9 Fun Stops on a Los Angeles to Phoenix Road Trip

Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip
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Los Angeles is a fun city in itself, but it’s also the ideal base for many road trips. With its location on the far west coast, the possibilities for getting out of the city are endless. While I live in Seattle, LA has been my starting point for tons of drives in California, as it’s easy to fly in, rent a car, and head out, such as going on a Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip.

You get to pass through one of my favorite national parks in California (Joshua Tree) and explore plenty of southern California that you wouldn’t see otherwise. While I know it’s a quick flight when you’re in a hurry, it’s worth it to be able to see this area via a car and stop whenever you want. This is how I’ve explored a large portion of the state over the years, by renting a car and heading out.

Not sure how to plan this all out? I’ll help you! Read on for my tips to get started, read a detailed description of all my suggested stops, and you can even see my sample itinerary if you want to break this up into a few days.

Tips for a Los Angeles to Phoenix Drive

Los Angeles Downtown

Feet itching for excitement? Of course, they are. There’s no better way to shake the cobwebs off than on a memorable road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix. 

Imagine a plethora of national parks, forests, and a few gorgeous cities along the way, all framed by desert landscapes. Sounds perfect, right? Crossing arid landscapes that present their own take on unique beauty, you’ve never seen southern California and Arizona like this before.

Before you turn the ignition, I’ve collected all of the best insider tips, pitstop insights, and suggested itinerary plans to assemble this guide. 

You’ve got questions. I’ve got the answers, so let’s go.

Add the suggested stops in this guide to an ultimate California to Arizona road trip for extra adventure.

How to Get From Los Angeles to Phoenix

If you’re looking for winding roads, hillside turns, and backroad routes, you’re out of luck, as the drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix follows a single highway for the entire trip. Essentially, it’s a straight line from point A to point B, but don’t let that fool you.

You’ll drive along Interstate 10 out of Los Angeles between San Bernadino National Forest and Mt. San Jacinto, eventually heading through Palm Springs. Carrying on, you’ll drive along Coachella Valley Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park.

If you’re not entirely set on driving to Phoenix, consider this Los Angeles to Joshua Tree road trip.

Passing Mesa Verde, you’ll cross the Colorado River in Blythe and enter Arizona. Continue along I-90, driving past the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll also pass Skyline and Estrella Mountain Regional Parks, finally arriving in Phoenix.

How Far Is Phoenix From Los Angeles, and How Long Will the Drive Take?

A road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix spans 372 miles and takes, on average, roughly five hours and 30 minutes. Of course, this doesn’t include any pitstops, and what would be the fun of that?

Give yourself about six hours, accounting for small breaks, but there are some destinations along the way that you’ll want to spend some time at. Most of the drive is a cruise through the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, and should you leave early in the morning, you’ll arrive in Phoenix with enough time to head out for the night.

When Is the Best Time to Drive From Los Angeles to Phoenix?

Although each season in southern California and Arizona has standout reasons to visit, tackling this road trip from November to April is a brilliant choice

You’ll have that glorious sunshine the states are known for, but with the added advantage of the highest temperatures only peaking in the 80s. As with any desert landscape, judging seasonal weather can be challenging, so check weather updates, which could affect road conditions, openings, and closures.

Los Angeles to Phoenix Road Trip Map

9 Stops for a Los Angeles to Phoenix Road Trip

Los Angeles

From the comfort and luxury of Los Angeles to the always-moving atmosphere of Phoenix, both cities have enough attractions to fill days. 

Courtesy of the variety of distinct landscapes that span the space between them, these are some of the most rave-worthy stops you should consider along the way.

1. Oak Glen Preserve

Oak Glen Preserve
Image Credit: Oak Glen Preserve

Departing from Los Angeles, you’ll drive along I-10 E, CA-60 E, I-215 N, and I-10 E to reach Live Oak Canyon Road in Yucaipa, leaving the interstate at exit 85. This should take you about an hour and 10 minutes. Next, you’ll take Wildwood Canyon Road and Oak Glen Road to reach your destination after 21 minutes.

