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.
As a travel enthusiast living in Arizona who has been touring Prescott for some time, here is my list on the best things to do in Prescott.
1. Sharlot Hall Museum
Located on West Gurley Street in Prescott, I personally think that 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. This really is a place where the beauty of the past meets the luxury of the present.
2. Tour Jerome, Arizona
Jerome, often hailed as the largest ghost town in America, is a must-visit destination for diehard history buffs like me when I find myself in Prescott. Nestled in the picturesque Verde Valley, or what they call the ‘Green Valley,’ Jerome exudes a wild-west charm that has remained intact since the days of prospectors, gunslingers, and lawmen who once treaded its dusty streets.
While you have the option to explore the town on your own, I highly recommend taking a guided tour. Through a guided tour, you can delve deeper into the town’s captivating history and gain insights that you might miss if you were to venture solo.
Situated at an impressive elevation of nearly a mile above sea level, the thin air in Jerome offers a refreshing coolness that contrasts with the warmer valleys down 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.
However, I’m pleased to report that those contentious times are now in the past. The Smoki Museum has emerged as a beacon of cultural appreciation and understanding. It is an absolute gem among the many things to do in Prescott, and I strongly suggest not missing out on the opportunity to visit this unique establishment.
4. Watson Lake
A short drive away from town, I had the pleasure of visiting Watson Lake, one of the two lakes nestled within Granite Dells. This area is renowned for its awe-inspiring granite boulders and captivating bedrock formations that have been shaped by countless eons of erosion.
Both Watson and Willow Lakes serve as popular destinations for fishing, boating, and swimming enthusiasts, offering pleasantly cool water throughout the year. As I explored the surrounding area, I discovered an abundance of trails that catered to hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders, ensuring there was something for everyone to enjoy.
One aspect that stood out to me was the exceptional bird watching opportunities in this region. The combination of the cool weather and plentiful water sources attracts a diverse range of bird species, making Watson Lake a haven for bird enthusiasts like myself.
For those seeking an extended outdoor experience, there are campsites available. However, it’s worth noting that most of these campsites are seasonal in nature, so it’s essential to plan accordingly.
5. Downtown Historic Area
Downtown areas have always held a special allure for me, offering a glimpse into the rich history and vibrant culture of a town, all without spending a dime. And let me tell you, Prescott’s quaint historic area is no exception.
As I strolled through the streets, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the well-preserved buildings from the 1800s that still stand tall and serve various purposes today. It truly evokes a sense of the old west, immersing visitors like me in a bygone era.
With the mining heyday long gone, Prescott’s economy now heavily relies on tourism. This is evident in the wide array of hotels, saloons, and dining establishments that populate the downtown area. It seems almost every corner I turned, I encountered establishments adorned with a charming western theme, further enhancing the immersive experience.
So, if you’re up for a cultural adventure, I encourage you to dust off those spurs, give your horse a good brush, and make your way downtown. Immerse yourself in the rich history, indulge in a glass of whiskey, and savor a hearty steak. Prescott’s downtown area promises an unforgettable experience that embodies the spirit of the old west.
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.
The forest offers a myriad of outdoor activities that cater to different interests. Hiking enthusiasts can explore the numerous trails that wind through the picturesque landscape. Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines in the tranquil lakes and rivers that grace the forest, while horseback riders can embark on exhilarating rides through the scenic trails. Additionally, for those with a touch of adventure, panning for gold in the creeks and streambeds adds a thrilling twist to the experience.
It’s worth noting that due to the region’s harsh winters, certain areas of the forest are seasonal and inaccessible during parts of the year. However, the changing seasons only add to the allure, providing a dynamic and ever-changing backdrop to this magnificent natural wonderland.
7. Lynx Lake Recreation Area
Upon visiting Prescott after my time in Phoenix, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had stepped into an entirely different state. The contrast was striking, and it was within this beautiful setting that I discovered Lynx Lake, a true haven nestled amidst the expansive pine forests that dominate central and northern Arizona.
Lynx Lake serves as an oasis for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and individuals seeking a tranquil escape from the daily grind. The range of activities available is simply astounding, ensuring that there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether it’s panning for gold, casting a line for fishing, embarking on a horseback riding adventure, or gliding along the serene waters in a canoe, the options are endless.
Being an avid fisherman myself, I was particularly delighted by the fishing opportunities at Lynx Lake. The lake boasts an abundance of rainbow trout and smallmouth bass, which tend to be most active during the enchanting hours of dawn and dusk, as well as on overcast and windy days. I can personally vouch for the thrill of reeling in these prized catches and the joy of being surrounded by such natural beauty.
Lynx Lake is truly a hidden gem within Arizona, offering an array of activities and a haven for fishing enthusiasts like myself. If you find yourself in the area, I highly urge paying a visit and immersing yourself in the tranquil and rewarding experience it has to offer.
8. The Elks Opera House Theatre
When envisioning rural Arizona, opera may not be the first thing that springs to mind. However, I had the pleasure of visiting the Elks Opera House and Theatre, and it completely transformed my perception.
Situated on East Gurley Street, this historic venue boasts nearly 500 seats and has a rich history dating back to the early 1900s. While many Elks opera houses were once scattered across the country, this particular gem is the sole survivor, still captivating audiences with its timeless charm.
