Camp Verde sits between the Sonora Desert and the Colorado Plateau in Arizona State, at the southern end of the Verde Valley. Surrounded by highlands with some reaching up to 7,000 feet, its altitude at just over 3,000 feet results in a temperate climate, pleasantly mild outside the peak of summer.
The attractions combine the chance of enjoying a number of outdoor activities with learning more about cultures that existed in the region many centuries ago.
Camp Verde finds itself less than an hour from some of Arizona’s major cities such as Phoenix and Flagstaff, but it is able to make its own case as a popular tourist destination.
You can hike, bike or boat in lovely surroundings, sample the local wine and learn about cultures that existed here long before the Native Americans and the subsequent white settlers.
If you are travelling in Arizona, read on for 15 things to do in Camp Verde.
1. Fort Verde State Historic Park
In the late 19th century, the US Army with their families had forts in the Verde Valley. This was in the midst of the American Indian Wars, when General Crook was in charge.
Three museums allow visitors to see how they lived with the building used for administration back then now containing a center with relevant artifacts, exhibits and a history of the Wars.
The park is certainly the best-preserved of its kind in Arizona. From time to time, the park holds living history performances to add to the experience provided in a visit. In addition to being an education for visitors, there are picnic facilities, restrooms and parking.
2. Camp Verde Historical Society Museum
The Schoolhouse in Main Street is home to this museum, as well as serving as the Society’s headquarters and the Visitor Center. The schoolhouse itself is a piece of history, built in stone in 1914, and is one of the stops on the Historic Building Walking Tour.
The society is keeping the Old Jail in good condition and has taken responsibility for other historical buildings locally. There are documents, artifacts and photographs chronicling 1,000 years of local history.
If you want to know about the first pioneers, the Native Indians, the miners and traders throughout history, this is the place to go.
3. Verde Valley Railroad
Sit back, relax and take in the surroundings as you travel from Clarkdale, an old mining town, to Perkinsville, and make the return journey. The route takes you through a canyon, but one not quite as huge as the Grand Canyon.
The flora and fauna and the rugged landscapes can only be seen on the train and the four hours you spend will go by like a flash. You will see some ruins from when Native Americans lived there, and a manmade tunnel almost 700 feet long which had to be carved out to create the route.
There is an audio narration as you travel along, while the train’s attendants are equally helpful in informing passengers about the history and archaeology along the rail track.
4. Verde Valley Archaeological Center
It was almost ten years ago that the Verde Valley Archaeology Center opened in the heart of Camp Verde. Its expressed aim was to preserve the history of the ancient peoples who inhabited the Verde Valley long before records were being kept.
The artifacts on display have been gathered together from private and public collections to prevent their being taken elsewhere. Active research is ongoing, with extensive cataloging being undertaken.
The center runs regular programs to educate both locals and visitors about the history of the region.
The center also houses the Dyck Collection, containing 25,000 artifacts given to the Center for safe-keeping. Ancient textile weavings are other interesting exhibits to see.
5. Montezuma Castle
This National Monument of cliff houses dates back to around 700AD when the Sinagua people lived in the area. Over subsequent centuries they were home to people whom several Hopi clans have identified as their ancestors. That has resulted in Hopis visiting from time to time for ceremonies which can almost be described as pilgrimages.
European Americans found them around 1860 and gave them the name Montezuma, after the Aztec Emperor of Mexico, because it was assumed that he was responsible for their construction. In fact, they had been abandoned long before Montezuma was born.
6. Montezuma Well
This sinkhole near Rimrock is a natural creation, and 1.4 million US gallons of water flow through it daily. It measures 368 feet across and 55 feet deep with the carbonated water containing significant levels of arsenic.
The well is home to five species that live nowhere else in the USA: a water scorpion, a diatom (a form of algae), a species of leech, the amphipod and the springtail.
It has been used for irrigation since the very early days, around the 8th century. Close to the picnic area, there is a prehistoric canal. An old Sinagua Canal is also still in use even today.
The Sinagua lived in cliff houses but not exclusively so. Tuzigoot is another National Monument dating back to the 12th Century, where you will find a number of homes close to the Verde Valley. It is thought that up to 250 people lived here until it was abandoned in the 15th century.
