Have the adventure of a lifetime with a road trip from El Paso, Texas to Tucson Arizona. Though the drive clocks in at just under five hours, there’s plenty to see and do along the way, making it an ideal 2-3 day excursion through some of the best Southwestern scenery in the country. After all, the best part of any road trip is the ability to customize—so feel free to make additional stops along the way, or avoid stops of little interest.
The Road Ahead
The journey from El Paso to Tucson is packed with stellar scenery, fun towns, and state parks that offer everything from outdoor activities to photo ops that can’t be beat—making it one of the most unforgettable road trips out there.
Total Distance: 316 miles
Total Direct Route Driving Time: 4 hours, 38 minutes
Suggested Itinerary Length: 2-3 days
Day 1: Leaving El Paso
Before leaving El Paso, be sure to check out the local views of the Franklin Mountains. The Loop 375 road is incredibly scenic and connects to Interstate 10—the beginning of your road trip to Tucson. While I-10 is the main route to Tucson, some of the stops along the way may take slight detours off the interstate to visit some of the nearby towns and attractions.
The first stop on the road to Tucson is Las Cruces, New Mexico. Located less than an hour west of El Paso, it’s situated at the intersection of I-10 and I-25—easy to get to and definitely worth a stop, Las Cruces is a great place to explore for anywhere from an hour or two to an entire day, depending on your itinerary. Averaging over 300 days of sunshine a year, Las Cruces is known for its beautiful, sunny weather and warm temps all year long (even in winter!) Travelers will also find a plethora of things to keep them busy—as this diverse city is jam-packed with everything from fun outdoor activities to a vibrant arts and cultural scene, in addition to restaurants that wow and historic National Monuments that combine both scenery and history.
Get to Las Cruces early to beat the heat and hit the trails at The Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. A whopping 496,000 acres surrounding the city of Las Cruces, it is our country’s newest protected area—and is full of history as well as jaw-dropping desert scenery. Take a hike on the Butterfield Sage Trail; check out Geronimo’s Cave and Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock; and explore the area’s over 200 petroglyph and archeological sites, all in the space of a single morning.
Grab a bite to eat at one of Las Cruces’ delicious restaurants before heading back on the road. Traditional Mexican fare abounds in this bustling New Mexico town so be sure to take advantage of its many tasty offerings. Andele is a great spot to grab a taco on the go, and Habanero’s Fresh Mex is a local fave, too. Try their Macho Chimichanga and fresh guacamole for a lunch that’s both authentic and filling.
The next stop on your Southwestern journey is Deming. Though still located in New Mexico, Deming is a fun, optional stop for those who don’t want to head directly to Lordsburg. About an hour from Las Cruces, visitors should look to arrive in Deming in the early afternoon to enjoy the area’s fun Western vibe. Make a quick stop at City of Rocks State Park to admire its unique geological formations in the middle of the Chihuhuan desert; browse some local art at the Deming Arts Center; and grab a coffee at Copper Kettle Coffee before heading back out on the road. You might try a famous green chile cheeseburger at Blake’s Lotaburger, a popular NM chain restaurant.
The final stop on the first day of the road trip is in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Lordsburg is a fairly small town, but there are still plenty of places to stay the night that are clean and affordable. Where To Stay In Lordsburg
Day 2: Leaving Lordsburg On The Road To Arizona
Travelers can head out early from Lordsburg after having a delicious breakfast at Kranberry’s Chatterbox, or stick around for a bit to explore some cool things in Lordsburg.
Optional Things To See In Lordsburg
Visitors who want a true Wild West experience should visit the Shakespeare Ghost Town. Shakespeare was a true lawless western mining town frequented by the likes of outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Curley Bill. Walking tours are available daily for those who want to learn more about Shakespeare, known as the “world’s most authentic ghost town.” Visitors say that nearby Veterans Park is worth a stop, too.
