Join me on an El Paso to Phoenix road trip!
With stops along the way at White Sands National Park and MLB Spring Training (and more), this is one trip you won't soon forget.
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Man, I love a road trip!
There is nothing better than hitting the open road with all of its possibilities.
And this trip was one for the record books. It was hot, sunny, and the gorgeous southwest landscape couldn't be beat. We hit sooo many fun destinations along the way, too. And I can't wait to share them with you so you can plan your own southwest road trip!
El Paso to Phoenix Road Trip
This was my first trip through the southwest, and it surpassed all my expectations!
We flew into El Paso, where we rented an SUV before starting our road trip. It's about 430 miles, or just about six and a half hours, to drive from El Paso to Phoenix. That's a long drive for one day, although we broke up our trip over a few days.
Along the way, I became obsessed with tumbleweed and cacti and listened to countless hours of podcasts (check out my fave podcasts for road trips here). And I had my eyes glued to the gorgeous landscape the entire time.
Are you ready to read all about this El Paso to Phoenix road trip? Let's go!
DAY 1: El Paso to Tucson
Like I mentioned, we flew into El Paso International Airport. It's a smaller airport and a little Bob Hope / La Guardia-esque with its low ceilings.
It was super easy to get around though and uncrowded, which I definitely didn't mind. Actually, on the way home, my husband and I were to only ones going through security. That was a first!
One highlight from the airport was the art in the airport's entrance and on the way to the garage.
Lunch in El Paso
After picking up our rental car on site, we headed to lunch at El Taquito, a tiny Mexican restaurant located in the back of a strip mall. If you go, plug the address into your GPS, otherwise you might miss it.
My husband travels to El Paso for work, so he'd been to El Taquito before. It was delish, although my bean and cheese burrito was open on both ends. I'm definitely more used to Tex Mex style burritos which are closed, but one of my readers pointed out that this is how burritos are served in Mexico. And with the strong Mexican heritage in El Paso, they serve burritos open there, too.
El Taquito is located right by the airport so it's a convenient place to grab a bite before heading off on your El Paso to Phoenex road trip.
After lunch, we hit the road and headed to New Mexico.
White Sands National Park
Our destination for the first day of this El Paso to Phoenix road trip was White Sands National Park, located between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, New Mexico in the Tularosa Basin.
Before heading down into the valley where White Sands is located, we pulled off the road. The basin view was amazing!
I wasn't sure what to expect, but White Sands ended up being the highlight of my trip. Although, I think if you asked my husband, he'd say it was seeing the Brewers in spring training (more about that later)!
White Sands is home to the world's largest gypsum dunefield. All in all, these beautiful white sands cover 275 square miles of dessert.
This area is also home to the first atomic bomb test in 1945, and the White Sands Missile Range is still active today. Occasionally, the road into the Monument is closed due to missile testing, but thankfully, that wasn't the case during our visit!
I actually loved this area so much that I wrote a whole separate visitors guide to White Sands National Park.
Make sure to check it out before your trip ... it's a must see!
Dinner at a Historic Restaurant: La Posta de Mesilla
As the sun finished setting, we dragged ourselves back to the car. It was hard to leave.
I wish we could have stayed longer, but let's be honest, I was starving!
On our way to Tucson, we stopped for dinner at La Posta de Mesilla, another of my husband's work trip favorites.
La Posta is historic restaurant (founded in 1939) located in Mesilla, which is part of Las Cruces. The food was so delicious (we both had combo plates), but my favorite thing was the Prickly Pear Margarita ... so good!
After dinner, we drove to Tucson in the dark. 275 miles ... yikes! Let's just say I was ready to crash when we finally arrived at our hotel.
DAY 2: Tucson to Phoenix
We woke up in Tucson for the second day of our El Paso to Phoenix road trip. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we started our drive to Phoenix, where we had tickets to see a Milwaukee Brewers spring training game.
Much of the previous day's drive was in the dark, so it was exciting to take in the beautiful landscape along the way. I was in awe of the cacti lining the hills and mountains. It was an impressive sight.
I was also amazed by the number of trains we passed along the way. They were our trusty companions on the trip.
Spring Training in Phoenix
It's about 116 miles between Tucson and Phoenix, so the drive was much less intense on our second day.
After dropping off our car at our hotel, we took an Uber to Maryvale Baseball Park, home of the Cactus League spring training in Arizona. It was an affordable way to get there, just beware that you'll face surge pricing on the return trip.
