5 Last-Minute Arizona Day & Overnight Trips You Can Squeeze in Before School Starts

By Teresa K. Traverse

August 2, 2023

It’s hard to believe, but school will start back up in just a few weeks. Time off from school and the longer days make the summer months prime for traveling.

If you’d like to sneak in a trip or two, here are five destinations for day and overnight trips where you’re sure to make some true Arizona memories. These are all small-ish towns that shouldn’t be too crowded. Bon voyage!

Disclaimer: Deadly heat waves have led to a sharp increase in hospitalizations throughout Arizona, so please use extreme caution in deciding when and where to do outdoor activities, especially any sort of hiking.

Pinetop-Lakeside

Distance: 188 miles northeast of Phoenix

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Escape to Pinetop-Lakeside to find cooler temperatures and green trees all around. The woodsy environment is also complemented by the lodging options. A quick Google search for “Pinetop cabins” reveals 225 options. Woodland Lake Park provides an abundance of recreational opportunities. Here, you can bird watch, fish, hike, bike, kayak, boat, ride horses, or get in some exercise on the softball fields and tennis and volleyball courts.

Head downtown to discover a bevy of shops and restaurants. The White Mountain Family Fun Park is an amusement park featuring arcade games, mini-golf, go karts, and laser tag. If you’re looking for an easy, stunning stroll, the Mogollon Rim Interpretive Trail is a paved trail that more than delivers but runs less than a mile.

Payson

Distance: 90 miles northeast of Phoenix

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The Payson area’s most famous attraction is the Tonto Natural Bridge. The best part about visiting the bridge is that you can either just gaze at what’s billed as the largest travertine bridge in the world from a viewing area in the parking lot or you can hike down to the bottom for a more adventurous experience. Either way, this captivating bridge is worth checking out.

The 43-acre Green Valley Park is a great place to spend a few hours outside. The most striking feature of the park is a fountain in one of the three lakes. Visitors also can enjoy a playground, fishing, walking, kayaking, and occasional concerts in the park. Please note that the lakes here are not intended for swimming or wading. Learn more about the history of the region at The Rim Country Historical Museum and Zane Grey Cabin, which is just a few steps from Green Valley Park. You can even see a replica of Western author Zane Grey’s cabin here. The real cabin burned down in the Dude Fire back in 1990. The must-visit Rim Lakes Vista Trail is an easy, paved trail that offers stunning, sweeping views of the area.

Williams

Distance: 160 miles north of Phoenix

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5 Last-Minute Arizona Day & Overnight Trips You Can Squeeze in Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Experience Williams

Williams is perhaps best known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, but Williams itself is a destination in and of itself. Kids can pet and feed deer at the 10-acre Grand Canyon Deer Farm. They also can see wallabies, llamas, coatimundis, bison, peacocks, and goats, among other animals. Visitors also can fly high above the town on the Route 66 Zipline or see a variety of animals at the drive-thru Bearizona Wildlife Park. Take a ride on the alpine mountain coaster at the Canyon Coaster Adventure Park. Williams visitors also can fish, go on a short hike out to Sycamore Falls, or go off-roading.

5 Last-Minute Arizona Day & Overnight Trips You Can Squeeze in Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel

If you’re looking to visit the Grand Canyon, consider riding the Grand Canyon Railway. The train takes off from Williams and transports guests to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim before bringing them back to Williams. On Aug. 12, the railway will have a birthday celebration in honor of the train’s 100th birthday.

Tortilla Flat

Distance: 55 miles east of Phoenix

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Tortilla Flat is a place unlike any other. The town’s website claims that it’s “the oldest operating stagecoach town in Arizona.” The drive out past Apache Junction on AZ-88 is winding and gorgeous with Arizona scenery flying by the window. The town is made up of just a small strip of restaurants and shops. Climb up on a real saddle at the bar and enjoy burgers and other American fare at the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant. A remodeled red schoolhouse now serves as a museum where you can learn more about the history of the town. Try some prickly pear gelato at the Old Fashioned Country Store or find gifts made by local artisans at the Mercantile Gift Shop.

Another attraction in Tortilla Flat is the Dolly Steamboat. The 6-mile cruise takes about 90 minutes and shows off Canyon Lake views. Look forward to vistas of the water, surrounding canyon walls, and cacti. You might even spot animals like desert bighorn sheep and bald eagles.

Mount Lemmon

Distance: 152 miles southeast of Phoenix (outskirts of Tucson)

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5 Last-Minute Arizona Day & Overnight Trips You Can Squeeze In Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Tucson

Tucson’s Mount Lemmon is typically 20 degrees cooler due to its high elevation, making it an appealing destination during the hot Arizona summers. If you really want to get away, this is a perfect, secluded place to visit. When you’re there, consider hiking one of the 39 trails listed on AllTrails. You can take a gondola up to the top at 9,125 feet—the highest mountain in the Santa Catalina Mountain range—as part of a Sky Ride at Ski Valley for breathtaking views.

If exploring the top of the mountain has left you hungry, consider whetting your appetite at the nearby Iron Door. This restaurant comes complete with high, wooden ceilings. The chili and cornbread are both noteworthy. Please note that tickets must be purchased in-person at the resort and are not sold online. Enjoy oversized, fresh-baked cookies and pizza at the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin. Dig into hearty fare like wings and burgers along with mountain views at the Sawmill Run Restaurant.

Correction: This post has been updated to correctly describe Mount Lemmon’s location.

READ MORE: Natural Wonders Make Arizona One of the Most-Visited States in the US

Author

  • Teresa K. Traverse

    Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix, Arizona-based writer and editor. Her work also has appeared in national print outlets including Weight Watchers, Bust and Parenting magazines and on sites like Tripadvisor, Wine Enthusiast, SFGate, Brides, Rachael Ray Every Day, Bustle, Racked, ForRent.com, WeddingWire, Refinery29, The Daily Meal, Oxygenmag.com, USA Today and Fast Company. She's the managing editor of Sedona Monthly. In her spare time, she loves hiking, reading magazines and spending quality time with her long-haired Chihuahua, Rocket. Visit teresaktraverse.com to check out more of her work.

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