The next stop is Bowie, Arizona. Though only about an hour away from Lordsburg, there’s plenty of scenery along the way on I-10—though not many places to stop. However, there are plenty of attractions in the nearby Willcox area, so travelers can decide to stay here, or one of the other nearby towns, depending on what they want to see and do on the journey. Thatcher and Safford are other towns in the area where travelers can find reasonable accommodations for the night. Where To Stay In Willcox, Safford, and Thatcher
Bowie is in Cochese Country Arizona and there’s a lot to see and do in the surrounding towns within a 20-30 mile radius. For those who want a side trip, head south from the tiny town of San Simon via Apache Pass Road, I-10BL W, and AZ 186-E to Willcox, stopping for some delicious take-out BBQ at Rodney’s before heading the Chiricahua National Monument, just over an hour south of San Simon. The route may seem a bit circuitous, but it’s well worth it to visit the “Wonderland of Rocks” that is Chiricahua. With both a scenic drive and a number of day-use hiking trails, visitors can explore this historic Willcox attraction for an hour or for an afternoon. Learn Chiricahua history; see the Faraway Ranch Historic District; and admire the incredible geology at this scenic site. There’s also a campsite here for visitors who’d rather sleep under the stars instead of at an area motel.
Camping At Chiricahua National Monument
Day 3: Optional Stops On The Way To Tucson
The final day on the road trip to Tucson begins in Bowie, AZ (or the surrounding area, depending on where you bunked for the night). Tucson is about an hour and a half west of Bowie, and about an hour and fifteen minutes from Willcox, so no matter your departure point, the drive will be a less than two hour trip without any stops. However, there are still things to see and do for those who have some extra time before arriving in Tucson.
Grab breakfast at Country Pride Restaurant in Willcox before heading north to Safford, about 45 minutes away. Safford is worth a stop because its home to another beautiful spot along the slopes of the Dos Cabezas Mountains: Indian Bread Rocks Picnic Area. More than just a simple picnic area, however, Indian Bread is a great place to sightsee and catch a glimpse of some of the area’s mountain ranges, rising majestically from the diverse terrain. The panoramic views alone are worth the trip to this scenic wilderness spot.
But why drive almost an hour out of the way just to see one attraction? Safford has numerous places to explore for those who want to spend the afternoon exploring before moving on to Tucson. Discovery Park at Eastern Arizona College is a great place to learn about space exploration and astronomy—and includes the Governor Aker Observatory. Take a swim, go fishing, or head out on the lake at Roper Lake State Park, a family-friendly destination that’s a great place to cool off in the summer. Spot some local wildlife, like mule deer and bighorn sheep, at the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, a beautiful spot whose diverse landscapes include everything from beaches to woodlands on its over 20,000 acres.
The best way to get to Tucson from Safford is to head back to I-10 west, via US 191-S. The trip to Tucson is a little less than two hours away with no stops. The route will take you south back to Wilcox before turning west, so this would be a good time to see anything or stop anywhere you missed the first time in Willcox, like the Fort Bowie National Historic Site, the home of many historic battles between the Apache Indians and the U.S. Army in the 1800s. Fort Bowie offers sightseeing as well as hiking, and is a lovely serene landscape with plenty of local flora.
Grab a bite and stretch your legs before heading into Tucson. El Güero Canelo Restaurant is an Arizona chain specializing in authentic Mexican food, and its East Tucson location is the perfect spot to stop for a late lunch before heading in to the city. Known for their Sonoran style hot dog, a bacon wrapped frank served with the works, El Güero is the perfect casual spot to catch a bite before settling in for the night—or freshening up and heading out to explore Tuscon’s nightlife.
The best part of a road trip is choosing your own adventure. This El Paso to Tucson road trip is so much more than a scenic car ride (though it’s that, too). This Southwestern journey is a multi-day trek that spans three states and includes many diverse cultural and historical attractions; jaw-dropping desert scenery; and plenty of other stops along the way to create a trip to remember for any visitor to the Southwestern U.S.
Watch next: Venturing Out: Park 2 Park, El Paso: Conquering Mountains followed by behind the scenes content and extended moments from Tucson: Ropes and Fears