Whether you're visiting Phoenix or live in the Valley of the Sun, one of the best day trips from Phoenix is to fun, eclectic Cave Creek.
Cave Creek—just northeast of Phoenix—is a unique community nestled into a scenic boulder-strewn desert. Cave Creek has both outdoor recreation opportunities and fanciful eclectic shopping venues. Add in a surprising mix of fine dining, Southwestern specialty foods, and a western bar or two, and you’ll find quite a few reasons why Cave Creek is absolutely one of the best day trips from Phoenix.
Desert Recreation in Cave Creek
As you drive north on Cave Creek Road, you’ll be struck by the large homes on the hillsides so carefully integrated into the desert landscape that some are almost hidden. Cave Creek is part of the scenic Upper Sonoran desert and so it’s not surprising that you’ll find some trails so you can also enjoy the desert.
Spur Cross Ranch Hiking
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is accessible to the west from Cave Creek Road on North Spur Cross Road. You’ll find a trailhead and parking. The rugged scenery makes hiking at Spur Creek enjoyable. You’ll find diverse flora and fauna, including some rattlesnakes when things are warming up after a chilly winter. But don’t let that deter you. If you hike the easier, busier trails, after some groups have already been hiking the trails, the snakes will slither off because they really don’t want to be near people, anyway.
Park trails range in length from 1.2 miles to 4.6 miles and range from easy to difficult. Cave Creek runs through the conservation area, but avoid the area after a rainstorm as the creek may turn into a river! When you hike, take water and keep dogs on a leash.
Spur Cross Ranch Horseback Riding
Just before the Spur Cross trailhead, you’ll find a sign for horseback riding. Arizona Horseback Adventure at Spur Cross has a variety of rides for all levels of expertise and lengths. They include time for riders to get to know the horses and learn about desert riding. You can choose from a day ride or—my favorite—the sunset trail ride.
Sunset trail rides wind through the cactus-studded desert while the sun sinks low into the west. This ride offers fantastic photo ops. When I rode, it was dark by the time we headed back and I just let the horse pick his way around the stones on the trail, avoid cactus spines, and follow along with the other horses. I learned to trust my horse.
Shop ‘Til You Drop in Cave Creek
On a day you are yearning for something less adventurous—yet fun—hit the shops all along Cave Creek Road in central Cave Creek. There, you’ll find everything from fine art to funky resale shops. You never know what you’ll find. One day, I was surprised to find a store with monumental onyx carvings suitable for an equally large garden or casual room. I found out that Rare Earth Gallery is the world’s largest mineral and landscape home décor gallery. Inside, there is everything from jewelry to collectible gems and minerals.
Cave Creek Consignment Shopping
While there are art galleries, leather furniture stores, and surprises like the Rare Earth Gallery, it’s the small consignment shops that attract the bargain hunter. Often the shops spill out onto the street with their colorful wares tempting you inside. Since it's Cave Creek, you’ll often find textiles and pottery from Mexico, used patio furniture, western wear, and a surprise or two.
At Red Truck Trading, you’ll find some real bargains in Southwest décor. This is the place where furnishings from those beautiful homes we saw as we drove up Cave Creek Road would be placed on consignment. They have massive Southwest carved dining room sets, gently worn leather furniture, and small décor items to enhance your home and give it that Southwest look.
Getting the Western Look
You’ll find Mexican pottery shops, yard art galore, and the Southwest Bedazzle Boutique, which is fun as soon as you park in front. Check out the rusting vintage truck in front nestled into the garden art—quite a sight. This is the place for western t-shirts, hats, Southwest-style coats, and more. Oh yes, they have Mexican beach coats for dogs!
Dining in Cave Creek
After all this hiking, riding, and shopping you’ll probably want something to eat. Cave Creek offers a diverse selection of restaurants.
Just up the path from Red Truck Trading, you’ll find a tree-shaded courtyard (plus inside seating) where you can relax with a morning cup of local coffee or sit back to enjoy a good-for-you salad, house-baked goodies, or fish tacos and a glass of beer or wine. Watch for the Grotto Cafe calendar for live music events.
El Encanto Mexican Restaurant
El Encanto (which means enchanting) is another place in Cave Creek with a lovely outdoor area. Their gardens surround a pond often visited by ducks and even a heron. They have resident turtles that like to sun themselves during lunchtime.
For years, this Cave Creek centerpiece has served up traditional American Mexican food like chips and guacamole, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, and more. We love El Encanto because the salads and grilled meats are freshly made and the service is excellent.
Look for their seafood dishes for something special. But the best reason to go to El Encanto is to sit around the pond in the lovely colonial courtyard and sip a margarita!
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral
After our sunset trail ride that evening, where else would we go for the western ambiance? Harold’s is known as one of Arizona’s 17 Iconic Western Bars. It’s huge, offers a live band for dancing, and has great American food plus a full bar.
They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner through to the last set played by the band. Enjoy a steak or go light with an appetizer and fresh salad. If you happen to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, this is THE place to go to cheer on your team and enjoy beer and pub food.
More Ideas for Day Trips from Phoenix
While Cave Creek is rather close to Phoenix, there are other fun day trips that entail a little longer drive. Here are a few of our favorite day trips from Phoenix:
- Quirky Quartzsite
- Experience the Verde Valley
- Petrified Forest
- Route 66 in Arizona
- Wild West Wickenburg
- Artsy Sedona
- Northern Arizona National Monuments
- Flagstaff Brewery Trail
When You Go on This Day Trip from Phoenix
Cave Creek is not all that far from the northeastern border of Phoenix. Just head up Cave Creek Road from Loop 101. From the North Valley, you can catch the Carefree Highway east off I-17 to reach Cave Creek Road. And, be ready for an adventure. Cave Creek is a small rural town and the streets can be dusty. Wear comfy clothing and walking shoes (or your western boots!) and bring water with you. For hiking—a hat, boots, hiking stick, and water will be good on the desert trails. Same for horseback riding sans the hiking stick.