Day trips from Scottsdale are the best way to see the best Arizona has to offer. Scottsdale is an upscale, yet laid-back, desert oasis located next to Phoenix.
Phoenix is Arizona’s bustling capital and most populous city, with roots in ancient civilizations. It’s a city of high commerce and culture. But Scottsdale is where you go to relax, get pampered and see Southwest America’s natural treasures.
And to get there by plane, you should look for flights into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport–about 10-miles from downtown Scottsdale.
For a longer tour of this fascinating corner of the US, you could also fly into Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or even Flagstaff to take in their sights and attractions. If you need a rental car, you can easily reserve one at any of the above airports. Find a selection of cars, vans, or SUVs to suit your tastes and needs.
Go nuts and rent something fun. You’ll want to roll up to your Scottsdale hotel in something that makes you look and feel carefree. Speaking of hotels, Scottsdale is famous for its lavish resorts and spas. Or you could rent a villa or townhouse for a more intimate feel.
One of the best resorts in Scottsdale is the Mountain Shadows Resort. It has onsite dining, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and a lounge.
Guests gave overwhelmingly positive reviews about the service and amenities at this mid-century-themed property. They do have a lot of weddings on weekends, so be aware of groups in celebration mode! It’s rated 4.75 out of 5 on Google. It’s your vacation, so plan to leave your worries behind. And learn about all the exciting things you can do when you make beautiful Scottsdale your home base.
Best for Day Trips From Scottsdale to Sedona
In the desert and near Flagstaff sits an arts community filled with New Age shops and galleries. This community is called Sedona. Surrounded by red-walled canyons and forests of pine, with incredible weather all year round, Sedona is a delight to visit.
1. A Day in Sedona with Wine Tasting
Get picked up at your hotel for a tour through the Sonoran Desert and the Black Canyon Hills. Arrive in Sedona and see the highlights like Bell Rock Vista, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, and Uptown.
After lunch on your own, you’ll stop for wine tasting in Verde Valley. Then get dropped off back at your Scottsdale hotel. This tour is ideal for couples.
2. The Best of Sedona Day Trip
This is one of the best day trips from Scottsdale if you are traveling with family and prefer to take your vehicle or rental car to visit Sedona. Start early because there’s quite a bit to pack in. But if you’re feeling the pressure to do it all, then don’t. Pick the activities you love and leave the rest for next time.
Your first stop will be at Red Rock State Park because that’s the first place you’ll see as you drive in from Scottsdale. There are miles of hiking trails for any ability. You can ride your bike on some of them. Check with the Ranger Station first.
Your guide can also tell you about the rock formations, desert animals, and plants you’ll encounter on the tour. Back in town, browse the shops and boutiques of Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Then choose one of the amazing restaurants there for your lunch.
Afterward, visit the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross before your return to Scottsdale. If you have time and want to do some more hiking while you’re in Sedona, check out Cathedral Rock.
It’s a little strenuous, but the views at the top are worth the two hours it will take. If possible, start this hike early in the morning. You’ll avoid both the heat and the crowds that way.
Best for Day Trips From Scottsdale to Grand Canyon
Between Scottsdale and the Grand Canyon is a stretch of fascinating desert that truly makes the journey as magical as the destination. This makes a great day for families and couples.
3. Grand Canyon Day Tour from Scottsdale
One of the most classic Arizona day trips from Scottsdale takes you to the world’s largest, grandest canyon. Take an all-day guided small-group tour to the Grand Canyon starting with a pick-up in Scottsdale. Travel along the famous Route 66 and learn more about the Sonoran Desert and Coconino National Forest.
You’ll also get at least three hours inside Grand Canyon National Park where you can walk the rim and take all the photos you can manage. The Park entry fee is included. A private tour option is also available with boxed picnic lunch. Or choose the same-day tour but with an unforgettable helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
4. Self-driving Day Trip to the Grand Canyon
You can definitely drive yourself to the Grand Canyon. It will take you about four hours from Scottsdale to reach the South Rim. But once you get there, you’ll have the freedom to stay as long as you like. Start with the historic buildings in Grand Canyon Village.
Then stretch your legs with a hike or bike ride along Hermit Road. You can also take advantage of the free shuttle for stops at the major viewpoints.
Don’t miss the European elegance of El Tovar with a sumptuous meal in their dining room. You can make reservations up to 30 days out. It’s a highly popular place to dine but you can also try to go at an off-time and ask if a table is available.
Diners loved the French onion soup, steaks, and prime rib, but they have plenty of vegetarian items too. The El Tovar has a 4 out 5 stars Google rating.
See Related: Best Things to do in Las Vegas
Best for Day Trips From Scottsdale to Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon made from Navajo Sandstone that eroded over time from flash flooding. The mysterious and beautiful canyon is sacred to the Navajo people and is only accessible by a guide.
5. Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Day Tour
A personal tour of this magical section of the southwest desert is one of the easiest and best day trips from Scottsdale and will certainly be a memorable one. Get picked up in a private SUV or van for the four-hour drive to Page, Arizona.
Learn about the culture and history of the Americans native to Arizona, on a guided tour of sacred Antelope Canyon. Have lunch on Page (included). Then get an amazing view of Horseshoe Bend to cap your day.
This is a great tour for people looking for a bit of luxury desert style. Check out these top Page hotels if you are looking to stay the night.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Arizona
6. Tips for Visiting Antelope Canyon on Your Own
Antelope Canyon is one of the most memorable day trips from Scottsdale you can make, so you’ll want to save a day to do it. The canyon is 241 miles from Scottsdale. Upper Antelope Canyon’s famous light beams are best viewed in the middle of a summer day, from 11:00 am until 1:30 pm.
