Located in the northwest portion of Maricopa County on the border with Yavapai County, Wickenburg and the surrounding area were part of Mexico until the Gadsden Treaty was signed in 1848, ending the Mexican-American War and ceding large portions of land to the United States.
Until the early part of the 20th century, much of Wickenburg’s economy was based on mining and the transportation of goods between Arizona and California.
Now tourism is the area’s largest draw, and accounts for the majority of dollars generated in Wickenburg’s economy.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Wickenburg that you won’t want to pass up.
1. Gold Rush Days
For 70 years, Wickenburg’s annual Gold Rush Days festival has been the town’s centerpiece for sun, fun, and everything old-west.
Each year, thousands of visitors make it a point to see the one of a kind event which is held over 3 days in February.
If a real-life rodeo, antique car show, parade, art show, and tasty food all sound like a good ways to kick off your Wickenburg adventure, then plan to be in town from February 8th to 11th.
Don’t forget to pick up a commemorative poster or two before you head for the hills. It’ll be the perfect keepsake for an unforgettable experience.
2. Desert Caballeros Western Museum
Also located in Wickenburg, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum is one of the top destinations for visitors looking to immerse themselves in the old-west that Wickenburg embodies.
The museum contains a renovated saloon, hotel with era-accurate furnishings and full size recreations of the people and history of the area.
There are also quite a few Native American items, like rugs, pottery, and blankets, most of which were made by the area’s natives.
It’s fascinating to see how much we take for granted these days, and the incredible hardships the pioneers and Native Americans faced day in and day out.
There’s a cool gift shop too.
3. Jail Tree
Every town worth its salt in the wild-west had a jail, nearly all of which were filled with thieves, murderers, and drunken revelers who got a bit carried away the night before.
According to legend, as a newly-established town, Wickenburg didn’t have the funds for a proper prison, so they resorted to chaining the previously mentioned rabble to an ancient mesquite tree near the town’s center.
The tree still stands as an icon and historic reminder of how things were back in the days before Arizona was a state.
Now there’s a mannequin chained to the tree, with a great, oral history recording that’ll tell you the tree’s macabre history.
4. Visit Vulture Mine
Located on North Vulture Mine Road, the historic Vulture Mine site is a restoration work-in-progress with the aim of bringing this once ore rich mine back to its original condition.
Though it’s not the cheapest thing to do in the area, it’s pretty cool to see, and you can show yourself around and take photographs.
You’ll need to sign a waiver before you enter the site, as there are dangers associated with old mines and heavy equipment.
Guided tours are available in the non-summer months, so be sure to check out their website so you’ll know what to expect when you’re in the area.
5. Hassayampa River Preserve
Before motorized transportation made its way to Arizona, Wickenburg was a transportation hub for goods moving between Phoenix, Flagstaff and California to the west.
The Hassayampa River played its role, and today the portion in Wickenburg has been turned into a nature conservancy to preserve its historic importance.
The bridge that crosses the river and surrounding paths are great places to take a leisurely stroll and take in the scenery.
The riparian habitat draws lots of desert animals which are best seen in the morning and evening, and you’ll feel like you’re much farther from society than you really are.
6. Mare Island Horse Traders
With so much history, much of which dates back to previous centuries when the area surrounding Wickenburg was solely inhabited by Native Americans, it’s no wonder that Arizona has so many antique stores.
Located on North Tegner Street in Wickenburg, Mare Island has a huge selection of western antiques and Americana that really requires more than a quick peruse, especially if you want to find a rare gem or two to remind you of your trip.
The inside of the store is surprisingly large, and is staffed with knowledgeable and enthusiastic antique lovers who’ll gladly point you in the right direction if you’re looking for something specific.
7. Del Webb Center for the Performing Arts
One of the go-to locations for performing arts that’s comparable to anything you’ll find in Phoenix or Scottsdale, the Del Webb Center for the Performing Arts on Vulture Mine Rd in Wickenburg hosts nationally known musicians, comedians, and theater groups from all over the United States.
At about 600 seats, the center is big enough to attract stars, but small enough so it still feels like an intimate venue, and visitors rave about the great acoustics and views even from the inexpensive seats.
The center also hosts lots of community and regional events.
Some of the more popular shows sell out quickly, so check online to see what’ll be playing when you’re in town.
