try to stick to weekdays if possible.

Find more to do in the area with our article 18 Best Things to do in Mesa with Kids.

Day Trips 1-2 Hours from Scottsdale 

Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant is a nice daytrip from Scottsdale
Lake Pleasant From Yavapai Trail looking Southeast, phot via Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Department

Driving distance from Scottsdale: one hour

About an hour away from Scottsdale is Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Although the lake is obviously the main draw, visitors to the 23,362 acre park can also enjoy hiking, wildlife viewing, and picnicking.

There are lots of different ways to explore the lake. Take a boat out on the water for some water skiing or fishing. Boat and equipment rentals are available at the marinas. Lake Pleasant offers some of the best inland scuba diving. Or just go for a swim at Coles Bay, Humbug Cove, or Fisherman’s Cove. 

burros drinking from Lake Pleasant
Burros Drinking from Lake Pleasant, photo by Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Department

When the weather’s nice, take a hike on one of the 16 trails at Lake Pleasant. The three-mile Yavapai Point Trail is a great trail to spot wildlife, such as the wild donkeys that roam the area, bald eagles, and even tarantulas. With little kids, try the easier Roadrunner Trail. 

As a regional park, Lake Pleasant hosts ranger programs, including guided hikes and presentations at the Discovery Center. The Discovery Center explains the history of Lake Pleasant, area wildlife, and the dam. You can also pick up a souvenir or snack from the shop here. 

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area,
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, photo by Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Department

Driving distance from Scottsdale: one hour

Towering rock outcroppings rise about 4,000 feet above the verdant valley floor at Spur Ranch Conservation Area. This area preserves 2,154 acres of land for conservation and limited recreation. Come here to see the lush riparian habitat, abundant wildlife, and unique native American ruins.

Mule deer, javelina, and coyotes call Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area home. The year-round, spring-fed stream is lined with abundant plant life, attracting over 80 species of birds as well. One of the region’s densest stands of saguaro cactus can also be found here.

Spur Cross Ranch
A Rainy Day at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation, photo by Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Department

Over seven miles of multi-use trails criss-cross this high desert region. With kids try Dragonfly Trail for an easy stroll past the creek. Another easy trail, the Fairy Duster Loop, circles the terrace about the Cottonwood Wash and offers beautiful views for the surrounding area.

Evidence of the Hohokam Indian civilization that lived here from 700-1200 A.D can be found at nearly 90 archaeological sites around the park. Keep an eye out for Hohokam petroglyphs. And be respectful of the area. The Hopi and Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian communities have both identified this area as a sacred place.


Mongollan Rim in Payson
Mogollon Rim, photo by the Arizona Office of Tourism

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 90 minutes

Escape to the small town of Payson in the Tonto National Forest. The cool, crisp air rejuvenates visitors to the Mogollon Rim area. Take a hike, enjoy the lakes, or just enjoy the small town feel. Payson is one of our favorite Arizona Mountain towns.

One of the best places to hike with kids in Payson is the Horton Creek Trail. Follow the old wagon road along the creekside, past sycamore, box elder, and cottonwood trees. In the fall, these trees take on a breathtaking golden hue. And in the spring, wildflowers bloom among the trees.

Another fun family hike is Water Wheel Falls. A sandy trail beside the East Verde River gives way to a rocky landscape with fun boulders to climb. Families who make it to the end of the trail can swim or even jump off the cliffs into the small swimming hole.

Water wheel falls in Arizona
Water Wheel Falls, photo by Travis Vaughn

Nearby, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park boasts the world’s largest known natural travertine bridge. Hike down underneath the bridge to see the misty waterfall that flows from above. You can even go through the tunnel the bridge creates and continue down the Anna Mae Trail along Pine Creek for a fun hike. It does get slippery under the bridge, so be careful.

Stop by one of the many lakes in the area to enjoy some fishing or water recreation. Woods Canyon Lake, one of the most popular, provides excellent trout fishing. Fish from the boulders surrounding the shoreline or bring a canoe or kayak to fish from the water.

In town, try some of the locally owned restaurants like the cowboy-themed Macky’s Grill. You can also tour the cabin of western author, Zane Grey and learn about Rim Country at the Rim Country Museum. If you visit in the spring, stay for the Payson Rodeo, or catch the pony express re-creation in February.