During that time, the sun is high overhead and shining directly down. It will also have to be cloudless. So with a little careful planning, you’ll get to experience this fantastic light phenomenon and have the photographs as proof.
Be aware that you’ll have to be patient if you want shots without other tourists in them. You must have a Navajo guide to take you through their sacred canyon that is on their land.
It’s not going to be a slow, lecturing tour, and your guide may seem to be rushing you. However, they want to push other folks through who have also paid to see this beautiful, glowing canyon.
Your guide will know the best places to get your pictures which you will have to take with your cell phone. No cameras or tripods are allowed in the canyon unless you can find (and be willing to pay big bucks for) a special photography tour.
There is also the Lower Antelope Canyon which does not have light beams. But it also shouldn’t be as crowded or as pricey to visit. The Lower Antelope Canyon still has wonderful sculpted red canyon walls and is much more peaceful.
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Best Day Trips to Get Active
Day trips from Scottsdale can be easily tailored for the adventurous in spirit. Check out these active options good for families and couples.
7. Hot Air Ballooning
Take your pick between a sunrise or sunset hot air balloon ride. Either one will have you drifting along in peaceful luxury over the desert.
You may even get to help inflate the balloon–a great photo opp. Once you’re in the air, get a whole new perspective of the surrounding desert and mountains.
After about an hour’s flight with your experienced and knowledgeable balloon pilot, touch down and enjoy a toast to your adventure.
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8. Apache Trail Small Group Tour with Canyon Lake Cruise
Explore the Sonoran Desert and Canyon Lake with a visit to Goldfield Ghost Town and Tortilla Flat on this full-day Apache Trail tour. The ghost town is your first stop on your drive through the desert. Goldfield Ghost Town replicates an 1890s mining town.
There are some cute things to do there like ride the narrow gauge train, gold-panning, and watch gunfights. You can also wander through the historical buildings and shops. Your second stop is at Tortilla Flat, an old stagecoach stop in Tonto National Forest.
Here, you’ll have lunch before continuing to Canyon Lake for a steamboat cruise. You’ll learn about stagecoach routes and another history of the area while scanning the banks and skies for desert wildlife Families with young kids and history buffs will love this fun day in the Old West.
See Related: Best Things to do in Sedona with Kids
9. Half-Day Sonoran Desert Mountain Bike Tour
Not all-day trips from Scottsdale have to be on four or more wheels. Take a private guided tour of the Sonoran Desert by mountain bike.
Get a close-up view of the desert landscape, flowers, and animals from the trail. This tour is good for families with older kids or couples who are moderately active.
Your certified guide will choose the most enjoyable trail based on your fitness level. Bike, safety gear, park fees, and a snack are included.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Phoenix
10. Half-Day Lower Salt River Rafting Tour
Families with kids of all ages will love paddling a raft on the Lower Salt River. It’s both scenic and relaxing on this Class I, super-easy-to-navigate river. Feel free to cool off anytime you feel like it with a dip in the refreshing water.
Otherwise, float and paddle as your guide points out features, plants, and helps you spot the wild horses roaming the banks. Bottled waters and snacks, all the rafting gear, Tonto National Forest entry fees, and round-trip transportation to and from Mesa are included.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Zion National Park
11. Lower Salt River Kayaking Tour
Located in the Sonoran Desert, the Lower Salt River gently flows with no rapids. This guided kayaking trip is another relaxed waterway day trip from Scottsdale, perfect for couples of all ages.
Just verdant riverbanks, red rock cliffs, wild horses, and majestic bald eagles. Get a different perspective on the desert on this paddle journey. Round-trip transportation to and from Mesa, bottled water, snacks, gear, and a Tonto National Forest entry fee is included.
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12. 3 Day Hiking Trip From Scottsdale, Arizona
For the ultimate adventure, a 3 day hiking trip from Scottsdale into the Grand Canyon will fulfill all your requirements. Hike along the Colorado River, the iconic Bright Angel trail, and Kaibab Trail.
The tour also includes a cross of the Colorado River by bridge and a visit to the famous Phantom Ranch–the only lodge below the rim. Phantom Ranch is only accessible by hiking in, mule ride, or Colorado River raft ride and is a special historic feature of Grand Canyon National Park.
Get picked up from your Scottsdale hotel for the drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim. You’ll hike the scenic 7 1/2 mile Kaibab Trail down to the canyon floor, 4,800 feet below. Your guide will point out the two billion years old rock layers on the way.
You’ll camp the first night under the stars at Bright Angel Campground. The campground is half a mile north of the Colorado River on Bright Angel Creek.
Phantom Ranch and Cantina is another half-mile walk and a good place for a cold beverage and a snack. Wake up early the next morning with some strong coffee and breakfast.
On this day you’ll hike the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden to set up camp and do some more hiking from your new base. End the evening with dinner watching the sunset and enjoying fantastic river views at Plateau Point.
The next day, hike back up to the rim. This will be the most strenuous part of the trip because it’s uphill and very steep. In Grand Canyon Village, you’ll have time for lunch and souvenir shopping before returning to Scottsdale.
All fees, backpacking and camping equipment, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and meal preparation are included. This incredible multi-day trip is great for families with older kids and couples. You’ll want to be in good physical condition for this epic tour.
The trails are dirt, but well-defined and maintained. They are steep and can get a lot of sunshine depending on the time of year. In the end, though, you’ll have lifelong memories of the time you hiked down and camped in the Grand Canyon.