If you are looking to create great memories with your family or even by yourself, then a San Diego to Tucson road trip may be the perfect answer. There are many fantastic places to stop and hike along the way, including at Joshua Tree National Park, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and Cleveland National Forest. History will come alive when you visit Colorado River State Historical Park, Ironwood Forest National Monument, and many other fantastic locations. While you may want to spend most of your time communing in nature, there are also incredible cities to explore, so it is easy to combine an urban and rural vacation along this route. Since most of it runs down interstates, the driving is simple. Consider this fantastic road trip itinerary from San Diego to Tucson.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park near Twentynine Palms, California, was created to protect the Joshua tree and other plants and animals in this location where the Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems converge. Over 300 miles of hiking trails are available, and many of them are open to horses and bikes. One of the longest trails running through this park is the California Riding and Biking Trail. When this trail is completed, it will allow horseback riders and bikers to enjoy an 18-mile-long journey. Head to the Cottonwood Springs area to see remains of old gold milling operations or venture to the Indian Cove area to see large boulders and amazing wildflower fields, especially in the spring. Climbers worldwide come to this national park to climb some of the 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder problems.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona, protects some of the tallest cacti in the world. You can learn more about them on many short nature walks that rangers have marked with interpretative signage. Be sure to visit Signal Hill at this park on your San Diego to Tucson RV road trip. This hill that is about 200 feet in diameter and about 400 feet tall has over 200 petroglyphs created from 500 to 1,500 years ago. Hike the 0.3-mile-long Tanque Verde Ridge Trail to see amazing sunsets.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park near Julian, California, is a fantastic place to go on a hike on trails lined with oak and pine trees. Study the rocks, and you will find that this area may have once looked very similar to the Andes Mountains. With over 100 miles of trails here, you are sure to find some that you want to hike, bike, or ride your horse on. This park surrounds Lake Cuyamaca on three sides, so there is also fishing and water fun nearby.
Picacho Peak State Park
You will want to put visiting Picacho Peak State Park near Eloy, Arizona, on your road trip from San Diego to Tucson. Much of this park’s extensive trail system may have been used as early as the 1700s when the Anza Expedition explored this region. The trails leading up the peak offer amazing views throughout the year, especially in spring, when you can see many wildflowers nearby. Stop at the visitors center to explore the exhibits. Your children are sure to adore playing on the playground.
Colorado River State Historical Park
The United States Army operated warehouses on the location that is now Colorado River State Historical Park from 1864 to 1883. The goal was to have enough food at this warehouse to feed all the troops serving in the Arizona Territory for six months. Five of these buildings are open for touring. You can see exhibits related to the army and the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s work when you visit this park in Yuma, Arizona. Scattered around the grounds are various steam-powered pieces equipment, including lights, that were used by the soldiers and workers.
Oracle State Park
North of Tucson, Oracle State Park is home to the four-story Kannally farmhouse built for self-taught cowboy artist Lee Kannally between 1929 and 1933. Besides housing the park’s headquarters and a gift shop, this home is filled with art created by Kannally and local artists. You can take a self-guided tour of the home. Hike and bike along 13 miles of high-desert trails. Bring along your binoculars and your camera so that you can see a variety of birds and wildlife as you stroll along. Public stargazing parties are a regular occurrence, so be sure to check the calendar.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park, found at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, offers stunning views of tall saguaro cacti. As you hike to see some of the 3,500 saguaro cacti in this park, you will want to watch birds as over 150 different species have been spotted here. Large staging areas with 16 corrals make this an outstanding choice for organized trail rides.
Cleveland National Forest
Follow roads through thick pine, spruce, and fir forests at Cleveland National Forest as the main road has been declared a national scenic byway. Located about 30 minutes from San Diego, numerous hiking and biking trails let you get a better view of these forests. You can also ride off-road vehicles in many areas of this forest. Additionally, some areas are open for public hunting seasonally.
When you visit Biosphere 2 near Oracle, Arizona, you may feel like you have left the desert and went on an international vacation. The facility is divided into a rainforest, ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grasslands, and fog desert. Visitors can use an app on their smartphones to go on a self-guided tour with many options to dig deep into the information that they find most interesting.
Ironwood Forest National Monument
Covering more than 129,000 acres south of Tucson, the Ironwood Forest National Monument protects some of the few remaining ironwood trees in the nation. You can go hiking in the Sawtooth, Silver Bell, and Waterman mountains at this location. The monument also protects five historic districts, each having unique sights to visit.
DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum
Started in the early 1950s by Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia, this site grew to encompass six buildings spread over 10 acres just outside of Tucson. You can see a variety of art tracing historical events and people groups in the area. The museum owns over 15,000 works of art by DeGrazia, but only a few of them are on display at any time. You will want to see the Mission in the Sun with its rock floors, open-air roof, and interior murals.
El Centro, California
El Centro, in Imperial County, offers many incredible things to do. You may want to play on the water at Bucklin Park or learn more about the first settlers at the Pioneer Museum. El Centro has many great campgrounds, including Desert Trails RV Park and Rio Bend RV & Golf Resort. Country Life RV Park and Desert Trails RV & Golf Resort offer RV dump stations in this area, or you can find California RV dump stations spread out across the state.
You may want to visit the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park to learn how inmates were treated when Arizona was a territory. Some believe that this is one of the most haunted places in America. You can also play the games at Paradise Casino, and your kids will adore playing at West Wetlands Park. There are many fabulous campgrounds in Yuma, including Gila Mountain RV Park and Rolle’s Lynda Vista RV Park. Dump stations in Yuma are available at Yuma Civic & Convention Center, Foothills Self Storage, and Flying J Travel Plaza.
You can visit Picacho Peak State Park and Ironwood Forest National Monument when you stop in Eloy. Many people who want to go sky diving choose this location. Eloy campground options include High Chaparral RV Park and Pinal County Fairgrounds & Event Center. Find Eloy dump station options at Casa Grande RV Resort, Foothills West R.V. Park, and other Arizona locations.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from San Diego to Tucson, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in San Diego or Tucson.