If you are making the Phoenix to Tucson drive, you’ll notice on a map that the fastest route is the straight shot down I-10, a six-lane interstate crowded with truckers and harried Arizonans who will admit they often tire of the drive between the state’s two largest cities.
You might be headed to Tucson or Tombstone, two popular tourist destinations, and think that speeding down I-10 to get there is a smart move. It’s a sunbaked stretch of mostly flat desert that many travelers think of as uninteresting compared to the many stunning natural sites in other parts of the state. But if you are willing to veer off the interstate, you’ll find some absolutely beautiful, historic, and uniquely Arizonan attractions on this drive.
Planning a Phoenix to Tucson Drive
I-10 is generally in good shape, although there are frequent accidents that snarl traffic as well as haboobs (dust storms) and violent monsoons in the summer that are common in this area, so check the weather before traveling.
There are a few gas stations and fast-food restaurants at the exits south of Phoenix to Eloy and one at Picacho Peak and more on Highways 79 and 87, which some would argue is the more scenic route.
There is one recently renovated rest stop on this stretch of I-10 near Sacaton, just South of Phoenix.
If you need a car hire for this trip, check out Rentalcars.com for deals across major car providers. Alternatively, if you’re planning to explore more of Arizona such as the stops from Phoenix to Grand Canyon, you can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy.
How Far is Phoenix to Tucson?
The total distance from Phoenix to Tucson is 113 miles. If you’re in a rush, the Tucson to Phoenix drive time can be just under two hours, but to do it right you should stretch it out to a full day or even camp overnight at Picacho Peak State Park and make it two days.
Phoenix to Tucson Road Trip Stops
San Tan Mountain Regional Park
If you want to take the scenic route from Phoenix to Tucson, start out in Queen Creek on Phillips Road at San Tan Mountain Regional Park southeast of Phoenix.
This large scenic park boasts one of the most famous crested saguaros in the region. It looks exactly like the shape of your hand when you make the hang ten sign (except with a few more fingers in the middle) and is the subject of countless Instagram photo ops.
There are nine trails in the park open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding; the longest is 6 miles. There are also petroglyphs and a wide array of wildlife to spot.
Casa Grande Ruins
Head through the Pima cotton fields to the town of Coolidge on Highway 287, where you’ll find one of the most famous archaeological sites in the entire Southwest on your drive from Phoenix to Tucson: the Casa Grande Ruins, a National Monument.
This large four-story adobe structure was built by Ancestral Sonoran Desert People in the 12th century and was part of a village compound of other structures and an irrigation network constructed by hand from the nearby Gila River to support agriculture. What the building was exactly used for—administrative, housing, or ceremonial purposes—remains a mystery to archaeologists.
Father Eusebio Kino, the famed missionary, was the first European to see the ruins in 1694, and he named it Casa Grande. Over the next few centuries, white settlers vandalized the structure until it became the first federally protected prehistoric site in the United States in 1892. A large roof now protects it from the harsh climate.
Today, the descendants of the original people who built Casa Grande, the Tohono O’odham, the Hopi, and the Zuni tribes, consider it a sacred site and hold ceremonies there. The Casa Grande Ruins, including a visitor’s center and guided tours, are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm. The monument does not charge an admission fee.
Gallopin’ Goose Saloon
Drive south on 287 to the other end of Coolidge and you’ll find the Gallopin’ Goose Saloon, a famed watering hole that opened just after prohibition ended in 1935. The saloon was featured on the TV show Bar Rescue in 2016, although it seems that not a whole lot has changed.
Many famous country stars have played on the Goose’s stage; in fact, Waylon Jennings was a regular here before he was famous. You’ll see their faces on the wall as you nosh on burgers, wings, and other standard bar fare. You might even get lucky and get to take a ride on the mechanical bull. Look for the waving goose neon sign by the side of the road.