Kicking things off is Oak Glen Preserve, right at the foot of the San Bernadino Mountains, resting in the shadow of 8,700-foot Wilshire Peak. Home to the Conservancy’s Southern California Montane Botanic Garden, you’ll find the 114-year-old Los Rios Rancho Apple Farm within the preserve.

Now, any spot that attracts over 600,000 visitors annually should be worth a stop, and Oak Glen does not disappoint. As you arrive, you’ll need to decide what to do while here, that’s not simply sightseeing (even though it’s pretty spectacular).

At Oak Glen, you can enjoy peaceful picnicking in the many designated areas within its borders, hike some of its trails, participate in environmental programs, and pick apples at Los Rios Rancho. One thing you have to do, though, is enjoy the most delicious homemade apple pie at the ranch on your Phoenix road trip from Los Angeles. Trust me.

2. Mount San Jacinto State Park

As you leave Oak Glen, you’ll get on I-10 E, turning onto Oak Glen Road and then Beaumont Avenue. Then head onto CA-243, and you should reach Mount San Jacinto State Park in an hour. Following CA-243 S for 43 minutes and 30 miles, you’ll arrive directly at the park in Idyllwild-Pine Cove.

Mount San Jacinto State Park is a quintessential natural getaway with stunning wildlife and captivating greenery, showcasing forests and desert terrain when driving from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Clearly a place of contrasts, this is best seen as you gaze at the granite peaks of the deeply weathered Mount San Jacinto and fern-bordered mountain meadows.

I came here last year when I was visiting a friend in Palm Springs, and we took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to the top. I’d never heard of this before, but it was fun to see exhibits up there, walk out and see snow on the mountain, and even have a drink in their bar.

Towering at 10,804 feet above sea level, numerous subalpine lakes surround the mountain, where you’ll easily spot many of the park’s unique wildlife. Sightseeing aside, the park is a hiker’s personal playground, with the king of trails being the San Jacinto Peak Trail.

Tackling this behemoth is better when you split it into two parts, taking breaks as you go along. The first stretch leads from Mountain Station to Round Valley, crossing a distance of 2 miles with about 600 feet of elevation gain. Continue on along the trail for another 5.5 miles, gaining 2,300 feet of elevation and finally reaching San Jacinto Peak.

3. Palm Springs

What’s a little nature-centric road trip without some charming cityscapes in between on your road trip to Phoenix from Los Angeles? I’ll tell you. It’s not all that fun, but luckily, your next stop is beautiful Palm Springs. 

You’ll backtrack from Mount San Jacinto State Park until you turn back onto I-10 E, then merge with CA-111, finally reaching the city after roughly 56 minutes.

Renowned for its hot springs, fashionable hotels, world-class golf courses, and award-winning spas, Palm Springs is no stranger to fame. Add to that the presence of the Palm Springs Tram, and it’s the ideal next pitstop on your journey.

Before ascending into the mountains surrounding the Sonoran desert city, you should add a few inner-city hotspots to your visit. As this is an epic road trip, seeing the sights of Palm Springs will make you excited; plus, there are always celebrity sightings here if you’re into that on your Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip.

One part I love about Palm Springs is how many restaurants have outdoor seating, making it easy to enjoy the constant nice weather (except in the summer; trust me, it’s way too hot to visit during this time of year).

The Palm Springs Art Museum is a standout attraction dedicated to art, natural science, and performing arts. Its permanent collection consists of more than 24,000 objects.

If you’re more adventurous, why not opt for a Jeep tour of the San Andreas Fault? I love all things earthquakes (I’ve seen every natural disaster movie out there), so I did this with my friend and loved it. We zoomed around the desert, and the tour guides pointed out different geologies and facts about the area.

Alternatively, head out of Palm Springs to the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. Featuring more than 4,000 wind turbines, the renewable energy giant has become a fascinating part of the San Gorgonio Pass. 

4. Salton Sea

salton sea

The saying goes, “You can’t have the good without the bad,” and as a sobering reminder of the environmental catastrophe at the Salton Sea, it is a sight to behold. When you’re done in Palm Springs, head back onto I-10 E, then continue until you reach CA-86 S on your Los Angeles road trip to Phoenix

So what exactly is the Salton Sea? 