Camp Verde

Visiting Out of Africa is one of the best day trips from Scottsdale
Giraffe Kiss at Out of Africa in Campe Verde

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 90 minutes

Outdoor adventures, exciting historical sites, and wild animals all await visitors to Camp Verde. Take a day trip to the Verde Valley among scenic rivers and ancient ruins.

Get in touch with the surroundings by hiking one of the beautiful trails in the area. Copper Canyon Loop trail ascends a ridgeline offering excellent views before descending and crossing a dry riverbed. In the spring, take a side trip off the trail to see the seasonal waterfall.

Another way to experience Camp Verde is by floating down the Verde River. Travel past bright wildflowers and towering canyons, watching for wildlife along your route. Bring your own equipment or join a tour group like Verde River Adventures

Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle National Monument, photo by Christine C. Photographie; Courtesy of the Arizona Office of Tourism

Just north of town is the impressive Montezuma Castle National Monument. This is just a short stop, since you can’t actually enter the dwellings. Check out the visitor center, take the trail around the grounds, and earn your junior ranger badges before heading on.

At Fort Verde State Historic Park, learn about the US troops stationed here in 1870. Preserved buildings and artifacts teach about military life in the 1800’s. They occasionally host events and reenactments, so be sure to check the Fort Verde calendar before your visit.

Out of Africa

Probably the most fun thing to do in Camp Verde is Out of Africa Wildlife Park. Feed a tiger, kiss a giraffe, and watch a lion devour his meal at this interactive replica of an African Bush Safari. The presentations and interactive elements entertain and educate families about the animals housed here. 

Try to plan your visit during feeding time to see the frenzy of wolves, hyenas, and other wild animals eating. And be sure to go to the Tiger Splash show to see Bengal and Siberian tigers splash and play in a pool.


Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac, photo by the Arizona Office of Tourism

Driving distance from Scottsdale: two hours

The saguaro studded city of Tucson makes a great outdoor day trip from Scottsdale in the cooler months with desert hikes, a cute zoo, and even its own national park. In the summer, families still enjoy the indoor museums and scenic drives.

Start your visit with some instagramable pictures at Mission San Xavier del Bac. While here, take a guided tour and learn about the mission’s history. Afterward, climb up the nearby hill for nice views of the surrounding area.

Then head to Saguaro National Park and experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. The park is split into two sections on either side of Tucson.

On the east, drive around the Cactus Forest Loop taking in the unique scenery and stopping to explore trails and viewpoints along the route. My kids especially enjoy climbing the rocks at Javelina Rocks Overlook.

Check out our guide to exploring desert national parks.

Saguaro national park
Saguaro National Park, photo by of the Arizona Office of Tourism

On the west side, check out the petroglyphs of Signal Hill. You can also hike part of the Hugh Noriss Trail up the Tucson Mountain through the desert flora. The visitor center on this side has some fun, interactive exhibits, too. 

The expansive Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part natural history museum, part botanical garden, and part zoo. Climb through a simulated cave system and dig for dinosaur bones. Then meet some local animals before heading out on a desert trail. 

At the smaller Reid Park Zoo, guests can visit exotic and local animals housed along shaded paths. The impressive elephant habitat should not be missed. Check the daily schedule for Keeper Chats and animal presentations.

There are a few other museums worth visiting. The International Wildlife Museum displays taxidermied animals. At the Pima Air & Space Museum, families can climb inside old planes. And the Children’s Museum of Tucson provides a fun place for kids under 10 to play pretend.

Check out our article 10 Amazing Things to do in Tucson with Kids.


Prescott Courthouse plaza
Prescott Courthouse Plaza, photo by City of Prescott

Driving distance from Scottsdale: two hours

A great place to start your day trip to Prescott is the Prescott National Forest. Take a quick hike along the Thumb Butte Trail. After a climb up the ridge, the trees open to panoramic views of the Prescott area.

After the hike, wander downtown Prescott around Courthouse Square. The historic buildings now house candy shops, art galleries, and boutiques. Stop into The Palace on Whiskey Row for a family-friendly meal in the 1877 bar. 

