Arizona is a large state—New England would easily fit within its borders—and its rich geological treasures are unmatched. We’re the Grand Canyon State, after all. So narrowing a top 5 list of day trips is no easy feat. Fortunately, Scottsdale makes an excellent home base from which to explore some of the state’s most notable natural attractions and historic sights. Within two-hour drive, you could be hiking the red rocks of Sedona, skiing in Flagstaff, exploring the ancient Native American ruins of Casa Grande or wandering the old mining town of Jerome. (The Grand Canyon is about a four-drive. The distance, its immense size and stature put it well beyond “day trip” status in my book.) Below are my personal favorites: unique Arizona spots that capture the state’s rich geological, historical and cultural treasures, from Old West towns and Native American treasures to an underground Grand Canyon.
Contrasting against a brilliant blue sky and evergreen pines, the red sandstone buttes of Sedona create one of the world’s most stunning landscapes. These variegated monoliths, carved by wind and rain, feature rounded formations, delicate spires and craggy outcroppings that defy gravity. Travelers come for the world-class outdoor recreation opportunities—and the luxury resorts, spas and golf courses.
Tombstone and Bisbee
These legendary boomtowns helped define the Old West. Visit Tombstone’s famous O.K. Corral, Bird Cage Saloon and graveyard, and learn why its dusty streets attracted some of the West’s most legendary gunslingers, including Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, who died here in 1822. Then, make the 30-minute drive to the mining town of Bisbee, which is now a charming arts community.
Deep under the desert floor in southeastern Arizona is the state’s most recent addition to a roster of superstar geological wonders: Kartchner Caverns. Discovered in 1974, the “living” cave is still forming, with dripping water creating the astonishing array of mineral formations, from multi-story stalactites and stalagmites to milky stone “pools.”
San Xavier del Bac Mission
Founded in 1692, the “white dove of the desert” is considered one of the finest mission cathedrals in the American Southwest. Its white-stucco exterior, twin colonial bell towers, rich Baroque entry and lavish interior are simply stunning. The cathedral, just south of Tucson, is situated on the Tohono O’odham’s San Xavier Indian Reservation, and a marketplace of food and craft stalls near the mission create a small square.
This five-story pueblo is of the best-preserved and most impressive cliff-side dwellings in North America. From about 1250 to the 1400s, the 20-room structure served as the home of the Sinagua people, who used the mud, stone, and wood-timbered rooms and balconies for sleeping, preparing food, weaving and storing goods.