Even before European settlement, Yuma has always held a great significance to the people of the area.
Set on the banks of the once erratic Colorado river, it was one of the only safe, or predictable crossings at the time.
Originally founded as Colorado City, it later assumed greater significance as thousands of opportunist Americans travelled south via Yuma to California to cash in on the 1849 gold rush.
Back then, a rope ferry would carry passing travellers across the river.
The city was renamed twice to Arizona City, then Yuma, from the Spanish word for smoke (humo) since the natives of the area used smoke in their practices.
Packed with history and surrounded by nature, let’s explore the best things to do in Yuma, Arizona.
1. Historic Downtown
Where once came flooding, the night now comes to life in Yuma’s historic downtown.
The destructive floods of the past mean that most buildings here now only date back to the 1920’s, but with the revitalisation of this area, the history lives on.
Discover what the North End has to offer with historic tours, or simply enjoy the shopping, dining and entertainment that can be found.
There are regularly fairs or events on in the area.
2. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park
No longer in operation, Yuma Territorial Prison is now a state historical park with quite the reputation.
It was strategically built (by its very own pioneering prisoners) on the banks of the Colorado as an additional safety measure against common jailbreaks of the time.
During 33 years of running, it held 3,069 prisoners, 111 of which died serving their time.
The prison cemetery severe as a chilling reminder of life in the Old South West.
Don’t forget to snap your own mugshot before leaving using the original mirror that created a simultaneous front and side profile in one photo.
3. Gateway Park
With your toes in the sand and history overhead, Yuma’s Gateway Park offers a family friendly riverside spot to pass a warm day.
This is the best place to observe the historic Ocean To Ocean Bridge which was originally designed to carry the Ocean to Ocean Highway.
The bridge was renovated and reopened to vehicles in 2002 after 14 years of pedestrian and bicycle only traffic.
The park is the perfecting setting for a picnic with its playgrounds and a little beach next to the refreshing waters of the Colorado River.
4. Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens
Tucked away in the downtown area, surrounded by elegant gardens, the original adobe house of merchant E.F. Sanguinetti now serves as a museum exhibiting his life.
Follow his story to discover how Sanguinetti came to Yuma with nothing but became an influential businessman impacting the community he had come to love.
Learn about his and his family’s history in context with the history of the town and life back then.
The Garden Cafe is right next door if you’re looking for some refreshments after.
5. Colorado River State Historic Park
Containing the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, this park has a mix of full on history and fun exhibits for children.
It is home to some of Arizona’s oldest buildings, where you can soak up information and follow the history of the Colorado River and it’s crucial crossing in Yuma in the time of the Old West.
You can also learn about the Yuma project, which set out to irrigate a vast area of land in Yuma County and California, through the use of dams, canals, siphons, power plants and drains, to enable year-round farming.
To keep the children engaged, head to the Yuma Crossing area to learn about the railroad, see the original pivot point and board the steam train on display.
6. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
Striking scenery of mountains, wetlands, desert and river combine in this appealing protected area that spills into both Yuma County, Arizona and Imperial County, California.
Despite its place in the Sonoran desert, wetlands actually make up the majority of its habitat, making it a refuge for wildlife and the perfect spot to observe nature.
Within the refuge you can enjoy boat trips, fishing, hiking and camping. Wandering the painted desert trail is a must for new comers.
7. Castle Dome Mine Museum & Ghost Town
Where a bustling mining town once reigned, the abandoned city of Castle Dome now lies utterly empty.
Below it’s soils reside over 300 mines, all of which have been explored, and artefacts brought up from to fill the museums.
You can make your way through more than 50 buildings, including homes, shops, and a church, each offering their own input to build the history of the town.
Frozen in time, this western ghost town preserves a precious history of the Old West for all to enjoy.
8. Waylon’s Water Park
Full of family fun, featuring more than 15 slides and attractions, Waylon’s water park is a refreshing stop with plenty to do.
Not restricted to getting wet, thorough entertainment can be found on the mini golf course alone.
With a pleasant restaurant on site, this place caters to all ages and is the perfect hideaway on a hot day.
9. East Wetlands Environmental Restoration Area
Not far from Yuma Prison lies the recently restored natural habitat ares of Yuma’s East Wetlands.
Since the restoration began in 2002, the removal of trash and dirt and replanting of native species, has triggered a huge increase in bird diversity and their populations have doubled, making it a wonderful nature spot.
The wetlands hold several trails and paths to walk or cycle, and some nice areas to stop and rest while and enjoy the nature.
10. West Wetlands Park & Centennial Beach
Opposite the East Wetlands, the West Wetlands Park is just across the river.
This is more of a recreational area than the Eastern Wetlands, with playgrounds, picnic spots, trails to walk and spots to fish.
It also has the delightful Centennial Beach which was developed for the towns 100th anniversary. This is another ideal picnic spot and place to cool off.
11. Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area
20 miles west of Yuma, these incredible sand dunes hold the title of the countries largest area of inland dunes, stretching over 40 miles.
The dunes can be enjoyed by everyone in the low season, but during the off-roading peak season, only off-road vehicles are allowed on the dunes, though you can make a quick photo stop.
This is a haven for dirt biking, quad biking and dune buggy riding.
The impressive scenery has also served as the set for several films, such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
12. The “Official” Center of the World
Just a short drive from Yuma in Imperial County, California, this seemingly random point has been approved as the official Centre of the World by the Californian state and the French government.
Established in the 80’s by Jacques-Andre Istel, the site consists of many interesting monuments, including a spiral staircase to nowhere, formerly part of the Eiffel Tower.
You will also find a set of granite pyramids meant to depict the history of humanity, a church, and of course a plaque marking the spot.
This bizarre stop is only open from March to December, but you will get a certificate when you visit.
13. Yuma Conservation Garden
An educational hub and community treasure, this botanical garden is a secluded spot no more than 4 miles outside of Yuma.
Magnificent desert plants, many of which are lazy for educational and identification purposes, offer a charming Sonaran Derert experience.
Also on display is a range of antique farm machinery, for those interested in old truck and tractors.
Nearby are two airports which make for some interesting plane watching, while you can also feed the ducks or stroll the nature trails.
14. Yuma River Tubing
From April to September in the sunny summer months of Arizona, Yuma River Tubing offer an excellent alternative way to experience the Colorado River.
No matter how old you are, you’re free to try and sure to love this floating journey from where the company drop you upstream, under the Ocean to Ocean bridge, all the way back to West Wetlands Park
The activity takes about an hour and you can even take refreshments and at the right time enjoy the sunset, surrounded by your friends or family.
It’s best to reserve as spots fill up fast, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on the fun!
15. Martha’s Gardens Date Farm
Arizona, particularly Yuma, is quickly becoming an ever more popular place for date production.
It is hardly surprising since dates require continuous sunshine and Yuma holds the title of the sunniest place in the world.
At Martha’s Gardens you can wander through the palm groves and learn about the growing process and history of the organic farm.
You can also grab lunch, try their famed date shake, and buy other dare products to take away before leaving.
Keep in mind that peak season runs from September through to April.