Knowing how many days you require to visit Arizona’s highlights can make or break your trip. With our guide and unique tips, you will learn how long you need in Arizona and, in particular, for each captivating place.
Spending five days in Arizona allows you to see the main attractions without having to rush from place to place. That is enough time to visit sites like the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest National Park, and Montezuma Castle National Monument.
7-10 Days: If you can extend your trip to 7-10 days, you’ll be able to include additional stops like Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, and the Painted Desert. Spending a week or more in Arizona allows you to see these gorgeous spots that are not to be missed.
3 Days: What if you can only get away for three days? There is plenty to see in this timeline. Always start with the Grand Canyon, then head to Flagstaff and Petrified Forest National Park. You’ll be able to see a good amount of natural beauty still.
Tip: If you are flexible and your schedule allows more time than we suggest in our trip plan for five days below: Check out the alternate activity listed for each location within our 5-day itinerary. These are perfect for additional days or even as a break from hiking.
Day 1: Phoenix
Phoenix is the best place to start your trip as most likely you’ll have flown into the Phoenix Airport. Grab your rental car and head to the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. This is an excellent spot for exploring. You’ll find multiple trails here with desert views of cactuses and critters.
The preserve is open until 11 pm for hiking, though the main entrance closes at 7 pm. If you’re arriving later in the day, make sure to catch the epic sunset views here that are raved about by locals.
Desert Botanical Garden
Still, have daylight hours left? Head to the Desert Botanical Garden afterward. It’s only about a 40-minute drive.
Each trail in the garden provides a different experience. For example, there’s a trail focused on desert wildflowers and another that offers views of the magnificent mountains nearby. There’s a restaurant located here, so you can grab a bite to eat.
Evening visitors in the summer can catch Flashlight Nights, which allows you to explore the garden at nighttime to see wildlife and critters.
Extra Day/Alternative: The Dolly Steamboat
If you’ve spent the day exploring the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve and don’t feel like walking more at the Desert Botanical Garden, head to Tortilla Flats instead. As a note, it is a further drive that will take about 1.5 hours.
The Dolly Steamboat offers dinner cruises so you can sit, relax, and enjoy the landscape simultaneously. You’ll be traveling along Canyon Lake, which provides views of cliffs that hover over the water. Catch the purple, pink, and blue sunset peeking over the rocks during this cruise.
Make sure to book your ticket ahead of time, as you’ll need to mark your food choice. This is not an activity to go to last minute as you can’t purchase tickets onsite.
- Downtown Phoenix stores close around 5 pm each day, so plan accordingly.
- Don’t expect the downtown area of Phoenix to have a crazy nightlife scene. You’ll have more luck planning outdoor activities in this city.
Day 2: Sedona
Get up early and continue your itinerary by spending the second day in Sedona. It’s about a two-hour drive, and you’ll want to spend the day exploring the area. On the way to Sedona, make sure to stop at:
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Here you’ll find historic housing carved into the cliffs. There is an impressive sinkhole (Montezuma Well) that can be viewed on the property along with the castle. You won’t want to miss this stop as it’s one of the most well-preserved historic living quarters.
Walking through the 20+ rooms of the main castle allows you a look into daily life for the Sinagua people.
How much time to spend here? It should only take about an hour to explore Montezuma, leaving you with plenty of time for other activities.
Red Rock State Park
From there, head to Red Rock State Park. This hiking spot offers a unique appeal – a vortex.
Sedona is believed to hold four different vortexes throughout the city, each located in a separate spot. The vortexes are thought to provide a sort of energy that is absorbed by people who visit the area.
By exploring the Red Rock Park, you’ll be left near the Cathedral Rock Vortex. This particular vortex is thought to have “feminine” energy and provide patience to visitors.
This is a town located on Mingus Mountain. It was once the home of a mine that provided copper, silver, and gold. Once the mines were closed in the area, it shifted to a ghost town until 1967, when it became a National Historic Landmark.
Visiting this town provides entertainment for at least a few hours. When the town was restored, it was filled with art galleries, shops, and eateries. Spend some time exploring each of these before heading to the Mine Museum to learn about Jerome’s history in-depth.
Extra Day/Alternative: Antelope Canyon Tour
Antelope Canyon is a must-see location. It’s known for its picturesque tall walls that can be walked through. Often, photographers head here and use it for sessions because of the unique light beams between spring and fall. However, you can only visit with a tour guide. It’s not allowed to enter this fascinating slot canyon on your own.
The Antelope Canyon Tour is the perfect alternative for Red Rock National Park.
This tour also includes popular stops at Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Dam, and Cameron Trading Post. Lunch is included, and expect the tour to last nearly the full day.
- Make sure to rent a Jeep while in Arizona, especially for driving through Sedona. Many other cars will not make it through the terrain.
- Dress clothes are not necessary for this city. Most activities will be casual (like hiking) or gallery visits.
Day 3: Flagstaff
It’s time to head to Flagstaff for the next day of adventuring. This city is so filled with activities and sites that it deserves two days. It’s a hub close to many of the popular tourist destinations nearby, so it’s the perfect place to stay.
You’ll need to drive about three hours from Sedona to reach Flagstaff. Once you arrive, check out Coconino National Forest. Specifically, take a walk through the mile-long Lava River Cave. Don’t worry; there’s no actual lava present in the cave.
It’s a tunnel that was formed 700,000 years ago and now provides views of interesting rock formations. The temperature is much colder in the cave so bring extra layers even if the temperature outside is 80°+.
Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon is split into three sections: North Rim, South Rim, West Rim, and Havasu Falls. While each area holds its appeal, the South Rim is the most popular to visit. It is open year-round and includes the Grand Canyon Village and Grand Canyon Railway.
