Valley of the Sun: A Self-Guided Road Trip Around Phoenix, Arizona

By Travels_with_Bibi | Jan 5, 2020
North America > United States > Arizona > Phoenix

Expedia asked me to share part of my trip when my daughter and I traveled across the U.S. to climb several western state highpoints, including Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s highest mountain.

Arizona Sunset

Arizona Sunset

Phoenix, Arizona

During our amazing road trip, Phoenix, Arizona quickly became one of our favorite destinations! Heading to the Arizona desert in the middle of summer might sound crazy to some people, but that’s exactly what my daughter and I did on a recent trip out west.

Phoenix Lodging Options: Stay and play as long as you like in the Valley of the Sun!

If you fancy history, consider the Hotel San Carlos, an elegant downtown hotel that once hosted Marilyn Monroe and Humphry Bogart. For lovers of first-class accommodations, you might consider the Arizona Biltmore.

With so much to see and do in Phoenix, we were able to spend a few days relaxing and recharging while marveling in beautiful sunsets, hiking among giant cacti, and sipping on delicious craft beer.

There’s no shortage of mind-blowing vistas, so we discovered why hikers, bikers and visitors of all ages have come to the same conclusion as coyotes, roadrunners and jackrabbits: The Sonoran Desert is a great place to stay and play!

Find your own fun in the Valley of the Sun by following this self-guided driving loop tour and be amazed with Arizona’s capital city, just like my daughter and I were.

Self-Guided Driving Loop Tour Around Phoenix

Get off the boring freeway and experience the beauty found by driving a scenic, self-guided grand tour around the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area. The total distance is about 60 miles with all driving done on surface roads so you will experience Phoenix just like a local!

Pro Tip: If you have a GPS, you could use the listed attractions as waypoints. Be sure to select the routing option that avoids major highways.

Start the loop tour from I-10 and take exit 155 to West Baseline Road, follow that west to Central Avenue, then head south to your first stop at Stone Mountain Park.

Stone Mountain Park

Encompassing over 16,000 acres, Stone Mountain Park is one of the largest urban parks anywhere in the world. Roads inside the park will take you to the summit of Dobbins Lookout, the highest peak at 2,330 feet where you can enjoy the panoramic view of the city below.
If you want to get out of the car and stretch your legs even more, Stone Mountain Park offers more than 51 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking adventure.

Bonus destination: The nearby Mystery Castle is a man-made monument located in the foothills of Stone Mountain Park. Boasting 18 rooms and 13 fireplaces, the Mystery Castle is recognized by the likes of Life Magazine, McCall’s, and HGTV Extreme Homes.

Pro Tip: From the park exit, follow Central Avenue north through the heart of downtown Phoenix for 6 miles, then head west to the next stop on the tour, the Arizona State Capitol Museum.

Arizona State Capitol Museum

Discover the rich, colorful history of times gone by at the Arizona State Capitol Museum. This small museum features four floors with more than 20 exhibition areas, and a sweet little gift shop showcasing some of Arizona’s finest products.

Children and adults alike enjoy seeing the Arizona state flag recreated from 113,998 Lego bricks, one brick for each mile in the state.
Hours: Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. & Saturday (Sept - May) 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.

Pro Tip: Return to Central Avenue and head north to the Heard Museum.

Heard Museum

Take some time to explore one of the Phoenix area’s original cultural attractions. The Heard Museum is widely considered to house one of the finest collections of Native American art and artifacts anywhere in the world.

Visitors can enjoy 12 exhibition galleries, wander through several outdoor sculpture gardens, dine on authentic Southwest inspired fare, shop for one-of-a-kind handmade pieces from jewelry to rugs, pottery and katsina dolls. Save some time to discover cultural stories detailing American Indian life from a first-person perspective.

Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. & Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Admission is $18 for adults, $7.50 for children, under 6 are free.

Pro Tip: Follow Central Avenue north for another 5 miles to Glendale Avenue. Then turn right and head for Piestewa Peak Park.

