Six Great Day Trips From Tucson, Arizona

Six Great Day Trips From Tucson

There is a lot to see and do in southern Arizona!  While researching this area, we came across several places to visit on easy day trips from Tucson.  We had a great time exploring many places while basing in Tucson.  Below, we share six awesome day trips from Tucson!

First, a little about Tucson, Arizona

Tucson is located in southern Arizona, about 50 miles from the Mexican border.  It has a desert climate with mild winters and hot summers.  Tucson is known as one of the sunniest cities in the United States!

Located in the Sonoran Desert, there are some amazing flora and fauna here, such as the giant Saguaro cactus, organ pipe cactus, prickly pear, and more.  As for animals, the Sonoran Desert is home to javelinas, coyote, rattlesnakes, and scorpions.  Such a unique place, but always watch your step here!

Tucson’s culture is a blend of Mexican, Spanish, and western influence.  Enjoy tasty Mexican food, take in the beautiful Spanish architecture, and visit old west towns while here. 

Where we stayed

We had an Airbnb during our time in Tucson and it was fabulous.  It comfortably fit the ten of us with 5 bedrooms, a hot tub, swimming pool, and kitchen plus washer and dryer.  When traveling with a group, we usually prefer Airbnbs so we can comfortably spread out, have common areas to hang out together, and be able to cook and do laundry.

When we went

We traveled to Tucson shortly after Christmas and stayed through New Years. 

Mornings in the desert are cold in the winter, with temperatures increasing throughout the day.  During our visit, it was in the 30s in the morning we visited the park at sunrise.  Brr!  Temperatures increased throughout the day and were generally in the 60s to low 70s during our visit in late December.  These temperatures were great for hiking and exploring!  We highly recommend a visit here in the winter months as the summer months are extremely hot.

Now for the list of great places to visit while in Tucson:

1. Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is known for being one of the most famous towns of the wild west.  In fact its nickname was “The town too tough to die”.  One of the most famous gunfights took place here at the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp fought it out against Doc Holliday.  

Tombstone, Arizona

Silver mining is what put Tombstone on the map with prospectors and homesteaders heading to Tombstone to get a piece of the silver pie.  In the 1800s, it was the second largest city in the United States after San Francisco!  

The Bird Cage Theatre was known to be the wildest place in town!   During Tombstone’s heyday, it was a theatre as well as a saloon, brothel, and poker hall, where it is said the longest poker game in history took place.  When The Bird Cage Theatre reopened in 1934, it was found just as it was left when it closed in the 1880s.  Today, it stands as a look back into Tombstone’s colorful past.  Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is another historic saloon in Tombstone.  Nowadays, guests can immerse themselves in an old west saloon experience with period-dressed staff, authentic wood floors, live music and more!

Big Nose Kate’s Saloon

While here, watch reenactments of gunfights and bar fights, dine at the Crystal Saloon, and take a carriage ride through the streets.  The town still looks like it did in the 1800s, even though a bit touristy nowadays.  

Watching a gunfight reenactment

Take a carriage ride through Tombstone

Note that most everything incurs an additional fee, such as the reenactments (bar fights and gun fights), carriage rides, and even visiting the O.K. Corral.  Kids will find Tombstone especially fun, although even our teens enjoyed themselves.  It is a bit kitchy but really well preserved and we loved the fact that it is actually a historical town, not a recreation.

2.  Tubac, Arizona

A friend recommended this artists’ enclave located about 50 miles south of Tucson.  It is also located about 24 miles from the Mexican border, so there is a lot of Mexican influence here.  

We loved roaming the shops and galleries and came home with some hand-made decor. 

We dined at Shelby’s Bistro for lunch, which was fine, but really enjoyed having drink at the bar in the incredible Elvira’s.

Inside of Elvira’s

3.  San Xavier Del Bac Mission

San Xavier Del Bac was founded in 1692 as a Catholic Mission.  This National Historic Landmark is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  To this day, it continues to serve the needs of local parishioners.  Located about 10 miles south of Tucson, it is an easy day trip, or great place to stop on the way to Tubac.

Like an oasis rising out of the desert landscape, the Xavier Del Bac is known a the “white dove” for its appearance against the desert backdrop. 

