Clifton is a small city of around 4,800 people located in the Greenlee County of the Arizona state. It is also the county seat; if you happen to be nearby, you should definitely come and check it out, as there are plenty of interesting things to do.
The city offers various opportunities for those who like outdoor activities and is considered a mecca for bikers, hikers, and those who just love to spend time in nature. Its history is closely related to the mining industry, which has experienced both highs and lows.
1. Drive (or Ride) the Coronado Trail
This road got its name after Coronado and his conquistadors, who searched for the Seven Cities of Gold walking pretty much the same route.
The road is filled with dangerous bends and steep sections, forcing you to drive slowly and be very careful; this is actually a good thing: by driving slowly, you will be able to better admire all the amazing scenery.
People who have traveled the entire country maintain that this is one of the most beautiful driving routes they have ever seen, so it’s definitely worth a visit. You will see forests, rivers, plants, birds, and all sorts of wild creatures – plus lots of rest stops and picnic areas.
This route can also be explored by motorcycle or a bike, making it a great escape from your daily routine.
2. Visit the Greenlee Historical Museum
Get informed about the history of Clifton and the surrounding areas by spending a few hours in this small but interesting museum. It has a large collection of Indian artifacts, plus vintage clothes, household items, and old photos.
Since Clifton is closely related to the mining industry, there is also a mining exhibit. Here you will see old maps and photos of how the area used to look before the mining industry totally changed the landscape.
The Greenlee Museum also includes some unique murals that were found under the demolished walls of a building destroyed by a flood. They were carefully reassembled – the largest is 12-feet wide.
3. Sleep in a Historic Place – The Union Hall
The building was constructed in 1916 and is now included on the list of Historic Places. It is filled with history and features a large mural that commemorates the large strike that took place between 1983 and 1986.
The Union Hall was bought by a retired dentist some years ago, who transformed it into a hotel that also includes an art gallery. Take a guided tour to find out the history and the stories behind the building.
4. See the Old Copperhead Train
This cute little locomotive was saved from the scrapyard by a former engineer on the Coronado Railroad, rebuilt, and donated to the city of Clifton. Many years ago, mules were used to transport ore, but as technology advanced, “baby gauge” trains were used instead.
They were named so because they ran on a very narrow track of just 20 inches, compared to a standard one which has 36 inches. Feel free to visit the Copperhead locomotive and take some photos of this slice of history.
5. Visit the Old Clifton Jail
What’s unique about this jail is that it was built from stone. Before it existed, convicts were put to work in the mines but many of them managed to escape. Authorities decided to build a jail no-one could escape from, so they blasted a hole in a rock and brought in a stone cutter to hollow it out.
The celebration of the work’s completion work led to far too many drinks and a shoot-out; amusingly, the first prisoner was the man that built it. Because of too many floods that filled it with mud, it was eventually abandoned but is still available for tourists to see.
6. Take the Historic Chase Creek Walking Tour
Chase Creek is a street in the city of Clifton; it’s one of the best-preserved places in Arizona when it comes to old west architecture. Take a walk on this street and witness life as it used to be many decades ago.
Among others, you will see the Clifton smelter, Granny’s Attic, the Peoples Bank and Trust Co, the Chase Creek Marketplace, the Hollywood Shop, Zorilla’s Meat Market, The Galleria and many more.
7. Pray at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Located on Chase Creek Street, this lovely church was built in 1905 after the previous churches were destroyed either by floods or fire. To avoid this happening again, the new construction had a solid covering of cement and rock on top of the wooden structure.
It features figures of porcelain imported from Italy, an altar made of marble, and windows made of leaded stained glass.
8. Eat Some Mexican Food at PJs Restaurant
This family-owned restaurant has offered quality meals for more than 30 years. It has a simple but elegant interior that will make you feel right at home and offers a wide variety of dishes.
Most recipes are Mexican but you’ll find some classic American dishes as well, such as burgers, steaks, fries, and coke. The staff is friendly and plenty of the locals eat here on a regular basis. Feel free to have a chat with them while enjoying a delicious meal at PJs Restaurant.
9. Have a Pizza at El Corralito
As the name suggests, this place also has a wide variety of Mexican food. But what sets it apart from the previously mentioned restaurant is that it also has some great pizza.
The staff are friendly and the service is always timely – they even have half-price pizza days. If you get hungry after all the hiking and touring, stop by for a good pizza and a cold drink.
10. Get Some Stuff from A Vintage Clifton Antiques
Get another glimpse into the past of Clifton at this store that boasts hundreds of old pieces of furniture, household tools, and other antiques. If you are passionate about vintage stuff, then you will love the items displayed here.
11. Get a Genuine Ranch Experience at the Cold Creek Ranch
Ran by the Schwennesen family, this large ranch offers you a genuine experience of the life of a real cowboy. You will get to see how they produce 100% natural grass-fed beef and join the action yourself.
Among other activities, you can ride a horse, work the cattle or mend fences – or just enjoy some good time in a rustic setting away from the noise of the big city.
12. Eat a Barbeque at Tyler’s Taste of Texas
This restaurant specializes in barbeques and has some unique and very tasty recipes. Customers always leave satisfied and with full bellies; some of them even say this place has the best barbeque in the county.
The building also looks quite interesting, having very high ceilings (it was initially the local mercantile for the mining company) and lots of displays from Texas and the southwest. The staff are professional and the owner, Ray Tayler, is friendly as well.
13. Get Some Art from the Chase Creek Marketplace
This lovely, colorful gift shop offers a wide variety of artwork created by more than 80 local artists. They have hundreds of unique jewelry pieces that were hand-made, toys, clothes, paintings, sculptures, and other random but interesting items.
Get some cool souvenirs to remind you of Clifton, and some gifts for someone special back home. This way you will support the local artists and help them continue doing their craft.
14. Get some Organic Tea & Coffee from The Headframe Apothecary
Buildings in Clifton changed their purposes very often during the history of the city. Previously, we have seen a restaurant that used to be a mercantile shop, while this shop used to be a pool hall and a brothel.
At The Headframe Apothecary, you will find a wide variety of gifts, crafted items, organic teas, coffee and herbs, candles, soaps, plus CBD oils and vaping supplies.
15. Hike the Pigeon Loop Trailhead
We said that Clifton is popular for its hiking destinations, so let’s see one more of them. Located a one-hour drive north from the city, the Pigeon Loop Trailhead is a part of the Tonto forest.
Along the way, enjoy the lush and beautiful vegetation of the forest, along with some beautiful scenery. Make sure to take plenty of food and water with you. You can even bring your dog along on this trail for some quality outdoor bonding time.
16. Climb Mount Graham
If a small hike is not enough for you, feel free to visit Mount Graham, with an elevation of 10,720 feet. Here, you will find some of the best camping grounds and places for a picnic in Southern Arizona.
You will also find the Mt. Graham International Observatory, featuring some large and powerful telescopes from where you can admire the stars. Take a hike, admire the landscapes, view the stars, have a wonderful picnic – just avoid the bears and definitely don’t feed them, as you may risk getting a fine.