Some of the nation’s most beautiful national parks are within driving distance of Phoenix, Arizona. They make for a great day — and sometimes overnight — trip if you want to enjoy a change of scenery and stretch your legs outside the city. Turn up your car’s AC and put on your sunglasses as you hit the open road to check out these awesome national parks.
The best national parks near Phoenix
Saguaro National Park
105 miles (1 hour and 30 minutes) from Phoenix
Saguaro National Park, located in southern Arizona, is named after the saguaro cactus, which is native to this desert environment. It’s also home to more than 1,100 species of plants. The park is divided into two districts, separated by the city of Tucson. Tucson Mountain District, on the west side, is known for sites with ancient petroglyphs. To the east is the Rincon Mountain District, which features a paved, scenic 8-mile drive called Cactus Forest Loop Road that passes by many trails you can explore.
Petrified Forest National Park
203 miles (3 hours and 21 minutes) from Phoenix
Petrified Forest National Park, in southern Arizona, is one of the world’s largest petrified forests and the only national park that contains part of the famous Route 66 highway. The park is split into two distinct sections: The northern area is the Painted Desert, named after its colorful landscape, and the southern area contains petrified, or fossilized, wood. Some of the petrified wood dates back to more than 200 million years ago. There are no campgrounds or lodges in this park, but backcountry camping is available with a permit. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so you must enter the park before closing time.
Grand Canyon National Park
224 miles (3 hours and 25 minutes) from Phoenix
The Grand Canyon is so large that it’s bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island and touches four states: Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. While the Grand Canyon is known for its scenic views, there are many activities available to visitors beyond taking photographs. Go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, descend the canyon on a mule ride or even bike the canyon rim. Make sure to check out the Skywalk, too. This bridge’s glass floors extend 70 feet from the canyon rim to give you an incredible view of the canyon’s floor 4,000 feet below.
Joshua Tree National Park
222 miles (3 hours and 33 minutes) from Phoenix
Joshua Tree National Park sits between two major deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. The park got its name from the prickly Joshua trees that dot its landscape. These large yucca trees can live for more than 150 years in a protective environment. The park is popular with climbers, as it has more than 8,000 climbing routes suited for those with varying skill levels. There are also hundreds of miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails in the park.
Zion National Park
381 miles (6 hours) from Phoenix
Zion National Park, Utah’s very first national park, is a top destination for adventure seekers. Take your pick from a wide array of activities: hiking, biking, canyoneering, climbing, backpacking, horseback riding, river trips and camping. Kolob Arch, one of the natural wonders at Zion National Park, is among the largest free-standing arches in the world at over 287 feet across. The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel is also a spectacular sight to see, as it is cut through sandstone cliffs in order to connect Zion to the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon.
Mesa Verde National Park
419 miles (6 hours and 31 minutes) from Phoenix
Located in southwest Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park was designated as a cultural world heritage site in 1978. Here, you can catch a glimpse of what life was like for the Ancestral Puebloan people who were in the area for more than 700 years. The reserved Puebloan cliff dwellings are a must-see in the park. There are many other things to do and see here too, including taking a private tour to learn about the area’s 700-year history. Campgrounds are available so you can enjoy sleeping under the stars.
Death Valley National Park
420 miles (6 hours and 51 minutes) from Phoenix
Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska, and unlike Alaska, it’s known for extreme heat. It’s also the driest place and the lowest point in the U.S. Be sure to check out the Mesquite Sand Dunes, which will make you feel like you are in the Sahara Desert. There is also a 9-mile scenic drive that takes you through the mountains and canyons toward a famous stop called the Artist’s Palette. You can get up close and personal with some amazing colors there due to its volcanic minerals.