Phoenix has ten facilities hosting 15 major league baseball teams during spring training. It's the greatest concentration of professional baseball facilities found anywhere in the United States!
If you're a baseball fan, you could spend a week's vacation going from stadium to stadium, seeing different teams play. Wouldn't that be fun?
My husband and I both grew up in Wisconsin though, so we were only concerned with the Brewers!
You can read more about Cactus League Spring Training in my guide here. It's definitely one of those bucket list trips.
After the game, we grabbed an Uber back to the hotel for another unforgettable experience from the trip. Ha!
We weren't able to check into our hotel earlier in the day, which was no big deal. But when we returned after six p.m. we expected to get into our room with no problems. Well, it still wasn't available. What?
The worst part was there about ten other families still waiting for rooms ahead of us. I've never experienced anything like it, and needless to say, we definitely won't be returning there anytime soon.
We had plans to meet up with family in Sun City, so instead of checking into our rooms and refreshing after a long day spent in the sun, we headed straight up there. It was a fun night, and thankfully, our room was finally ready when we returned.
DAY 3: Phoenix to El Paso
On day three of our El Paso to Phoenix road trip, we woke up in Phoenix. Our plan for the day was to make the long drive back to El Paso from Phoenix (about six and a half hours, if you recall).
I wish we could have seen more of Phoenix, but time wasn't on our side for this long weekend trip.
What I did see of Phoenix reminded me of a cross between southern California and Florida ... lots of sun, strip malls, and palm trees.
South Mountain Park
Before leaving at Phoenix, we did make one stop at South Mountain Park. I'm so glad we made time to visit!
South Mountain Park is comprised of over 16,000 acres covering three mountain ranges. It's huge and one of the largest municipal parks in the country.
As we headed up Summit Road, we passed by hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. When we finally made it to Dobbins Lookout (the highest accessible point in the park), the views of the Phoenix valley were simply amazing!
I became slightly obsessed with cactus the day before on our drive between Tucson and Phoenix. So I was excited to get up close and personal with them in South Mountain Park.
Check out the size of that cactus!
The variety of cacti was really cool to see.
At least I think that's a cactus ... ha!
Look at that valley view behind me!
It's rare that I take a good selfie, but I though this one turned out pretty darn good.
I think I was so happy because of all those cacti surrounding me.
Did you notice that there aren't any trees on the mountainside?
It was covered with saguaro cacti instead. Cool, right? We saw the same thing throughout Arizona.
These majestic cacti are only found in the Sonoran Desert, which covers 120,000 square miles of California and Arizona, plus most of Baja California and half of the state of Sonora, Mexico.
They are huge. The average saguaro cactus stands 30 feet tall, but the tallest one stands 78 feet tall!
It was so fun to check out these towering cacti at close range.
If I would have had more time (and appropriate shoes), then I would have loved to do some hiking at South Mountain Park. Alas, my strappy sandals didn't cut it. Plus, I'm terrified of snakes, and this place struck me as somewhere that was probably infested with them!
Driving from Phoenix to El Paso
More cactus merriment ensued, and then it was time to hit the road for El Paso.
Once again, I was blown away by the expansive sky and gorgeous landscape.
We passed a number Blowing Dust Area signs, but thankfully, we didn't encounter any dust storms!
It's a long drive between Phoenix and El Paso, so we didn't plan a lot of stops along the way.
I'd love to return one day and take my time exploring all the parks and cities we passed by. There is so much history and culture, not to mention nature, to see in this area!
Picacho Peak State Park
We did make a quick stop at Picacho Peak State Park.
I had noticed this park located between Tucson and Phoenix the day before.
It was the first time I'd seen all those cacti lining a mountain.
We didn't have time to visit the park, unfortunately (next time). But I was able to snap a few quick pics near the entrance.
Then it was back on the road.
I was hoping to see a tumbleweed or two along the way. Although I never spotted one up close, we actually hit a tumbleweed with our car as we were driving along the highway. It exploded upon impact. Ha!
Another quick stop between Phoenix and El Paso was at the Council Rocks.
These huge rocks immediately caught our eyes as we were driving along.
Believe it or not, I took these photos in a rest area! So I can only imagine what we'd have seen if we had time to explore a little more.
In addition to being beautiful, the Council Rocks are also an important historical area.
