Get ready for a road trip packed with adventure as you make your way from Phoenix to San Diego. Some of the fantastic sights you'll want to change course for are Grand Canyon National Park, the Superstition Mountains, and Joshua Tree National Park. As you cruise through the cities of Yuma, Alpine, and El Cajon, plan to enjoy a couple of unique nearby state parks that take you back to the Old West at Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and into the fresh mountain air at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
National parks are fantastic vacation hot spots that are home to some of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the world. Enrich your highway experience by adding a couple to your road trip itinerary from Phoenix to San Diego.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is an absolute must-see that's just three hours and 20 minutes north of Phoenix. Take the scenic route on the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim; then, hike the Rim Trail, a 13-mile trek that starts at the South Kaibab Trailhead and ends at Hermits Rest. While you're still on the South Rim, check out Grand Canyon Village and walk through the small town's National Historic Landmark District where you can also do a bit of shopping. Spend some time exploring special locations, such as Desert View Watchtower, Hopi Point, Mary Colter's Lookout Studio, Hermit Trail, Skeleton Point, Mooney Falls, and the Grand Canyon Skywalk before continuing your adventure. With so much to see and do at this park, you'll want to extend your time here for at least two to three days.
On your way up to the park, you'll pass Sedona and Flagstaff. Be sure to visit these cities on your drive to or from the Grand Canyon to experience more of Arizona's spectacular beauty.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a short one-hour and 45-minute drive north from the city of El Centro. Start your adventure at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center for a lesson about the park's history with interactive exhibits and a bookstore that includes maps and information on guided tours. Make your way outdoors and onto a few excellent hiking trails. Some of the best to trek are the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Hall of Horrors, Lost Palms Oasis Trail, and the Indian Cove Boy Scout Trail that rewards you with a unique variety of rock formations. You can also enjoy a guided tour at Cabot's Pueblo Museum and see the wonders of the night at the Sky's the Limit Observatory and Nature Center located in this internationally designated Dark Sky Park. More prominent features you'll want to explore before you go are Skull Rock, Mastodon Peak, Queen Mountain, Intersection Rock, and Lost Horse Valley.
Visiting a few fascinating state parks on your Phoenix to San Diego RV road trip is a great way to learn about local history while exploring neighboring areas.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
Stop at Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park for a firsthand experience in a real Wild West prison. Outside, you can peruse the park's cell blocks, guard tower, library room, and the dark cell. A walk through the museum takes you through interactive exhibits that explain the history of the prison, the convicts, and prison workers. Don't leave without taking a stroll through the prison cemetery, and be sure to snap a mugshot selfie with the original mirror used to take your front and side profile in the same picture.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
With over 100 miles of pristine trails, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a hiker's paradise. Take your time exploring the oak woodland forest as you head over to Green Valley Falls for a serene picnic with unlimited opportunities to observe the local wildlife. A trek up Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak, the park's highest, is a must that offers panoramic views of the desert and lake below. At the northeast edge of the park, you can enjoy a tour of the California Wolf Center for an up-close experience of a vast animal sanctuary dedicated to wolf conservation and recovery. Camping is available at this park, making it a wonderful place to spend a couple of days.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is a vibrant living history museum that's definitely worth a look. This park houses a variety of historic buildings built in the early and late 19th century that are the epicenter of a few notable festivals, such as Cinco de Mayo, Dios de Los Muertos, and Fiesta Navidad. Exhibits you'll want to see within the park are the Colorado House, Seely Stables and Livery, and the Blacksmith Shop that features live re-enactments.
Just east of Phoenix are the mesmerizing Superstition Mountains located in Lost Dutchman State Park. These jagged volcanic cliffs are the story of legend and are said to hide the location of the Lost Dutchman Mine. If you care to try your luck at finding the mythic entrance, Jacob's Cross Cut Trail can be found along the foothills. For a more rugged ascent, take the Peralta or Siphon Draw Trails to the top for fantastic overlooks of the flora below. More trails to trek here include Peter's Trail, the Hoolie Bacon Trail, Bull Pass, and Red Tanks.
On your way out of Phoenix, a respite in Gila Bend starts at the Gila Bend Visitor's Center and Museum that features plenty of educational exhibits about local Native American history. One of this small city's most popular attractions that you won't want to miss are the Painted Petroglyph Rocks not far from Rocky Point Road. No stop in this town would be complete without a visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for some great hiking trails and magnificent views of the desert sunset.
Jacumba Hot Springs
A drive through Jacumba Hot Springs deserves a stop at the Tepary Southwest Grill located in the Jacumba Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Enjoy Native American and authentic Southwestern cuisine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; then, take a relaxing soak or swim in the resort's 98-degree natural hot springs, featuring two pools and a Jacuzzi-style spa. At night, head to the Raven's Nest for happy hour and some live music. Passes for the spa are available per day and do not require reservations.
As you pass through Yuma, you'll want to make a few stops at some of this city's best attractions. You can enjoy a day of fun in the sun as you splish-splash on an exciting variety of water slides at Waylon's Water World with plenty of other sights in town you won't want to miss, such as the Camel Park, Yuma Conservation Garden, Ocean to Ocean Highway Bridge, and Centennial Beach.
Araby Acres RV Resort is a picturesque campground with access to nearby hiking and bike trails with amenities that include a swimming pool, clubhouse, and fitness center. Since there is no dump station available at this park, you can take care of your RV's sanitation needs at other Arizona dump stations like Flying J Travel Plaza on North Frontage Road.
Stop in Alpine for an up-close viewing experience of some of nature's most exotic animals at Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Nearby, you can also free fly your first raptor at Sky Falconry. While you're here, be sure to visit Alpine Beer, the El Capitan Reservoir, McGinty Mountain, and Sycuan Peak.
El Cajon, CA
El Cajon is home to several fascinating museums and parks that are definitely worth a look. Start out at the Olaf Wieghorst Museum that highlights the Old West with lovely artwork and a cactus garden; then, peruse the exhibits at the Heritage of Americas Museum, and marvel at the vintage airplanes at Allen Airways Flying Museum. Parks that you'll want to explore are La Mesita Park, Mt. Helix, and Harry Griffen Park. Be sure to visit Summer's Past Farms before you leave the city as well.