Tom Mix Memorial
On Highway 79, a route to take to Tucson if you want to completely avoid I-10, is a memorial to the early western star Tom Mix. He starred in almost 300 silent movies and made the western genre extremely popular in the 1930s.
In 1940, Mix was driving from Tucson to Phoenix on this road in a 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton when he swerved to avoid construction barriers and crashed into a wash. A suitcase in the car hit him in the head and instantly killed him.
The stone monument by the road here includes a bronze silhouette of his faithful companion, Tony the Wonder Horse. Slow down on Highway 79 at about the halfway point on your Phoenix to Tucson drive; blink and you’ll miss this memorial by the side of the road if you’re going too fast.
Casa Grande Neon Sign Park
Just off the downtown strip in the town of Casa Grande, west of I-10 on Highway 287, is the Casa Grande Neon Sign Park, tucked behind Florence Boulevard.
Started with a grant from the American Express Partners in Preservation in 2017, the park preserves Casa Grande’s mid-century modern heritage of roadside culture by restoring and relocating gorgeous, Instagram-worthy signs from local businesses that have closed like the Horse Shoe Motel, Arizona Edison, Ralph’s Café, and the Hotel Sacaton.
The park is part of a larger effort across southern Arizona to preserve its unique neon signs and roadside landmarks. The signs at Casa Grande Neon Sign Park are lit up until 11pm, but the best time to view and photograph them is at sunset.
Domes of Casa Grande
Just south of Casa Grande on Thornton Road, you’ll find one of the eeriest sites in all of Arizona, the Domes of Casa Grande. It was built as a futuristic-looking development for a computer company named InnerConn in the early 1980s, but it was abandoned before it was even finished.
Since then, the structures have deteriorated, and local teens have used them as a backdrop for parties and graffiti. Some even say there are groups who use them for satanic rituals and that they are haunted.
Technically, the site is not open to tourists. If you dare to view the domes, proceed at your own risk as the structures and the tunnels underground are unstable. Trespassers can be fined.
On your Phoenix to Tucson road trip, Picacho Peak is probably the most famous stop and the one thing you won’t want to miss. This famous landmark is known to everyone in the southern part of the state, and for many Tucsonans, it is the sign on the drive that tells them they are almost home.
Picacho Peak, part of an ancient volcanic flow, rises up like a saddle pointing to the east; the most dramatic view is from the south. It is the site of the only Civil War battle in Arizona and the westernmost of the entire war.
Now it is a state park with a campground, RV park, visitor’s center, fields of wildflowers after it rains, and nature trails. For serious hikers, there are three longer trails of varying difficulty:
- The shortest and the easiest is the Calloway Trail, a half-mile but somewhat steep trek that takes you to an overlook view of I-10 and the flat expanse to the east.
- The Sunset Vista Trail starts at the western side of the park and loops around the southern edge of Picacho Peak, eventually leading you over 2.5 miles to the summit with the help of anchored cables.
- The most challenging path, Hunter Trail, takes you to the summit from the east side but is nearly vertical and also uses anchored cables.
It is possible to do an entire loop of the peak on both the Hunter Trail and Sunset Vista. Picacho Peak is open every day except Christmas until sunset and costs $7.00 per car to enter.
Don’t forget to stop at Bowlin’s Picacho Peak Travel Center across I-10 on Exit 219 for a huge array of Southwest tchotchkes and a Dairy Queen, too.
Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Farm
Just southeast of Picacho Peak on East Peak Lane is one of the most unexpected and fun stops on the drive from Phoenix to Tucson. Named for the cantankerous U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn from Charles Portis’s novel True Grit, the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch opened in 1999 with just ostriches.
It has expanded to include goats, donkeys, deer, ducks, sheep, lorikeets, stingrays, bunnies, and more. Pay for your cups of animal feed and peruse the animal pens for as long as you like. Be prepared for lots of photo ops, not only of the animals but also beautiful views of Picacho Peak.