It was here in 1872 that Cochise, an Apache leader, signed the Broken Arrow Peace Treaty. The treaty ended the Apache war and granted the Apaches a reservation that included the southeast corner of Arizona, including the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains near the Mexican border.
Of course, as with most Native American stories, this one doesn't end well. And when Cochise died two years later, the U.S. government broke its treaty promise and moved his people 100 miles north to the San Carlos Reservation on the Gila River.
Arriving in El Paso
After a long, but scenic drive, we finally made it to El Paso.
The sun was just about to set as we checked into our only hotel of note during our drive from El Paso to Phoenix, the Hotel Indigo.
This hotel is built on top of its parking garage, so you have to take an elevator to get to the lobby.
This is my kind of hotel! I loved all the unique touches in the lobby and in the comfortable room.
The room's entry was bold and featured a cool wall mounted bar.
Our room was bright from the huge wall of windows.
It was such a cozy, yet modern room.
Our room had a view of a railroad station, which was fitting after all the trains we passed on our El Paso to Phoenix road trip. My husband has stayed here before, and on the other side of the hotel, you have a view of Juarez, Mexico.
I could have happily called it a night, but we headed back to the lobby level to catch the sunset.
The hotel's pool and restaurant are also located on the lobby level.
We grabbed some cocktails from the bar and settled into our seats to relax on the warm, open air deck.
Give me a delicious cocktail, a comfy chair, and a beautiful sunset, and I'm one happy lady.
The rooftop deck had a great view of downtown El Paso.
And as the sun set, the building began to glow.
The sunset was so colorful and pretty!
An Evening Walk in Downtown El Paso
After the sun settled behind the tall downtown buildings, we headed downstairs and did a little exploring.
Our first stop was historic San Jacinto Plaza, which was lit up for the evening and so pretty.
There's a small pond in the middle of the plaza, and at one point in time, it was home to as many as seven alligators.
Sadly, or maybe for the best, the alligators are long gone. An alligator sculpture is all that remains.
After leaving the plaza, we headed over to Craft and Social, another one of my husband's favorite spots.
I loved the relaxed atmosphere, and we enjoyed a delicious cheese plate for a light snack ... ha! We went back the next day, so keep reading for pics of this fun spot.
Before turning in for the night, we had dinner and cocktails at the Hotel Indigo. The cocktails were amazing, and the food was great, too.
DAY 4: El Paso
The last day of our El Paso to Phoenix road trip was spent in El Paso. Since our flight didn't leave until the late afternoon, so we had a day to explore.
I couldn't resist testing out that swing before we headed out.
This way to breakfast!
Breakfast at Healthy Bite
Our first stop of the day was a late breakfast at Healthy Bite. This was such a cute spot!
I loved the bright interior with its striped walls, greenery, and warm wood tables.
The staff was preparing for lunch, and we had the place all to ourselves. My tasty breakfast sandwich and fresh pressed juice were the perfect start to the day!
Exploring Downtown El Paso and El Segundo Barrio
El Paso is located right on the border with Mexico. You can actually walk across a bridge to go to Juarez.
The two cities are obviously very intertwined with families crossing the border to see each other or simply to do some shopping. Not surprisingly, El Paso has a strong Mexican culture.
The Plaza Theater in downtown El Paso.
Downtown El Paso is filled with gorgeous, vintage buildings. Parts of it are thriving, but there are also lots of empty store fronts.
It was equal parts vacant and vibrant.
I loved checking out the beautiful architecture and art.
There is a busy shopping area that takes up quite a few blocks near the border.
We had fun walking around and checking out the buildings and fun signs.
Isn't this building beautiful?
It looks like someone turned it into a club.
So many jeans!
This shopping area reminded me of when I lived in Chicago's Ukranian Village way back in the day.
The next time I go to El Paso, I need to do a little more research on the architecture and history.
I found so many unique details and buildings wherever I looked.
It was hot that day, and of course, it was the one day I forgot to put on sunblock. I returned home with the most awkward sunburn!
We stumbled across tiny Calendar Park. The highlight was this beautiful replica of an Aztec calendar.
Downtown El Paso Murals
After walking around for a while, we decided to go to the El Paso Art Museum. Unfortunately, it's closed on Mondays (bad timing).
The murals are located in El Segundo Barrio, a historic Hispanic neighborhood. El Segundo Barrio is one of the oldest neighborhoods in El Paso, and it due to its proximity to Mexico, many people have immigrated through the area.
