Positively brimming to capacity with culture, history and natural beauty, Prescott also has its fair share of contemporary style and amenities, which makes it the best of both worlds in many ways.
Surrounded by mountainous pine forests which may seem more like upland Colorado than central Arizona, Prescott has always been a retreat for fed-up Arizonans who just can’t take the heat for one more minute.
With plenty to see and do within walking distance, or just a short drive away, filling up your schedule won’t be difficult.
Below are 14 things to do in Prescott that shouldn’t be missed.
1. Sharlot Hall Museum
Located on West Gurley Street in Prescott, the Sharlot Hall Museum would be a great place to visit first on your trip to the area.
Full of artifacts and exhibits – most of which have a distinctly Arizona flair – the museum focuses on the history and heritage of the north and central regions of Arizona.
Spread over nearly five acres and including 11 separate buildings, the museum is full of fascinating tidbits of Arizona history that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere.
The original house was built in the 1860’s and belonged to the state’s governor; the museum opened in 1928.
2. Tour Jerome, Arizona
Often referred to as the largest ghost town in America, Jerome is one of those places diehard history buffs should visit when in Prescott.
Located in the Verde Valley, or, ‘Green Valley,’ Jerome is brimming with wild-west character like it has been since the days of the prospectors, gunslingers, and lawmen who walked its dusty streets.
You’re more than welcome to tour the town on your own, but consider taking a guided tour; you’ll learn a lot more about the town and its history than if you do it on your own.
At nearly a mile above sea level, the thin air will be noticeably cooler than the valleys below.
3. The Smoki Museum
Primarily focused on the preservation and promotion of Native American culture in the southwest, the Smoki Museum has been open since 1935.
It’s located on North Arizona Avenue in Prescott and is built in the rustic style using local wood and rock.
The museum has an interesting and contentious past; white Arizonans performed Native American-like dances on the site from the ‘30s until the ‘80s, which understandably upset the authentic Native Americans in the area.
Thankfully, all that is in the past and the museum is one of those things to do in Prescott that shouldn’t be passed up.
4. Watson Lake
Just a short drive outside of town, Watson Lake is one of the two lakes at Granite Dells, an area known for its massive granite boulders and bedrock formations formed over countless eons of erosion.
Watson and Willow Lakes are popular fishing, boating, and swimming areas that feature surprisingly cool water year-round.
The surrounding area is full of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders too.
It’s also considered one of the best bird watching areas around, as the cool weather and abundant water are much sought after.
Campsites are available too, though most are seasonal.
5. Downtown Historic Area
Like parks and farmer’s markets, downtown areas are wonderful and free places where it’s easy to get a sense of the history and culture of a town.
Prescott’s quaint historic area is just such a place.
With many of the town’s original buildings from the 1800’s still intact and in use, there’s a definite feel of the old west in the air.
The town’s economy is largely based on tourism since the glory days of the mining era are long gone.
There are plenty of hotels, saloons and eating establishments – most of which sport a western theme.
So, dust off those spurs, brush your horse and head downtown for some culture, whiskey, and a big steak.
6. The Prescott National Forest
Comprised of over one million acres, The Prescott National Forest is a massive tract of nearly pristine forest that winds its way throughout central Arizona.
The park is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and consists of eight regions, each with its own highlights.
The park is dotted with different campsites – some of which are easily accessible and others which aren’t – for those who want to get off the well-worn path and do a little communing with Mother Nature.
Hiking, fishing and horseback riding are popular activities, as is panning for gold in the creeks and streambeds found throughout the park.
Due to harsh winters, some areas are seasonal and inaccessible for parts of the year.
7. Lynx Lake Recreation Area
If you visit Prescott after Phoenix, you’ll feel like you’re in a different state.
Located just outside of town, in the sprawling pine forests that dominate the central and northern areas of Arizona, Lynx Lake is another oasis for outdoorsmen, nature-lovers, and respite-seekers from all over the state.
With activities ranging from panning for gold and fishing to horseback riding and canoeing, finding something to do at Lynx Lake won’t be a problem.
As an Arizona fisherman myself, I can attest to the good fishing in the lake – especially rainbow trout and smallmouth bass, which tend to be more active at dawn, dusk, and on overcast and windy days.
8. The Elks Opera House Theatre
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of rural Arizona probably isn’t opera, but a trip to the Elks Opera House and Theatre may just change your mind.
Located on East Gurley Street and with nearly 500 seats, the building was constructed in the early 1900’s. Though many Elks opera houses were built, this is the last one still going strong.
In addition to opera, there are plays, balls, and other unique shows from bygone eras.
The restored building is open for tours too, so check online to see what’ll be playing when you’re in town.
9. The Fort Whipple Museum
Dating back to the early 1900’s, The Fort Whipple Museum is inside what used to be an officer’s quarters when the fort was still a fort.
Today, the area surrounding the museum is a hospital and is full of artifacts, papers, and weapons – all of which have some relation to the historic fort.
Perhaps the most interesting exhibits are those that include personal accounts and letters from the soldiers who were stationed at the fort around the time of the Civil War.
If you’d like a knowledgeable guide to lead you around, call in advance, or just swing by when you’re in the area and take a look yourself.
10. The Prescott Farmer’s Market
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: never miss a good farmers market.
If that’s your motto too, then the Prescott Farmer’s Market on Ruth Street is one of the things to do in Prescott that mustn’t be missed.
The market is open on Saturdays; the vendors are dedicated to sustainable farming and using mainly local products, so don’t just browse – dust off that wallet and spend a buck or two to support them.
There are other farmer’s markets organized by the same group in nearby Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, so go online and check them out too.
11. Thumb Butte Trail
Located in the famous Prescott National Forest, Thumb Butte Trail is less than three miles long and is mostly paved, making it relatively easy and safe for all hikers.
The trail can be busy during peak times, so if you’re after a little seclusion – and maybe a glimpse of the local deer and hummingbirds – try to visit on a weekday, early in the morning or in the afternoon.
The view of Prescott from the top will be one you won’t soon forget. If you’d rather bike than walk the trail, that’s okay too.
12. The Highlands Center for Natural History
Since the Prescott area and Arizona in general are brimming with natural beauty, it’s only fitting that there’s an institution like The Highlands Center for Natural History to aid in the preservation of these wonders, through education and community outreach.
Classes and programs are available on a number of topics and there’s also a garden onsite that highlights the local flora.
There’s also a nature trail that’s nearly three miles long and leads to the Prescott National Forest.
The center hosts different exhibits and activities throughout the year, so check out their website before you head out.
13. Take a Self-Guided Art Walk
With more cool art galleries than you can shake a stick at, downtown Prescott is a great place to spend an afternoon looking at great artwork – much of which has been created by locals and sports a southwest theme.
There are many galleries packed into a tight little area between East Sheldon and East Goodwin Streets to the north and south, and Alarcon and Granite to the east and west.
You’ll find everything from sculpture and paintings to jewelry and even some chic western-wear.
Stop and have a cappuccino or an espresso before you get started.
14. Visit the Yavapai-Prescott Reservation
The Yavapai people have inhabited the region around Prescott for untold centuries.
Known as a great place to escape the heat and hustle-and-bustle of Phoenix, the reservation is home to shopping, casinos, and swank hotels that’ll make you think you’re in Vegas.
Much of the reservation’s facilities are decorated in a cool mix of contemporary and Native American design and architecture, and like most casinos, the restaurants are noted for their yummy food.
Even if you’re not a gambler, the reservation is a great place to check out, if just for an hour or two.