In 1905, the Colorado River overflowed, and its waters poured into a parched desert lakebed, unintentionally creating the Salton Sea, the biggest lake in California. Pollution, agricultural runoff, and rising salinity were among the environmental concerns that contributed to the area’s fall from prominence as a popular tourist destination over the years.

Additional difficulties, such as declining water levels and a rise in harmful dust, have recently emerged in the region, affecting both local populations and wildlife.

5. Coachella Valley Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve

Following your visit to the Salton Sea, it’s time to head for the Coachella Valley Preserve. While this does require a bit of a backtrack, if your timing is right, you’re in for a treat. Heading back to CA-86 N, continue to Riverside County. 

After 39 minutes, take exit 137 from I-10 W. Then you’ll follow Washington Street and Thousand Palms Canyon Road, arriving at your destination after 11 minutes or 50 miles.

Sidenote: You can switch your stops at Salton Sea and Coachella Valley Preserve around.

Just 10 miles east of Palm Springs, in the bluffs and mesas of the Indio Hills, the 17,000-acre site is a kaleidoscope of unique and endangered wildlife. Here, you’ll spot the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, found nowhere else on Earth.

Beyond the fauna and flora visible throughout, a standout attraction within the preserve is the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis, fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault. It is paired with several other oases, such as the Hidden Horseshoe and Indian Palms Oases.

Any landscape as stunning as this surely has some hiking trails. Indeed, it does, and these are two of the ones you can tackle:

  • McCallum Trail – A relatively easy 1.8-mile out-and-back trail that heads directly through Thousand Palms Oasis and culminates at Simone Pond.
  • Hidden Palms Loop – This 1.9-mile loop trail is perfect if you’re looking for something a bit challenging and will take about 50 minutes to complete.

6. Joshua Tree National Park

joshua tree cholla

The next stop on your Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip will be Joshua Tree, one of America’s most distinct and captivating national parks. Leaving Coachella behind, head down Thousand Palms Canyon Road until you turn left onto Washington Street.

Following this road, you’ll merge onto the I-10 E, heading towards Blyth/Phoenix for 30 miles, taking exit 168 for Cottonwood Springs Road. Then, you’ll turn onto Cottonwood Springs Road and arrive at Joshua Tree after 1.5 miles. The total time for this bit is 41 minutes.

If there’s one word that best describes Joshua Tree National Park, it would be “mind-blowing.” I don’t often go to the same national parks twice (except the ones in my home state of Washington), but I’ve been here multiple times and plan to return. It’s one of the most unique parks I’ve ever been to in the country.

Famous for its thousands of Joshua trees that dot the park, this 800,000-acre desert terrain brims with mountains and valleys. Along its landscape, cholla cacti flourish, and incredible rock formations create the perfect site for avid hikers.

For the best views across Joshua Tree, tackle the hike to Keys View or Ryan Mountain, delivering knockout scenes. Stay after dark to experience the epic stargazing potential the park is known for.

Courtesy of low light pollution, it’s super easy to spot constellations, planets, and even the Milky Way on some nights. The first time I visited the park, I went to the Sky’s the Limit observatory, which was a fun way to learn about what we were looking at that night.

For a shorter trip, check out how to drive from LA to Joshua Tree or the San Francisco to Joshua Tree road trip.

7. Blythe

blythe california

When you’re done exploring Joshua Tree, the next destination, Blythe, sits an hour and eight minutes away. You’ll take the road back onto I-10 E and continue towards Blythe for 70 miles, exiting at Lovekin Boulevard.

Although the charming hub of Blythe tries to be a hidden gem, it’s welcomingly not. Yet it has a host of unheralded treasures that most never see. This unassuming city has a lot to experience, so buckle up.

Easily the most fascinating landmark in Blythe are the unusual Blythe Intaglios, more commonly known as the Blythe geoglyphs. Come to see around 400 various images and sculptures of an alien species created by humans. Aside from that, you can also view ancient artifacts and ruins at the site.

Another of Blythe’s outdoor excursions is Peter Mcintyre County Park, which offers a more intimate scenic escape. Inside the park are numerous eye-catching lakes and stunning views across the city into the desert.

Other places to visit in Blythe include:

  • Village Retreat Inc
  • The Church of Saint Joan of Arc
  • The Pioneer Cemetery
  • BlueWater Resort & Casino

Need more LA drives? Check out the road trip from LA to the Grand Canyon, a Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip, or a Los Angeles to Sequoia National Park trip.

8. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

kofa national wildlife refuge

Leaving Blythe, you’ll follow the I-10 E and US-95 S for 48 minutes, covering 49.6 miles onto King Road in Yuma County. After 19 miles and an hour and nine minutes, you’ll arrive at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

Designated back in 1990, the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge now spans 665,400 acres, where you’ll come across some unlikely animals that thrive in the region. Established primarily for the conservation of desert bighorn sheep, countless animal species now call it home.

If you’re looking to get a grand look at the landscapes of Kofa, head along a scenic drive along the US-95 Highway as you transcend the region stretching from the Castle Dome to the Kofa mountain ranges. 

Wildlife spotters are in for a treat as the refuge sees the likes of mountain lions, desert tortoises, and the rare free-ranging Sonoran pronghorns. Bird watchers, on the other hand, can spot golden eagles and canyon wren regularly flying over the area.

If you fancy yourself a rookie treasure hunter, head for the 1.5-square-mile Crystal Hill Area, where you can search the region’s washes and rocky slopes for precious quartz crystals. While the chances of you finding gold or silver while rockhounding are slim, it might happen.

9. South Mountain Park and Preserve

South Mountain Park and Preserve

The last stop of this Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip is within the city of Phoenix itself and covers about 179 miles. As you leave Kofa, you’ll follow the I-10 E towards the town for 125 miles, with a travel time of one hour and 47 minutes. Take exit 70 from the AZ-202/AZ-202 Loop E and continue on W Dobbins Road until you reach S 19th Avenue.

As a final ode to the nature-centric trek you’ve just done, your final destination is South Mountain Park and Preserve, the largest municipal park in the United States. Designated an official Phoenix point of pride, the park boasts 58 miles of trails that cross its 16,000 acres.

With numerous hiking trails, the park also hosts other attractions, including the South Mountain Environmental Education Center, the Mystery Castle, Dobbins Lookout, and horseback riding tours.

Note: Every Sunday, South Mountain observes “Silent Sunday,” where one mile of the park’s main roadway gets reserved for non-motorized activities such as cycling and jogging.

An Exceptional 3-Day Los Angeles to Phoenix Road Trip Itinerary

phoenix sunset

Now that the main sights of a Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip are handled, you must be dying for an adventure-filled itinerary. It’s your lucky day. Below is an out-of-this-world three-day trip from the city lights of LA to the Arizona skies of Phoenix.

Day 1: Los Angeles to Palm Springs

Travel Distance: 1 hour and 46 minutes (106 miles)

Heading out of Los Angeles via I-10 E, you’ll take exit 111 in Whiteriver to reach E Alejo Road in Palm Springs along CA-111. Kicking off early in the morning and venturing past Mount San Jacinto State Park, you’ll have the day to roam around one of the most famed celebrity hangouts the desert has ever known, Palm Springs.

Where to Stay: Book a room at the 4-star Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs, where a world-class golf course and sightseeing spots surround you.

Read Next: Check out this epic Los Angeles to Palm Springs road trip for some inspiration along your journey.

Day 2: Palm Springs to Blythe

Travel Distance: 2 hours and 1 minute (120 miles)

On day two, you’ll leave Palm Springs along the I-10 from E to W Donlon Street in the cheerful city of Blythe. Arrive early enough to see the Blythe geoglyphs and venture out for a late afternoon stroll through Peter McIntyre County Park.

Where to Stay: Stay overnight at the Hampton Inn & Suites, a high-end 3-star property with a pool in the quiet suburbs of the town.

Day 3: Blythe to Phoenix

Travel Distance: 2 hours and 18 minutes (151 miles)

Finally, on day three, get an early start on the I-10 E heading for Phoenix, crossing into Arizona. With the day ahead of you, after arriving, head to South Mountain and hike any of its many trails or settle in for a dinner at the surrounding culinary highlights, such as Cocina Madrigal.

Where to Stay: Stay in the heart of downtown Phoenix at the Cambria Hotel, where many of the city’s highlights are just outside your door.

Which one of these Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip stops are you looking forward to the most?

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