When you take a road trip from San Diego to Phoenix, you can expect to see quite a few interesting things along the way. You can go straight on I-8 to sites like the Yuma Territorial Prison Park and Gila Bend before heading north to Phoenix, but a more scenic route would take you north first. Following the path north on I-15, you will encounter Joshua Tree National Park as well as several state parks that will give you a more scenic trip before bringing you back down to I-8.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park covers the 1,200 miles where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet. The unique rock formations and stunning cacti are located on the San Andreas Fault Line. Since this is a park in the middle of the desert, there is no light pollution to prevent you from gazing at the stars. There are several trails in the park of varying difficulty that you can explore. If you would like, there is camping available in the park for RVers.
Mount San Jacinto State Park
About two hours from the start of this trip, you will encounter Mount San Jacinto State Park. It is 14,000 acres, and it opened in 1937. The San Jacinto Peak is 10,834 feet tall, and the park is full of trails through the alpine forests and plenty of wildlife.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Another state park to stop at during your San Diego to Phoenix RV road trip is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The 600,000 acres of land is made up of badlands, canyons, and oases. This is a remote area, so jeep tours are common in the park to enable you to see more wildlife. The Borrego Springs can also be found here and used as a method to cool off. There are plenty of hikes that you can explore in the park as well, and if you plan to stay overnight, there are camping options that will give you a brilliant sunset and starry skies at night.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a 24,700-acre pine and oak forest that is home to a variety of wildlife. More than 100 species of birds call this park their home, which is why birdwatchers must stop here. You can also go hiking, biking, and horseback riding in the park if you are up for an adventure.
Imperial Sand Dunes
The Imperial Sand Dunes are quite a sight to see. They range in size, but they can be as tall as 300 feet off of the desert floor, and the sands stretch for more than 40 miles. This can be a great place to go horseback riding or take a ride on an ATV instead of simply walking through the dunes of the 26,000-acre desert.
Jacumba Hot Springs
On any road trip itinerary from San Diego to Phoenix, you will want to take a relaxing stop at the Jacumba Hot Springs. There are two hot springs pools that are fed by natural spring mineral water that makes the temperature a warm 98 degrees all year. There is also a bar and grill on the property if you’d like to grab a bite to eat.
Yuma Territorial Prison Park
This is a must-see stop for those who would like to learn a bit about the history of Arizona. This prison was used to keep the first prisoners in the state back in 1876. In 1961, it became a historic park where the original cells, including the dark cell, can be seen. Tours are self-guided but stop by the visitors center for an introduction to the prison.
Bridge to Nowhere
This bridge is known as the Henry Harrison McPhaul Bridge, and it looks a lot like a smaller version of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is an 800-foot bridge that spanned the Gila River. The bridge was built in 1929, but in 1968, a dam was built upstream that diverted the river, and as a result, the highway that the bridge was connected to closed.
Painted Rock Petroglyph Site
For intriguing rock etchings from thousands of years ago, make sure to visit the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site. These drawings show quite a bit about the prehistoric period of the area. At this location, there are also three trails that you can explore to see quite a bit of wildlife. Camping at the site is permitted, so you can make this a final destination for the day if you’d like a chance to relax.
Escondido is a beautiful city near San Diego that is great for RV adventuring. For example, Dixon Lake, which is a great place to fish or enjoy the shore, is about 5 miles from town. The area is also a great option for those who want to do a little camping – a teardrop, two-person trailer would work well here. In addition to the lake, the area is dotted with ranches, so if you want to get an impression of western living, sign up for a tour. The top 10 campgrounds around Escondido also provide you with some great options for rest as you take your road trip. For example, Escondido RV Resort has a great location that grants easy access to many of the attractions of the area. It also has full hookups and 127 RV sites that accommodate a wide variety of vehicle types.
Salton City, California
As the name implies, Salton City is on the shores of the Salton Sea, and as a result, beachgoers will love this coastal town. Fun attractions like the International Banana Museum and the Salton Sea Bay Club are all in Salton City, so set aside some time to get to know them. The Bombay Beach Ruins also are very entertaining and fun to explore, even if you have little ones. Salton is also home to the burrowing owl, which is a fascinating bird to observe as they emerge from their underground dens. Additionally, there are several dump stations in the surrounding areas to use, and the Salton City area is very RV-friendly. In fact, many of the campgrounds nearby even offer dump station usage for registered guests.
Dateland is a city that is known for its dates, so when you are in the area, make sure to stop and grab a date shake. It may not sound as appealing as other shakes, but trust that you will enjoy the flavor of it. The city was established in the early 1920s, and it became a stop for travelers to refill their water along the way. Dateland is located right between Yuma and Gila Bend, so it is an ideal stop to make. There are quite a few reasons to stop in Dateland, but if you need to empty the waste in your RV, you can find several local dump stations in the area.
Gila Bend, Arizona
The last major city that you are going to come across before you hit Phoenix on this road trip is Gila Bend. The city was founded in 1879, and it was named after the bend in the Gila River that is nearby. The town is rich in history and heritage, so there will be plenty to explore if you would like to stay for a day before finishing your journey. There are even dump stations in the area that are convenient to use, and since the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site can be found here, you can consider staying overnight without booking a campground. There is also a Space Age restaurant that will be worth checking out if you plan on staying for a meal in the area. It is located under a UFO and is known for its American and Mexican cuisine. Another place to stop while you are in Gila Bend is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which looks amazing as the sun sets over the desert.
This San Diego to Phoenix road trip is an epic trip with a lot of national and state parks to visit along the way. Because of this, traveling in an RV is well worth it, and there are plenty of campgrounds to stay at during your journey. If you don’t own an RV, consider using RVshare to find an RV to rent in San Diego. If there is nothing available in this city that accommodates your needs, consider making the trip in reverse and looking for a rental in Phoenix. Either way, you can't go wrong with this once-in-a-lifetime trip.