If you’ve got an extra day or two to spare on your visit to Tucson, we’ve got some good news for you: there’s no better city to serve as your base for a multitude of Arizona adventures. Tucson’s convenient location makes exploring everything the Southwest has to offer—from its national parks, ghost towns, historical sites, and more—a breeze.
To help you decide what’s worth visiting, we’ve put together a list of the best day trips from Tucson. All of them are less than three hours away from the city, and they all offer a different perspective on this desert state.
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Roughly two hours away from Tucson, you’ll find Bisbee, the “Queen of the Copper Camps.” Many gold-rushers found their fortune in this mining and gold rush town, which is now a popular tourist destination for those looking for a small-town atmosphere where they can enjoy the arts, culture, and history.
Many mining towns in Arizona were abandoned after their heyday, but not Bisbee. The city made a concerted effort to make it attractive for tourism, and there are plenty of reasons to visit.
You can go on the Queen Mine Tour for a visit to the old mine, or head to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum to dive further into the fascinating history of this town. Or if you’re interested in the supernatural, the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour should be right up your alley.
Once you’ve had your fill of mines and ghosts, head over to the Old Bisbee Brewing Company to whet your whistle. You can also spend hours checking out the town’s numerous art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
If you need a break from the city and want to get in touch with nature, head to the Colossal Cave Mountain Park, located twenty miles south of Tucson. It’s a peaceful place to enjoy activities like horseback riding, biking, and hiking in the Sonoran Desert.
It’s also where you can descend into Colossal Cave, the area’s main attraction, for a welcome respite from the brutal Arizona sun. Anyone who has never been in a cave before will be in awe of the vast three-and-a-half miles of underground passages.
The caves may appear intimidating at first glance, but anyone can experience the half-mile long guided walk. No special gear is required to descend six stories into the caverns—just some walking shoes and a little bit of stamina.
Since there are so many activities that the whole family can enjoy on an excursion to Colossal Cave Mountain Park, you may just want to pitch a tent and turn your day trip into an overnighter.
Kitt Peak National Observatory
Anyone who loves the sky shouldn’t miss a visit to Kitt Peak National Observatory, which houses the most extensive collection of optical and radio telescopes in the world. It’s also a working research facility with a museum where you can go on a guided or self-guided tour during the day.
But what is perhaps the best part comes when the sun goes down, which is when you can view the constellations yourself. Reserve a telescope, as well as a spot in one of the Observatory’s programs, to learn more about the night skies.
Kitt Peak National Observatory is a unique outing for families, as well as anyone fascinated by astronomy. You can also take advantage of the excursion by making a stop at nearby Mission San Xavier del Bac.
Located just north of the Mexican border, the mining town of Ruby enjoyed a boom in the 1900s until it was abandoned in the 1930s. Today, it’s one of many ghost towns in Arizona, but it’s among the best-preserved and well worth a visit.
Brave the rough road that leads to the town to explore what’s left of the former largest mining camp in Arizona. There are about two-dozen buildings that remain in this deserted town, which you can explore at your leisure.
Chiricahua National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument is located in a rather remote area. You can find it 37 miles off State Highway 186, and visitors who make the journey are rewarded with views of mesmerizing rock structures, many of which balance perilously on top of one another.
You’ll also find mammoth stone columns, natural formations that look like humans have carved them. And aside from impressive formations, Chiricahua provides the perfect setting for activities like wildlife watching, horseback riding, and camping.
You can also hike in the area. From September to May, complimentary shuttles take guests from the Visitor’s Center to the area’s two major trailheads.
Arizona has excellent day trip options for wine lovers.
Located southeast of Tucson, the Sonoita/Elgin Wine Trail is full of vineyards to explore. We recommend booking a wine tour to take full advantage of the region.
Then there’s the Willcox Wine Trail, another popular option, which is located to the east of Tucson. It has plenty of vineyards where you can sample the local offerings.
Scottsdale is about two hours north of Tucson, and it makes for a pleasant day trip for both families and couples. The main attraction is Historic Old Town Scottsdale, which will keep you entertained with its countless art galleries and public art installations.
An excellent way to see the Old Town is by renting a bike and cruising the many bike routes. You’ll also find plenty of shopping, as well as delicious food that you can sample one of the city’s various food tours.
And of course, there are plenty of museums where art lovers can see the galleries we mentioned. If the weather’s too hot, spend a pleasant day inside any of these museums:
Saguaro National Park
A visit to Saguaro National Park provides an excellent opportunity to see the magnificent Saguaro cactus in all its splendor. And though the climate can be harsh, a trip to the area is an ideal chance to experience the magic of desert landscapes.
The National Park is split into two sections, Saguaro East and Saguaro West. Each one has its own visitor’s center, which at 20 and 15 miles from downtown Tucson respectively, are easily accessible.