It is a relatively small yet beautiful Catholic church.  Some have likened the interior to the Sistine Chapel due to it’s intricate and colorful frescoes.  While we think that is a bit of a stretch, it is still stunningly beautiful. 

The stunning interior

We also climbed Grotto Hill, next to the mission, for a bird’s eye view. 

The view from Grotto Hil

The hill houses a shrine as well as a white cross on the very top. 

The shrine located on Grotto Hill

We ended our time here with some frybread, cooked fresh in the parking lot.

4.  Sabino Canyon

My favorite hiking experience in the area was actually not in the national park, but at Sabino Canyon.  Located north of the city of Tucson, this area is not to be missed.

With over 30 miles of trails, start from the visitor’s center, or opt to take one of the shuttles at the various drop points, 1-9.  

Our Experience:

First, we took the Sabino Canyon Crawler shuttle to the Seven Falls Trailhead.  We hiked in this beautiful canyon and crossed the river many times (thankfully, being winter, we could easily traverse the rocks and the water level was low to non-existent). 

 We finally got to the switchbacks which led us up the hill with beautiful views of the canyon. 

 

Hiking up the switch backs

Due to our timing, however, we didn’t make it to the end where the Seven Falls were located.  It was early evening and the sun set early in December so we had to call it a day about one mile from the end.  All in all it worked out because the waterfalls had no water flowing due to the time of the year!  We really enjoyed this hike, which ended up being 6 miles round trip for us. 

Views on the way back to the visitor’s center

The most water we’d see – crossing this river on the trail back to the Visitor’s Center.  We just hopped from rock to rock

Back just in time for sunset

And what a beautiful sunset it was

If you want to make it to the end to see the falls, give yourself 4-6 hours to complete this hike.  Here is what I suggest:

Book the Bear Canyon Shuttle and get off at the trailhead to Seven Falls.  The cost (2024) of the shuttle is $8 adult/$5 children 3-12 for a round trip ride.  This hike is noted as difficult due to ascents, rock climbing/scrambles, and steep drop offs as you hit the switchbacks and duration.  However, being an out-and-back, you can simply turn around at any time!  I did not find this trail particularly difficult, however was armed with snacks, water, and sun protection.  

Sabino Canyon is an absolutely gorgeous place to hike and we highly recommend a visit here.

5.  Saguaro National Park

I’m including this as a day trip even though it is technically located in the city of Tucson.  Because Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections, The Tucson Mountain District (western section) and The Rincon Mountain District (eastern section), depending on where you are staying, one of the sections could be considered a day trip.  The two districts about 30 miles apart, and depending on traffic, it could take an hour to move from one section to the other.

We stayed near the eastern section so when we headed to the western section it took us about an hour to reach it.  We have a full guide to Saguaro National Park, which we share here.

The Tucson Mountain District (western section) of Saguaro National Park

Sunrise in the Rincon Mountain District (eastern section) of Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is beautiful, especially for being relatively small.  The national park protects the Saguaro cactus, a giant cactus which has become the symbol of the American west.  Saguaro only grow in the Sonoran Desert, which is located in southern Arizona and parts of northern Mexico.  There are a plethora of easy hikes here with a couple of options for longer ones.  A must is a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located near the Tucson Mountain District (western section).  Again, we share all about Saguaro National Park in our guide.

There’s lots to explore at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

6.  Pima Air & Space Museum

Again, this was located just a few miles from where we were staying in eastern Tucson, but if you’re staying further out, this can be considered a day trip.

Mike said this was one of their favorite things they did while in Tucson.  He, my brother-in-law, and Braden ventured here and spent a good six hours exploring!  They raved about it and said it was one of the best air museums they had ever been to.

Some of things to see at the Pima Air & Space Museum

As one of the largest air museums in the world, a visit here will bring visitors close to 400 aircraft.  A variety of planes, fighter jets, helicopters, and even a Wright Flyer!  This is not to be missed if you have an interest in aircraft.

Tucson, Arizona is a great place to see beautiful and unique landscapes, get in some good hiking, and explore historical and cultural sites.  

Read more!

For a more in-depth article on visiting Saguaro National Park, check out our guide, All About Visiting Saguaro National Park.

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