8. Hike the Vulture Peak Trail
At nearly 4,000 feet, Vulture Peak is an easily recognized icon that lies just a few miles south of Wickenburg.
The trailhead is located just of Route 60 outside of town, and though the length of the hike to the peak isn’t long, the last half mile is steep and tricky, though it shouldn’t be a problem for most fit hikers.
From the top you’ll be able to see 30 or 40 miles into the desert by some estimations, and the surrounding desert is spotted with grand saguaros, mountains and an endless blue sky most of the time.
The trail is free to access, and there’s a log-in pad in an old can by the entrance, if you’d like to sign your John Hancock into the trail’s official record.
9. Saguaro Theater
As much as museums and nature preserves, theaters that specialize in old movies do as much to preserve an area’s history and heritage.
On East Wickenburg Way in downtown Wickenburg, Saguaro theatre is ironically all digital, and focused on bringing old movies back to life for modern audiences.
You can still get popcorn and a soda and recline in the comfy seats, but you’ll most likely see a gem of a film from decades past, and maybe one you’ve never even heard of, which is half the fun.
Unlike lots of modern theaters that charge an arm and a leg, Saguaro Theater is affordable, and one of those uniquely Wickenburg attractions you won’t want to miss.
10. Robson’s Ranch
Considered to be one of the oldest, most authentic and best preserved mining claim sites in the state, Robson’s Ranch was originally mined in the early 1900s, and today boasts one of the most extensive collections of mining machinery and paraphernalia in the world.
It’s located on Route 71 in Wickenburg, and day tours are available without reservations every day but Mondays.
Group tours and events are available if you’d like to be shown around by a local who can take you to Native American petroglyphs and stunning vistas you may not find on your own.
Cattle drives and horse tours are available too.
11. Walk Historic Downtown
With one of the most preserved historic districts of any town in the area, downtown Wickenburg is a great place to spend a morning or an afternoon strolling through the streets and checking out the shops, galleries and restaurants that call the area home.
The downtown has had lots of help from the Wickenburg Historical Preservation Society, which works with local home and business owners to manage and improve historical sites, so they’ll be around for future generations to enjoy.
Some of the neighborhood’s homes have interesting architecture that you may be surprised to see in a rural Arizona town.
Stop for a cappuccino or a glass of wine, then explore a little bit and help out the local entrepreneurs.
12. Head to Box Canyon
One of Wickenburg’s recreation gems that lots of locals would rather keep to themselves, Box Canyon is a place where cool, refreshing river water flows most of the year, making it a big draw in this sun baked town.
There are swimmable areas near the road, and though the canyon is reachable only if you’ve got a high-clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicle, if you can wrangle one up it’ll be a trip that’ll be well worth the effort.
Located just off Rincon Road outside of town, you can learn about ways to get here on the City of Wickenburg’s website.
13. Flying E Ranch
It’s not surprising that Wickenburg has no shortage of dude ranches. With an unrivalled old-west tradition, and lots of wide open spaces just waiting to be explored on horseback, there’s no better way to see all the area has to offer than on a guided horseback tour.
Located on West Wickenburg Way, Flying E Ranch is one of Wickenburg’s most popular providers of saddle tours of all kinds.
You’ll feel like you’re an old hand after a few hours, and the scenery and experience will be second to none.
There are also rooms available if you’d like to spend the night after your excursion.
14. Wickenburg Art Club
Like lots of towns in Arizona, Wickenburg has a culture of western art that goes back to the time of pioneers and the Native Americans who were here before them.
The Wickenburg Art Club holds a yearly art fair at Stone Park, and also exhibits at Wickenburg Rodeo Days.
If you’d like to visit their studio and see what the artists are working on, you’re able to do so on Tuesday and Saturdays from morning to early afternoon, as that’s when the studio is open to visitors.
The artists are open to questions, and may even reveal a technique or two if you’re a budding artist.
15. Visit the Massacre Monument
In 1871, a stagecoach en route from Wickenburg to Southern California was ambushed, robbed and most of the coachmen and riders were killed, though two people managed to escape.
Originally the incident was blamed on Yavapai warriors, though later some testimony was recanted, and some claimed that it was the work of bandits who’d been dressed as Native Americans, so the retaliation would be focused on them.
Near the entrance of the Flying E Ranch, there’s a historical monument to the lives lost on that day.
Since you’ll be at the Flying E Ranch anyway, stop to check it out before you leave.