Both areas are covered in cacti native to the state, and Saguaro East is part of the Rincon Mountains, where you can go on desert walks. Overall, the park has 165 miles of desert trails that are a mecca of sorts for hikers.
Visitors can also choose to do other popular activities like mountain biking, backcountry camping, and scenic drives.
Anthropology lovers will enjoy a visit to Dragoon, a sleepy town in the Texas Canyon, and home to the Amerind Museum. The museum houses an impressive collection of American Indian art and artifacts that are sure to delight archaeology lovers.
But the museum isn’t the only place to get close to the history of American Indians. They consider Texas Canyon a sacred site, and you can find petroglyphs and pictographs on the rocky buttes.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the scenic hikes the area has to offer, and bird lovers can find a variety of species here, too.
The town of Tubac was one of the first Spanish settlements in Arizona. It dates back to 1752, and at 45 minutes from Tucson, it makes for a fun and easy cultural visit.
The town’s slogan is “the place where art and history meet,” and that’s undoubtedly true. You can still see what’s left of the original Spanish forts and tour places like the 18thcentury Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.
Tubac also attracts shopping lovers, who come to find Southwestern-style treasures in the boutique shops. The town hosts several artistic events throughout the year that draw plenty of artists and art-lovers to the region.
Overall, Tubac is a colorful, fun place that you wouldn’t expect to find in the desert. History buffs and shoppers looking for Southwestern-style items are sure to find what they’re looking for in this town.
If you love everything to do with the Wild West, you shouldn’t miss a visit to Tombstone. About
75 minutes southeast of Tucson, the town became famous for gunfights and the rough-and-tumble Wild West characters that roamed its streets back in the day.
Tombstone was established in 1879, and though it lost a significant portion of its population and almost became a ghost town, it has since become a popular tourist destination. History lovers will appreciate a visit to Tombstone, which will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time to become a part of the Wild West.
Visitors typically flock to the OK Corral, the site of the famous shootout between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. You can take a ghost tour of the Bird Cage Theatre, or hop on the Tombstone Trolley that will show you all the noteworthy spots in town.
Tombstone is also a fun place to watch reenactments of gun battles, and make sure to stop at Boothill Graveyard.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Just 50 minutes from Tucson, you can visit Kartchner Caverns State Park, the site of one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites, which measures 21 feet 3 inches.
Explorers discovered the caverns in 1974, though they were closed to the public until the 1980s. Today, the state park remains a relatively untouched area that is a day trip from Tucson you shouldn’t miss.
You’ll be surprised to discover the seemingly endless stretches of cool caverns, where you can marvel at the massive stalactites. Guided tours are available so that visitors can learn all about the caves.
But the stalactites aren’t the area’s only attraction. Tourists can take advantage of the nearby hiking trails, as well as ample opportunities for wildlife viewing.
And if you just need a bit more time in Kartchner, the park has campgrounds and cabins available for those who want to make their trip an overnighter.
About 75 minutes from Tucson, Sierra Vista is an excellent destination to get some fresh air. Located at the base of Huachuca Mountains, the area boasts plenty of hiking and cycling trails, as well as opportunities for horseback riding.
Underground enthusiasts will want to discover the Sierra Vista’s many caves and caverns, while budding astronomers should head to Patterson Observatory to contemplate the stars. And when your stomach is rumbling, there are plenty of fantastic Mexican restaurants to try in town.
The capital of Arizona is two hours away from Tucson, and this sprawling metropolis is one of the biggest cities in the United States. Most people want to escape big cities, but sometimes the opposite is true. Phoenix makes for a fun day trip from slower-paced Tucson, but just be warned—the climate is even hotter here.
Head high up into the Santa Catalina Mountains to enjoy a respite from the heat in Tucson. Mount Lemmon has an average summer temperature around 30 degrees cooler than Tucson, and although it’s only an hour away, it feels much farther.
Though especially attractive in the hotter months, Mount Lemmon is an excellent recreational site year-round.
In summer, you can camp, fish, rock climb, or hike on one of the many trails. In winter, snow lovers congregate in the area to go skiing and snowboarding.
And if you love astronomy, the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory has year-round stargazing programs to bring you closer to the stars.
When you need a break from the desert, head to the refreshing oasis of Patagonia Lake.
What you’ll find here contrasts sharply with other areas in the region, which are arid and have a scorching climate. Instead, Patagonia Lake is a two-and-a-half-mile paradise where you can fish, lie on the beach, and do water sports.
Sweeping planes, picturesque desert landscapes, and historical mining towns are just a few of the things that await you outside of Tucson. Whether you want to find the best views of the night skies, escape the heat, or explore the great outdoors, you won’t have to go far to find what you’re looking for.