Take the Scenic Hermit Road or drive on Desert View Drive when you need a break from hiking. You’ll still find epic views of the Grand Canyon without having to be on foot.
Extra Day/Alternative: Grand Canyon Discovery Air Tour
Arizona is well-known for its hiking and outdoor activities. If you need a day off from exerting yourself or just a few hours of downtime but don’t want to spend it indoors, try the Grand Canyon Discovery Air Tour.
A small plane takes you on a 40-45 minute trip above the canyon. Your views will include the Colorado River, Kaibab National Forest, Imperial Point, and Zuni Corridor. This tour provides an excellent way to see many sites in a short amount of time.
Tickets: Grand Canyon Discovery Air Tour
- The high elevation in Flagstaff can cause some people to feel nauseous or get altitude sickness. Plan for shorter distances for hikes to allow your body to get used to the elevation change.
- Another note to be conscious of regarding the elevation is ensuring a sufficient amount of water is consumed. Water is typically lost faster at higher altitudes, so it’s easier to get dehydrated.
Day 4: Flagstaff Part II
As mentioned, there are many activities to participate in while visiting Flagstaff. So many, you’ll want to spend another day here.
Take the second day to explore the downtown area. Shops line the streets, and brewpubs beckon on the corners with selections of craft beers.
It’s an excellent place to spend a few hours while traveling, especially if you’re craving a more laidback activity. Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll find different activities.
Summer offers farmer’s markets, outdoor movies, and concerts. Winter brings cozy restaurants to grab a meal and drink while warming up after winter sports.
E-bike tours and historical tours will help you learn about the area and its history while sight-seeing. You can’t go wrong with any of the tours here.
Take one look at the Painted Desert, and you’ll see exactly why it’s named this. Nearly every color can be seen throughout the rocks ranging from purple to grays and pinks.
This badland landscape has survived through many floods, volcanoes, and earthquakes. These natural occurrences combined with sunlight are what provide the beautiful colors that are seen today.
The Painted Desert holds a lot of history in it. Both Navajo and Hopi people have lived on the land for years. Surprisingly, they were not the ones to name it “Painted Desert”; settlers from Spain were.
While you can head to the Painted Desert directly to see incredible views, you can also switch gears and drive to Petrified Forest National Park. Here, you’ll still be able to explore a portion of Painted Desert and take in the views from Petrified Forest Park. Both locations are raved about and are considered must-sees.
Extra Day/Alternative: Colorado River Float Trip
Get an up-close look at Glen Canyon by taking this river float trip. The full experience lasts about 4.5 hours and starts at 6 am, so you’ll need to be up early.
Native American symbols can be seen on the rocks and cliffs as you ride down the Colorado River with a small group.
There’s a two-mile ride through a tunnel inside the Glen Canyon cliff walls leading to the Glen Canyon Dam. “Sleeping” volcanoes, rock formations, and wildlife will also be seen during this tour.
Lunch is included, so you won’t need to plan to stop at a restaurant before heading to your next activity.
Tickets: Colorado River Float Trip
More Flagstaff Tips:
- If you are interested in exploring downtown Flagstaff, it will take about four hours to view the area. Make sure to plan accordingly.
- Dress for the weather. Flagstaff is cooler than surrounding areas, and temperatures can drop 20° from daytime to nighttime. Make sure to check on the expected weather before heading here so you can pack appropriately.
Day 5: Phoenix
On the final day, it’s time to head back to Phoenix to finish off your 5-day itinerary. Flagstaff back to Phoenix is just about a two-hour drive. Concluding your trip in Phoenix allows you to avoid a lengthy drive back before getting on an airplane.
Musical Instrument Museum: On your last day in Phoenix, you’ll want to check out the Musical Instrument Museum. With all of the abundant outdoor beauty and activities, it can be easy to overlook Arizona’s available museums and galleries.
At this museum, instruments are displayed from locations around the world. Instruments are sectioned off by regions on the top floor.
You’ll also be able to find clothing items from famous musicians, videos of concerts, and the chance to try out multiple instruments (perfect for any kids who are on the trip). The museum also hosts live music events throughout the year.
Heard Museum: Another fascinating place to visit is the Heard Museum. It’s truly intriguing, as you can learn so many interesting facts about Native American history. Definitely worth a visit!
The Superstition Mountains are as interesting as their name. Many legends are surrounding these mountains, including hidden gold that people have searched for over the years.
There is no promise of gold, of course, when exploring the area. What will be found are scenic views and excellent photography opportunities. The mountain range is accented by lakes and waterways that can help you cool off during the hotter months.
There is also backcountry camping available here – something to keep in mind for future trips. Other activities that can be done here include climbing and mountain biking.
Extra Day/Alternative: Hot Air Balloon Ride
Seeing Arizona from up above is a dream. This half-day activity offers the opportunity to ride on a hot air balloon during sunrise or sunset. You’ll be seeing exciting views from above while soaking in the multi-colored skies.
You’ll be floating over the desert landscapes where you can see the wildlife, cacti, and wildflowers. A glass of champagne is included after take-off to provide a more luxurious experience. The full trip lasts for 3.5 hours. This is the perfect way to wrap up your days spent in Arizona before heading to the airport.
Tickets: Hot Air Balloon Ride
- If you’re visiting in March, you can catch the Orange tree blooms, which produce a delightful scent this month. Drive through Phoenix with your windows down and see if you can catch the scent.
- You will need a car while visiting here. Many locations are spread out, even just around Phoenix. This is not a spot that you can rely on public transportation to get you from point A to point B each day.
After spending five days in Arizona and driving around to multiple cities, you’ll feel like a local. Of course, you can always extend your stay if you feel any must-visit locations have been missed. Start with the above activities as a jumping-in point and go from there. You’ll be left with memories, excellent pictures, and an action-packed itinerary.