They are located on the top of a sandstone ridge. The trail that takes you there has wheelchair access and a loop where you will see interesting local fauna, cacti and shrubs.
The Visitor Center is built in the style of the ruins and contains a small display of artifacts taken from the site over time. Make sure you go to the best-preserved dwelling, a pueblo where you can climb a ladder up to the roof.
8. Palatki Heritage Site
Found in Coconino Forest, Palatki means ‘’Red House’’ in the Hopi language.
The initial records of Palatki were made by the Smithsonian Institute in 1895. The cliff dwellings have been dated to as early the 12th century and were home to the Sinagua for a couple of centuries.
There are two buildings, although one of them has been closed to the public for some time because of its poor condition. However, the one which you can see is worth the effort, with five rooms on the ground floor and three above.
9. Honanki Ruins
“Bear House” or Honanki in the Hopi language, is the largest of the Sinagua sites in Camp Verde Valley and probably also the best preserved. Over 60 ground floor rooms show how many people may have lived here at one time, because there is a further row of rooms at the front, a total of 72 rooms in all.
There are no guides at a site that offers three different cultures to its visitors. As well as the Sinagua who lived here until around 1300, the Yavapai and Apache peoples also lived there in more recent centuries.
10. Clear Creek Church & Cemetery
They took limestone from the White Hills to build this lovely church. Work began in 1898 and it took five years to complete.
It was the community’s Methodist Church until 1913, when a church closer to town took over. In the Second World War, it was used as a cannery, and it was in a poor state when given to the Camp Verde Historical Society. The society restored the church in the late 70s, and it can now be booked for weddings as well as being open to the public.
The cemetery is home to many pioneers including Wales Arnold, an early settler, and a couple murdered in an 1899 robbery that went wrong.
11. Out of Africa Wild Animal Park
This Theme Park dislikes any reference to it as a zoo. It aims to educate, conserve and entertain while fully respecting the animals who live here.
Visitors can almost engage with the animals on walks and tours around the Park without being in any danger. It is a great place for the family, and its shows are certainly a highlight of any visit.
The list of species in the park covers far more than the continent of Africa although three of its “Big Five” are there, including lion, rhino and buffalo as well as three species of tiger and an impressive collection of birds and snakes.
12. Cliff Castle Casino (Yavapai-Apache Nation)
Camp Verde is not just about daytime activities. The Cliff Castle Casino is a great way to finish the day, perhaps with a gamble after a dinner in one of the restaurants offering a nice steak, or just a lighter buffet. There is something for all the family in the hotel, with bowling and video games for the kids and cocktail lounges for adults.
The owners of this impressive facility are the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the two peoples living here before white settlers ever arrived. The peoples of the Nation returned here after years in exile and are the major employers in Camp Verde, owning significant tracts of land, along with the Cliff Castle Casino.
13. Traveling the Verde River Greenway
While the Verde River provides water for millions of locals, it is also a place that offers huge recreational opportunities. Irrigation ditches take water for the land without affecting its flow in any significant way.
You can canoe or kayak along stretches where the local flora and fauna add to the whole experience. The 18 miles of river in the immediate area has a number of pools and a flow that is even suitable for a beginner. Experts can find a challenge of faster-flowing water a little further away, south of Camp Verde towards Horseshoe Lake. You can camp by the river but must respect that some of the land is private property.
14. Clear Creek Vineyard and Winery
With a setting more akin to Europe than Arizona, this lovely winery works under the brand of Rio Claro.
You can sample its wines while sitting on a veranda just taking in the view of the vineyard, the mountains in the distance and the pond. The host is a mine of information about wine and its production and is more than happy to talk.
It is a place that can be booked for small parties and celebrations and you do not need to book in advance; just drop in during daylight hours, Wednesday to Sunday.
15. General Crook Trail
Anyone who enjoys walking is certain to love spending time outdoors in Arizona. A number of trails are found in the immediate vicinity of Camp Verde, and there is plenty of advice and assistance for those who need it.
One trail that offers significant history as well is the General Crook Trail, which the US Army took to move between Fort Whipple via Fort Verde to Fort Apache.
25 miles long, the US Forest Service maintains it. Access can be found at a number of places on the trail. Just take plenty of water on a hot day.