On your way out you can buy an array of ostrich products at the gift store, including ostrich feather dusters and ostrich oil. The ranch is currently open Friday through Mondays and hours vary depending on the season.
Arizona’s dry climate has been a draw for the aviation business ever since its beginnings. The state is home to many Air Force bases and boneyards, where old aircraft are sent live out their retirement years in what are essentially vast outdoor museums. The Pinal AirPark is an airport and commercial boneyard in Marana, a fast-growing suburb of Tucson right off I-10.
In the 1960s through the ‘80s, the airport was a secret CIA site to stage missions into South America and Asia. Today, it hosts several businesses that recycle aircraft for parts.
But unlike some other boneyards in the area, this one technically isn’t a museum, and it isn’t open to the public. You can still drive by and see the colorful planes from all over the world against a backdrop of saguaro cactus and mountain views.
If you want to see them up close, contact Pinal AirPark ahead of time and you may be able to take a private tour. Take Exit 232 and drive down East Pinal Airpark Road. You are free to view the planes when the gate is open.
For your last stop on your Phoenix to Tucson drive, take Exit 244 to North Scenic Drive and head to Sanctuary Cove, a delightful mountainside nature preserve, event space, and nonprofit just north of the much more famous Saguaro National Park in Tucson’s northwest outskirts.
In 1957, the All Creeds Brotherhood purchased the land to protect the wilderness area and provide a space for prayer, meditation, peace, and reflection. The organization hosts Sunday services, including a famous outdoor Easter service, and weddings. You can also rent the cottage on the property for overnight stays.
There are several walking paths and hiking trails through the saguaros, including a longer loop trail that goes up Safford Peak with inspirational quotes on signposts along the way. Stop and see the small stone chapel and the meditation labyrinth.
Visiting Sanctuary Cove is free, and it is open every day of the year; the organization asks you to consider making a donation in the box in the parking lot. This last stop is just a taste of the many hikes you will want to take in Tucson if you are planning to stay in the city for a while.
Where to Stay in Phoenix & Tucson
If you’re visiting Arizona’s two largest cities, you’re likely going to need to find a great place to stay in either of them. Luckily for you, there are lots of accommodation options in both Phoenix and Tucson that will suit any budget and travel style. If you’re wondering where to stay, have a look at these suggestions:
Hotel Congress – Located in a historic building in central Tucson, this is a great place to stay if you’re looking to be in on the action in Arizona’s second city. There are a number of rooms available, along with an on-site restaurant, bar and nightclub to ensure that you have a good time no matter the hour of the day. Click here to see their availability
The Downtown Clifton Hotel – Located in downtown Tucson, this hotel is a great option for those looking for a quieter stay in the city. They have countless rooms available and a restaurant and bar on site, as well. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d rather have your own space over a hotel, then consider finding a private vacation rental. There are a myriad of options available in Tucson, such as this well-located casita that you’re sure to find something that suits your fancy. Click here to browse Tucson private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Tucson hotels!
SureStay Hotel Phoenix Airport – Situated close to most everything of interest in Phoenix, this is a great affordable option in Arizona’s capital. There are a range of rooms available and breakfast is also included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their latest prices
The Saguaro Hotel – If your budget allows for a bit of luxury while you’re in the Phoenix area, then this is an excellent choice. Situated in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, this hotel has a number of plush rooms available and a beautiful and inviting pool to enjoy as well. Click here to see their latest prices
Private Vacation Rental – If you want to have your own space while in Phoenix or just stay in some unique accommodations, then there are a number of private vacation rental options that will suit any personality or budget such as this private casita in a beautiful location. Click here to see the best private rentals in Arizona!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Phoenix!
Whether you want a quick stop, an amazing photo op, or a long off-road adventure, there are many special places to explore on the road from Phoenix to Tucson. You’ll be glad you took the time to get off the interstate.
Are you planning to drive from Phoenix to Tucson? Have you done this drive before? Let us know in the comments!