Three Day Itinerary Visiting Arizona

View from Upper Creek Rd off the 89-A. Sedona, Arizona

First time visiting Arizona or looking to experience Arizona’s beauty in quick stay? Below is what we would recommend if you want to get the most out of your visit and see different parts of the state. This itinerary is based on if you were to fly into Phoenix making your starting point the Phoenix-metro area. But it can be tailored to however you get to Arizona! These are all suggestions meant to inspire a full trip and awesome AZ experience. As the 6th largest state geographically, it’s difficult to see everything.

Before we get into visiting Arizona we want to remind you to practice the LEAVE NO TRACE principles. Please remember to stay on trail, pack out all trash, and explore prepared. Check out our hiking tips here.

Day 1: First full day in Arizona

Map driving from Phoenix to Lost Dutchman State Park
Visit the Superstitions + Lost Dutchman State Park

On your first full day, we suggest spending time around the Phoenix-metro area. There are many great hiking spots within the city and along the outskirts. One of our favorite places that we frequent often is the Superstition Mountains and Wilderness. There are hundreds of miles of trails within the National Forest managed land and additional trails at Lost Dutchman State Park on the west of the Superstitions. We have a list of our top 5 must do hikes in the Superstitions, aka the Supes (pronounced soups) as nicknamed by locals. You can find that here.

We love this area because it’s rich in Sonoran desert layers that we find strikingly beautiful. The saguaro cactus lives well in this part of desert along with many other native plants and animals. If you can’t make it out to the Superstitions, check out South Mountain, Piestewa Peak, the McDowell-Sonoran Preserve.

Boulder Canyon Viewpoint. Superstition Wilderness, Arizona
Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
View of the Superstitions from Massacre Falls Trail. Tonto National Forest, Arizona
View of Lost Dutchman State Park at golden hour. Superstition Mountains, Arizona

Things To Know:

  • Lost Dutchman State Park + The Superstitions are about 35 minutes from the Phoenix Airport. It is East of Phoenix.
  • There is a fee to enter Lost Dutchman State Park. Check our AZ State Parks website here.
  • We wouldn’t recommend hiking in the summer unless you start VERY early. Check out our beginner hiking tips here.
Where To Eat:

There are so many great places to eat in the Phoenix Metro area. We live on the East side of Phoenix so many of these recommendations will be based on that:)

  • Blanco Tacos
  • Street Tacos
  • Walter Station Brewery – dog friendly
  • Fate Brewery – dog friendly
  • OHSO Brewery – dog friendly
  • Wilderness Brewery

Day 2: Travel through Northern AZ

Map of the drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon
Drive to The Grand Canyon and Sedona

If you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon or Sedona we definitely recommend this as your day 2. This will take up your entire day, but it will be worth it! We recommend to start your day as early as possible to get the most out of it. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 3.5 hours from Sky Harbor Airport.

There are 3 shuttle systems that takes you to different points throughout the park. They are seasonal and we recommend to always check the Grand Canyon National Park website before you visit. If you get there early enough we recommend taking the taking Hermit Road Red Route (only runs March 1st to November 30th). We also recommend to take the Kaibab Rim Orange Route. The different viewpoints offer some great perspectives of the canyon and the Colorado River a mile below.

We love immersing ourselves into the places we visit by learning the geological history, cultural history – both Native American and Western expansion, as well as the nature and science. The Grand Canyon easily covers all of these and we encourage you to research prior to your trip and learn more at the visitor centers and exhibits. The Grand Canyon started forming 2 billion years ago and distinctly shows its timeline through rock layers. It is home to 11 Native American tribes, old mines, and a beast of a river explored by John Wesley Powell. If you’re lucky you may see a California Condor at the Grand Canyon; they’re an endangered bird working hard at a comeback and they have the largest wingspan of any bird in North America!

Map of the shuttle systems in the Grand Canyon
South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Rainbow above the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, AZ
View of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim
Drive from the Grand Canyon drive to Sedona
Map of the drive from The Grand Canyon to Sedona

Sedona is only a little over 2 hours from The Grand Canyon. In order to get back to Phoenix you have to drive past Sedona so it is definitely worth the stop even if you only have time to drive through the red rocks! We recommend to take the 89-A into Sedona. It is one of our favorite drives and it is absolutely beautiful! Depending on the time of the year and your adventure energy, you may have time for a short hike. A couple great hikes to check consider are Bell Rock or anything in that area because the views are constantly awesome, or up Doe Mountain on the west side of town. If hikes aren’t in the plans, there are great views on Airport Mesa and along Upper Creek Rd off the 89-A in west Sedona and short viewpoints from Yavapai Vista off the 179 south of Sedona. If you do have time in Sedona to hike check our our favorite hikes here.

Cathedral Rock viewpoint. Sedona, Arizona
Bell Rock Trail in Sedona, Arizona
View from Doe Mountain in Sedona, Arizona
View of Sedona's red rocks from Airport Mesa. Sedona, AZ
Where to eat:

If you have time to grab a quick dinner these are three places we recommend!

  • Hideaway House – incredible views of the red rocks
  • Piza Lisa
  • Butterfly Burger

Day 3: Culture, Art, and More

Visit Desert Botanical Garden + city attractions
Map from Phoenix airport to Desert Botanical Gardens

After all of the driving and exploring you’ll most likely be tired. We always recommend visiting the Desert Botanical Garden to people when visiting Phoenix for the first time! The Desert Botanical Garden is very close to the airport and is a great place to visit to see the Sonoran Desert biodiversity without having to hike. They also have a great collection of plants from outside the region. Our favorite section is the with all of the Organ Pipe Cacti as you can see in the photos below. There is a fee to enter the Botanical Gardens. You can learn more and get your tickets here.

Lauren and Owen at Desert Botanical Gardens. Phoenix, Arizona
Lauren with the Organ Pipe Cactus at Desert Botanical Gardens. Phoenix, Arizona
A crested saguaro cactus at Desert Botanical Gardens. Phoenix, Arizona

The Phoenix-metro area is quite large, home to nearly 5 million residents. We’re blessed to have quick access to Arizona’s awesome outdoor recreation scene and variety of landscapes. However, there are cultural, artistic, and educational places to check out too. Here is just a short list of places to consider:

  • The Arizona Science Center
  • The Heard Museum
  • Old Town Scottsdale + Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Western Spirit: Scottsdaleā€™s Museum of the West 
  • Musical Instrument Museum
  • Phoenix Art Museum
  • Arizona Heritage Center

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