The Elks Opera House and Theatre is not limited to opera performances alone. It offers diverse shows, including plays, balls, and other captivating productions from bygone eras. Each event transports visitors to a different time and place, providing a unique and immersive experience.
The building has been meticulously restored, ensuring its original splendor shines through. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend taking a tour of this architectural treasure. By checking online, you can find the schedule of upcoming shows and plan your visit accordingly.
The Elks Opera House and Theatre is a testament to the vibrant arts and cultural scene that thrives even in unexpected places. It is a true hidden gem in rural Arizona and an experience that should not be missed when you find yourself in town.
9. The Fort Whipple Museum
Stepping into the Fort Whipple Museum is like taking a journey back in time to the early 1900s when it served as an officer’s quarters within the fort. Today, the museum resides within a hospital complex, surrounded by a wealth of artifacts, papers, and weapons, all of which bear a significant connection to the historical fort.
As I explored the museum, I found the exhibits featuring personal accounts and letters from the soldiers stationed at the fort during the Civil War era particularly captivating. These firsthand narratives offered a unique glimpse into the lives and experiences of those who bravely served at Fort Whipple.
For those seeking a guided experience, I recommend calling in advance to arrange for a knowledgeable guide who can provide in-depth insights and stories as you navigate the museum. However, if you prefer a more independent exploration, you can simply swing by the museum during your visit to the area and immerse yourself in the fascinating displays at your own pace.
The Fort Whipple Museum stands as a testament to the rich history and significance of the fort. It is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and anyone intrigued by the tales of the soldiers who once called this place home.
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.
Open on Saturdays, this market is a treasure trove of sustainable farming practices and a showcase of locally sourced products. As you wander through the vibrant stalls, take the opportunity to not just browse but also support the dedicated vendors by purchasing their incredible offerings. Whether it’s fresh produce, artisanal goods, or homemade treats, every purchase goes a long way in supporting these hardworking individuals and their commitment to sustainable agriculture.
What’s even more exciting is that the same group organizes other farmers markets in nearby Prescott Valley and Chino Valley. I encourage you to check them out online, as they offer additional opportunities to explore and support local farmers and artisans.
So, dust off your wallet and get ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Prescott Farmer’s Market. It’s a delightful experience that not only allows you to savor the flavors of the region but also supports the local community in a meaningful way.
11. Thumb Butte Trail
Nestled within the renowned Prescott National Forest, the Thumb Butte Trail offers a captivating hiking experience that spans less than three miles. What makes this trail particularly enticing is its predominantly paved surface, ensuring a relatively easy and safe journey for hikers of all levels.
During peak times, the trail can attract a considerable crowd. However, if you crave a sense of solitude and wish to catch a glimpse of the local deer and hummingbirds, I recommend planning your visit for a weekday, preferably in the early morning or afternoon. This strategic timing allows for a more peaceful and immersive encounter with nature.
Reaching the top of Thumb Butte rewards you with a breathtaking view of Prescott that etches itself into your memory. It’s a sight that lingers long after the hike is complete, leaving a lasting impression of the beauty and grandeur of the surrounding landscape.
If hiking isn’t your preference, fear not. The Thumb Butte Trail also welcomes biking enthusiasts, offering an alternative mode of exploration that allows you to soak in the picturesque surroundings at your own pace.
Whether you choose to conquer the trail on foot or bike, the Thumb Butte Trail promises an unforgettable adventure amidst the natural splendor of the Prescott National Forest.
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. During my childhood, this is definitely one of my favorite spots in the city.
Classes and programs are available on a number of topics and there’s also a garden onsite that highlights the local flora.
Additionally, there’s also a nature trail that’s nearly three miles long and leads to the Prescott National Forest. This is where I usually take my runs whenever I feel like stepping in the nature.
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
Downtown Prescott is a haven for art enthusiasts, offering a plethora of cool art galleries that are simply impossible to resist. Spending an afternoon strolling through these galleries is an absolute delight, as you encounter a vibrant collection of artwork, much of which is crafted by talented local artists and carries a distinctive southwest theme.
The concentration of galleries in this area, nestled between East Sheldon and East Goodwin Streets to the north and south, and Alarcon and Granite to the east and west, is truly remarkable. It’s like stepping into a treasure trove of creative expression, where each gallery unveils a unique selection of sculptures, paintings, jewelry, and even stylish western-wear.
Before embarking on this art-filled adventure, I recommend pausing at one of the charming local cafes to savor a cappuccino or an espresso. This moment of relaxation sets the perfect tone for immersing oneself in the world of art, providing a moment of contemplation and anticipation.
As you explore the galleries, allow yourself to be captivated by the diverse range of artistic styles and mediums. Take your time to appreciate the skill and creativity behind each piece, and don’t hesitate to engage with the knowledgeable gallery staff, who are often eager to share insights and stories behind the artwork.
Downtown Prescott’s art scene is an invitation to embrace the beauty and creativity that enriches our lives. So, grab a cup of your favorite caffeinated delight, and let the art-filled streets of Prescott ignite your imagination and nourish your soul.
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.