Locals and visitors love to sprawl on the courthouse lawn. Grab a cold treat from Frozen Frannie’s, then relax with a book under the elm trees or watch the occasional street performers. Take a look at the painted historic timeline and historic well.

17 Awesome Day Trips from Scottsdale 1
Watson Lake, photo by Dave Veatch, Courtesy of City of Prescott

If you are interested in Prescott history, visit Sharlot Hall Museum. Educational exhibits tell the story of Prescsott’s past. While exploring historic homes, kids can complete a scavenger hunt and turn it in at the museum store for a prize.

Head over to Watson Lake to kayak between unique rock formations. Or try Lynx Lake for some water recreation in the pines. Seasonal rental kayaks and canoes are available onsite at both lakes. 


Jerome state historic park
Jerome State Historic Park

Driving distance from Scottsdale: two hours

The thriving, artistic community of Jerome is a great place to experience the mining history of Arizona. In the 1920’s, the workers toiled at the rich mines, and remnants of their lives still remain here in museums, restored buildings, and ruins.

The Jerome Historic Park inside the historic Douglas Mansion displays artifacts from Jerome’s mining days and explains the history of the town. Outside, enjoy views of the town and some old train cars. Kids can explore while completing a scavenger hunt. 

At the Gold King Mine & Ghost Town, explore old machinery and restored buildings. Then check out Aubrey Headframe Park where you can stand atop a 1918 mine shaft.

Gold king mine and ghost town
Gold King Mine & Ghost Town

Jerome’s main street blends new shops and restored buildings. Wander around to see ruins from the original town including Jerome’s sliding jail. A must-visit shop is Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes. The vast array of hand-crafted kaleidoscopes are fun to look through and admire.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park makes a fun, short side trip on your way back to Scottsdale. Explore the trails along the Verde River, or even take a kayak down it. There are also fishing lagoons and horseback riding on site.


verde canyon railroad is one of the best day trips from Scottsdale
Verde Canyon Railroad, photo by flickr/Mike McBey

Driving distance from Scottsdale: two hours

The main reason to take a day trip to Clarksdale is to take a ride on the historic Verde Canyon Railroad. A four-hour ride takes passengers through the verdant Verde Valley. The sparkling Verde River, ancient Sinagua ruins, and deep gorges pass by the windows offering a spectacular view along your journey. 

The highlight of the train ride is seeing the bald eagles nesting in the canyon walls. Kids also love driving through the 680-foot man made tunnel. Come during the holidays to experience The Magical Christmas Journey on the train.

Tuzigoot National Monument houses one of the best preserved Sinagua pueblos in Arizona. Stroll the short trail, viewing the ruins and learning about the Sinagua tribe from signage along the route. Stop by the visitor center to pick up a junior ranger packet and earn your badge.

Clarkdale offers two river access points, making it a great place to float the Verde River. Glide through the lush riparian area on your own or with a guide. Clarkdale Kayak Company provides sit-on-top kayak tours with shuttle service from Main Street.


Red Rock State Park
Red Rock State Park, photo by Arizona Office of Tourism

Driving distance from Scottsdale: two hours

Is Sedona worth the drive from Scottsdale? Absolutely! The famous red rock wonderland of Sedona is one of the most popular day trips from Scottsdale. The dramatic landscape and impressive hikes provide hours of family-friendly activities.

Join a Pink Jeep tour and explore Sedona’s off-road trails. Guides navigate the rough terrain while educating passengers about the geological history of the area. You can also take on the trails on your own if you have your own 4×4 vehicle. 

To explore by foot, hike one of the trails over the red rocks. Bell Rock provides opportunities for scrambling up the massive rock formations and breathtaking views. Another popular trail, Fay Canyon, winds along the creek through a forested canyon.

Slide Rock State Park
Slide Rock State Park, photo by Christopher Passero, Courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism

In the summer, cool off at Slide Rock State Park. Slip down the natural waterslide tucked inside a red rock canyon. There is plenty of room for cliff jumping and wading as well.

Save some time to pop into the art galleries and gift shops in the Tlaquepaque Arts District. Sedona Main Street also has cute shops and restaurants to try, as well as some beautiful sculptures and historic buildings.