It's the same area with all the shops I mentioned earlier. We had seen a few murals as we walked around earlier in to day, so it was fun to try to find as many as possible.
The mural above depicts Father Rahm, the “bicycling priest”. He traveled around Segundo Barrio on his bike, visiting people in the neighborhood and delivering breakfast to the homes of the elderly.
He showed up in another mural we spotted in the neighborhood, too.
Can you spot Father Rahm below?
The murals feature a mixture of artistic styles.
My poor husband ... I asked him to shut that dumpster cover below so I could get a better pic of the mural below. He's a good guy.
It was fun to to hunt down the murals. Some were kind of hidden and others were easy to spot.
We found the three murals below right by each other.
We saw a couple murals near our hotel, too, including the huge "Ánimo Sin Fronteras" (spirit without borders). It depicts a man who's been searching for answers about his son who was picked up and disappeared by police in Nuevo León in 2009.
This mural is located right next to another mural depicting local boxes, including Oscar de la Hoya.
Actually, as we were walking around near our hotel a couple boxers jogged past us. There must have been a gym nearby.
Lunch in El Paso: Craft and Social
I'd love to spend more time checking out and learning about all of these murals next time I visit El Paso.
Our next stop was lunch at Craft and Social, the same place we went the night before.
Somebody had his eye on me!
We enjoyed two delicious sandwiches, plus a couple ice cold Topo Chicos. It was perfect after walking around in the sun all morning!
Make sure to get the cucumber chips if you go. These chips are basically just cucumber slices with a little salt, but they were so refreshing and tasty.
Our last stop before heading to the airport was the Coffee Box.
I'd spotted this place on our way to Craft and Social, and since I hadn't had my daily iced coffee yet, I knew I needed to return. My cold brew perked me right up!
The inside was just as cool as the outside, and the little deck on the second level was the perfect resting spot on a beautiful day.
After that, we headed to the airport and our El Paso to Phoenix road trip was complete.
El Paso to Phoenix Road Trip ... Tips for Planning Your Drive
I hope you enjoyed reading about this road trip! Here are some tips to help plan your own drive.
Distance between El Paso and Phoenix
It's 430 miles, or just about six and a half hours, from El Paso to Phoenix ... a long drive to do in one day. There is so much to do along the way, so I'd highly recommend breaking up your El Paso to Phoenix road trip into several days (a week would be ideal).
We didn't do any fine dining on this El Paso to Phoenix road trip, but we did eat some great food. Apart from a horrible ballpark pretzel that is ... I should have known better!
- Coffee Box (El Paso) - Located right across the street from San Jacinto Plaza, the Coffee Box is a unique place (it's built out of shipping containers) to get your caffeine fix. Grab a coffee—I loved my cold brew—and head up to the second level deck for a sunny view.
- Craft and Social (El Paso) - A relaxing spot to enjoy a craft beer (or cider), glass of wine, or a bite to eat. We went twice and enjoyed the delicious Golden Age cheese plate, yummy Cheeser (grilled cheese) sandwich, and Drunken Cow (a roast beef sandwich that was my husband's fave), plus drinks. Get the cucumber chips for a refreshing and healthy side ... yum!
- Hotel Indigo Restaurant / Bar (El Paso) - We were super tired our first night in El Paso, so we had dinner and drinks at the restaurant located in our hotel. It was actually really good, and I'd go back. I had a veggie burger with green chilies (it was spicy!), and Joel had mac and cheese, which was delicious. The cocktails were also great!
- El Taquito (El Paso) - A tiny spot located near the airport ... it's hidden in the back of a small strip mall. My husband had eaten here before on business trips. I had a bean and cheese burrito, which was really good (although it was open on both ends, which made eating difficult). Joel had a torta, and we shared a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips.
- Healthy Bite (El Paso) - This super cute breakfast / lunch spot in downtown El Paso was perfect for a late breakfast. I enjoyed a simple egg sandwich and a refreshing free-pressed juice. I'd love to go back and taste test more of their menu.
- La Posta de Mesilla (Las Cruces) - My favorite restaurant from the trip! La Posta is a historic restaurant located in charming Mesilla, which I'd love to explore more one day. I loved my combination plate and highly recommend the Prickly Pear Margarita ... so good!
You could easily spend a week or more seeing all the sights in this area. Our El Paso to Phoenix road trip only lasted one long weekend, so what I'm recommending below is really just the tip of the iceberg.
I'm looking forward to going back one day and seeing everything I missed!