Piestewa Peak Park

As you travel along a beautiful winding road through a natural desert that’s right in the middle of town, you’ll reach Piestewa Peak Park, the next fun destination on the self-guided loop tour.

If there are any hikers in your group, Piestewa Peak Park is where you’ll find the summit trail for the popular hike to the top of the 2,600-foot peak. Limited parking is available however, so you might have to wait for a spot to open up, or you could park further out and walk to the trailhead.

Always a top pick among locals, the 1.2-mile summit climb offers good views and a decent workout. If your group decides not to hike to the summit, no need to fret because the drive back to the main road offers extraordinary views across the city looking toward South Mountain.

Pro Tip: As you exit the park, turn left on Lincoln Drive and travel about 4 miles east, past the beautiful grounds of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel to Tatum Boulevard. Turn right if you want to end your day with a serious hike to Camelback Mountain.

Echo Canyon Recreation Area

After entering the Echo Canyon Recreation Area, head to the parking lot at the intersection just off Tatum and McDonald Drive. This is where you can pick up the trail that will take you to the summit of Camelback Mountain.

The hump-shaped mountain, aptly named Camelback Mountain, is one of Phoenix’s most prominent landmarks and a popular hiking destination.

Parking may be even more of a struggle here than it was at Piestewa Peak, so make sure you save some of your patience for this stretch of the tour.
This hike is a little over a mile in length and rated as strenuous so don’t underestimate the challenge of climbing to the summit.

Pro Tip: If Camelback Mountain is too much for your abilities, take 44th Street south to Papago Park instead.

Papago Park

Who doesn’t love the zoo and beautiful gardens? The 1,500-acre Papago Park is home to the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens.

You’ll be able to explore the famous Hole in the Rock formation, an eroded chamber that passes all the way through a sandstone hill. It’s a short 5-minute hike so don’t pass up the great photo opportunities this destination provides!

The Desert Botanical Garden is a gorgeous living museum featuring more than 50,000 plants from around the world. If time allows, enjoy tours, seasonal exhibits, concerts, and special events. The second Tuesday of each month has free admission, otherwise tickets cost $22 for adults, $12 for students, $10 for children, and free for kids 3 and under.

For zoo lovers, the Phoenix Zoo has varying hours depending on the season, so make sure you call ahead.

Hours by season: November 1 – January 13: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (daily); January 14 – May 31: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (daily); June 1 – August 31 7:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (daily); September 1 – October 31: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (daily).

Gate admission prices for the Phoenix Zoo: $24.95 for adults (ages 14 +); $16.95 for children (ages 3 – 13); Children ages 2 and under are free

Pro Tip: Take Galvin Parkway southwest to Van Buren. Travel approximately one mile west and one block south to Washington Street where you’ll find the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park.

Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park

For a real treat, explore the heart of Phoenix at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, an interesting ruin and display of artifacts that tells the story of Ancestral Sonoran Desert people who settled in the area over 1,500 years ago!

A fully accessible 2/3-mile trail takes you through a prehistoric Hohokam archaeological site. You will also find three galleries displaying artifacts and information on the Hohokam and village site.

Hours: Open Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. Sunday 1:00 - 4:45 p.m. Trail closes at 4:30 p.m.

Admission is $6.00 for adults, $3.00 for children, and free for kids under 6.

This is the final stop on the self-guided loop tour around Phoenix.

Final Thoughts

The self-guided loop tour around Phoenix, Arizona is a terrific option to hit some fun activities and destinations while traveling around the city like a local! While driving time is about two hours, stopping at the suggested attractions can easily make this loop tour and all-day affair.

Have you traveled to Phoenix and visited any of these attractions? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to share this article with your fellow travelers and friends!

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Written by Travels with Bibi
Hi, I'm Bibi, a name given to me by my African guides while climbing Kilimanjaro!

There are 2 comments

Jun 11, 2021 at 16:55

Are there any fees / charges for parking at these "park & see" sites?


Jun 28, 2020 at 15:04

It's South Mountain Park, not Stone Mountain Park.

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