Check out more Things to do in Sedona with Kids.

Long Day Trips from Scottsdale


Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument, photo by Flagstaff Covention and Visitors Bureau

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 2.5 hours

A day trip to Flagstaff is worth the drive. The historic Route 66 cuts through downtown Flagstaff. Wander around and feel the nostalgic vibes. Then visit Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, full of interactive exhibits and displays.

Did you know Pluto was discovered in Flagstaff at the Lowell Observatory? You can visit to learn all about it. While there, take the Spacial Walk through the Coconino National Forest or join a tour to learn about our solar system.

Flagstaff is home to three national monuments. Head to Sunset Crater National Monument to hike through a lava field and learn about the volcanoes that formed the San Francisco Peaks. Continue on to Wupatki National Monument where you can hike through ancient pueblos. 

Lowell Observatory
Lowell Observatory

At Walnut Canyon National Monument, 900-year old cliff dwellings line the canyon walls. Families can even go inside these ancient houses on the Island Trail. The views from the Rim Trail of the canyon and cliff dwellings below should not be missed.

In the winter, head to Flagstaff for some winter recreation, including skiing at Arizona Snowbowl. Lessons and rentals are available. You can also find spots for sledding in local parks.

Keep exploring with our article 15 Fun Things to do in Flagstaff with Kids.

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon day trip from Scottsdale
Grand Canyon National Park, photo by Arizona Office of Tourism

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 3.5 hours

Can you do a day trip to Grand Canyon from Scottsdale? Yes, but you will want to start your day early to make the most of your trip.

The vast gulf of the Grand Canyon entices over five million visitors every year. As a day trip from Scottsdale, visitors can experience much of the South Rim Grand Canyon as long as you get an early start.

Read our complete guide to visiting the Grand Canyon with kids.

Parking fills quickly in popular spots such as Grand Canyon Village, but other lots are available around the park. Leave your car at one and hop aboard the free shuttle that runs along the South Rim. Buses stop at major points of interest every 10-15 minutes.

Start at the visitor center to pick up your Junior Ranger packet, rent a bike, and see if one of the ranger-led programs fits into your schedule. Then start hiking along the Trail of Time taking in the views along the way.

Desert View tower in Grand Canyon
Sunset at Desert View, photo by Arizona Office of Tourism

The trail ends at Yavapai point and the Yavapai Geology Museum. This is a great place to learn about how the canyon was formed. And, like most stops at the Grand Canyon, there are great views.

Continuing along the rim leads to the Hopi House, a replica of a traditional pueblo. Take the shuttle to save time between stops and enjoy the view out the window.

The most popular place to watch the sunset is Desert View. Take in the golden light shimmering over the orange cliff sides before heading back to your car.

One quick way to make sure you get the best of the canyon is by helicopter. Although pricey, an awesome aerial view allows visitors to see more than you could see by foot on a day trip. 

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon, photo by Arizona Office of Tourism

Driving distance from Scottsdale: 4.5 hours

Hiking through the twisting red walls of Antelope Canyon is a surreal experience. To visit as a day trip from Scottdale, plan to leave before sunrise. The trip will take all day, but this bucket list item is worth it.

Antelope Canyon cannot be visited without a guide. Purchase your tickets well in advance to ensure your desired time slot and arrive 30 minutes before tour time. Tours are 90 minutes and wind through iconic sandstone while the guide gives a history of the area.

horseshoe bend in Arizona
Horseshoe Bend, photo by Arizona Office of Tourism

One must-do-stop along the way to Antelope Canyon is Horseshoe Bend. The insta-famous curve in the Colorado River makes a dazzling photo backdrop. Hike an easy .6-mile trail to the fenced viewpoint. Beware, there is an unfenced area and a 1,000 foot drop off, so keep an eye on the kids.

If you have the time and energy, stop at a Navajo Nation trading post along your route. Check out their crafts and buy some authentic Navajo souvenirs. You may find woven baskets, kachina dolls, or fancy beadwork.  

Trekaroo Tip: At four and a half hours away, a day trip to Page would be a pretty long day. Consider extending your trip to a weekend getaway.

Tiffany Vaughn