- White Sands National Park (New Mexico) - This was the highlight of my trip ... make sure to read my visitors guide! The glistening white sands you'll find here make up the world's largest gypsum dunefield. Enjoy hiking, sledding on the dunes (buy sleds in the visitors center), or just walking around and taking it all in. Make sure to stay for sunset. You're in the dessert, so make sure to bring plenty of water and food. It's also important to note that because the monument is located on the White Sands Missile Range, the road into the park is occasionally closed due to missile testing.
- Cactus League / MLB Spring Training (Phoenix) - Phoenix is a hub for major league baseball spring training, and I've been a few times now (read my guide for tips). Currently, there are ten facilities hosting 15 teams, the greatest concentration of professional baseball facilities found anywhere in the United States. You could spend a week in Phoenix just going to different baseball games and seeing a bunch of teams. I think one of my husband's childhood dreams came true, when we saw the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park!
- South Mountain Park (Phoenix) - A must see when visiting Phoenix, this park consists of three cacti-covered mountain ranges and is one of the largest municipal parks in the US. Come for the amazing views of the huge Phoenix valley and stay for 51 miles of hiking trails. If you are driving, make sure to head up the curvy road (watch out for bikers and hikers) to Dobbins Lookout, the highest accessible point in the park.
- Picacho Peak State Park (Arizona) - You can't miss the 1,500 foot peak as you are driving along I-10. We actually didn't go into this park, although the cacti lining Picacho Peak immediately caught my attention ... I'd never seen anything quite like it. This park is definitely on my list for next time.
- Council Rocks (Arizona) - Located in the Dragoon Mountains, these huge rocks are a beautiful sight, as well as a historic one. It was here in 1872 that Cochise, an Apache leader, signed the Broken Arrow Peace Treaty. I'd love to explore this area more. There are apparently dozens of pictographs adorning the immense boulders and overhangs, created by the Mogollon people nearly 1,000 years ago and were later augmented by the Apaches.
- Downtown El Paso - Spend some time walking around the city. There's a lot to see from museums to beautiful architecture to striking murals. Downtown El Paso does have a lot of vacant store fronts, but it's very safe, so don't let that deter your from exploring the city.
- Segundo Barrio Murals (El Paso) - For me, the murals of the Segundo Barrio are a must see in downtown El Paso. Stop by the visitor center for a map, and to check out other things to do in El Paso during your visit. Then have fun tracking down dozen of beautiful murals.
Where to Stay
I don't know about you, but when I'm on a road trip, we don't spend a lot of time in or money on hotels. It just not worth it. Our drive from El Paso to Phoenix was no exception.
We mostly stayed in unexciting roadside hotel chains on this trip. They were fine (with that one exception in Phoenix), but unmemorable.
- Hotel Indigo (El Paso) - The Hotel Indigo is conveniently located in downtown El Paso. It's the perfect base for exploring everything there is to do and see downtown, and the rooms are chic, yet cozy. Plan to spend some time on the rooftop deck, either to grab a swim, cocktail, or a bite to eat ... or all three!
Other Road Trip Tips
A few other tips for your El Paso to Phoenix road trip:
- Border Patrol: We followed I-10 and I-17 for our trip. Much of this drive follows the border with Mexico, and along the way, we passed through two Border Patrol stations. We were waved through quickly in both cases (of course, we are white, and I can imagine anyone who appears to be Latino might have a different experience these days).
- Crossing the Border: If you do want to cross the border into Mexico, you'll need a passport. In El Paso, you can walk across a bridge into Juarez. Again, prepare for extra scrutiny ... one man we talked to said he used to make the trip in 30 minutes, but these days it was taking about 45 minutes.
- Terrain: The landscape varied greatly on our trip from flat valley to high mountains. It is very dry in the southwest for most of the year, so make sure to pack plenty of food and water if you plan any hiking or outdoor activities.
- What to Wear: You can wear pretty much anything in the cities we visited. If you plan any outdoor activities though, make sure to wear layers as the temperature range can be huge in the dessert. Also, in this sunny climate, sunblock is a must! A hat would be a good idea, too.
Finally, make sure to check out my Road Trip Essentials ... I never leave home without these items, especially on a long drive like this! And we didn't hit them all on this trip, but there are lots of other National Parks you could visit along the way. Check out my Texas National Parks guide and my U.S. National Parks List (By State) for more information.
Where have you traveled lately?