Arizona’s Coolest Small Towns Are Filled with Cowboys, Wine, and Mysticism

It’s a state of friendly burros, cosmic vortexes, and living history

In its not-so-ancient past, Arizona’s dusty desert expanses were home to Indigenous tribes, headstrong cowboys, and hopeful miners looking to strike gold. But despite its Old Western roots and relatively recent statehood, Arizona has become one of the country’s fastest-growing states with its capital of Phoenix firmly planted as the United States’ fifth largest city attracting nearly 50 million tourists each year to trek the Grand Canyon, see a Spring Training game, or party at the Phoenix Open.

Arizona’s small towns are wildly different, yet it’s here that Arizona’s legendary past meets its bright future as ancient civilizations and experimental communities coexist. From ghost towns and gunfight reenactment sites to vortex centers, the unconventional can be explored in the state’s least-populated cities. Arizona has always been prime road-trip country—and these are the towns that deserve a spot on any itinerary.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome 

A scenic hillside village in Verde Valley, Jerome was once a vibrant copper-mining town. Today, it’s famous for its rampant ghost stories, many of which revolve around historic hospital-turned inn―Jerome Grand Inn. While the city’s decline in residents following the mining rush earned it a reputation as a “ghost town,” it’s really anything but. Its popularity as a tourist destination has grown in recent years and it’s now home to eateries like the Haunted Hamburger, art galleries, and, of course, ghost tours for more adventurous visitors. It’s also growing as an Arizona wine hotspot thanks to spots like Caduceus Cellars.

Route 66 near Winslow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winslow

Winslow was notably immortalized in The Eagles’ hit song “Take it Easy,” but the northeastern town of roughly 10,000 has deep roots in Arizona history beyond rock. It began as a railroad hub before reinventing itself as a tourist stop along the iconic Route 66. Today, a visit to Winslow isn’t complete without paying homage to the aforementioned Standin’ on the Corner Park and statue commemorating the song reference, souvenir shopping at the Western-themed Arizona 66 Trading Company, or strolling through the Old Trails Museum. For something more adventurous, hit the nearby Meteor Crater site, the haunted Apache Death Cave, and several ancient Native American ruins.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee 

Nestled among rolling hills just 11 miles from the Mexican border, Bisbee is another mining town-turned-tourist destination—but its knack for kitsch and bright colors easily makes it a favorite eclectic desert town. Its free-spirited nature and unusual architecture have even earned it the moniker “Mayberry on Acid.” Bisbee has been gaining popularity with Arizona locals and out-of-state tourists alike since the’ 90s thanks to its array of art galleries, antique shops, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. However, it’s also worth going back in time to the town’s roots by checking out sites like the Queen Mine—where visitors can don a miner’s outfit and head 1,500 feet underground—and the Mining & Historical Museum.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone 

Like many other Old West relics, Tombstone which refers to itself as “the town too tough to die” predates Arizona’s statehood having carried the spirit of the Wild West for approximately 150 years. It’s so well preserved that the ghost of Wyatt Earp could roll in and feel like nothing has changed. And, you can safely relive the town’s rowdy roots with daily gunfight reenactments, a trip to the former bar and brothel at The Bird Cage Theater, or an illuminating trek through the Goodenough Mine that skyrocketed the town to Southern Arizona fame.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood

Jerome may be emerging as a mini wine destination but nearby Cottonwood is the capital of Verde Valley’s fast-growing wine scene. Home to Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, colorful and quirky Old Town Cottonwood has established itself as an off-the-beaten-path food and drink destination thanks to places like Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room. Its proximity to the hiking trails of Coconino National Forest offers an added bonus. Here, you can eat and sip wine then walk it off in one of the most gorgeous patches of forest in the US.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets. The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with a main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona 

While Sedona’s popularity with tourists has been on a steep incline, it still has a relatively small year-round population which clears it for a spot on this list. It’s a must-visit thanks to its stunning red rocks and outdoor activities, a culinary scene that’s blossomed thanks to restaurants like the award-winning Mariposa, and the legendary mystical properties that have earned it a reputation as an energy vortex. And if you’re feeling really daring, you can even slide down the town’s 80-foot long natural water slide at Slide Rock State Park.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

As Arizona’s original capital, this haven in the pine forests between Phoenix and Flagstaff has more than earned its spot among Arizona’s most captivating towns. While it retains a bit of Western charm like many of the state’s other small towns, it also offers a unique, laid-back atmosphere featuring events like art fairs at the Courthouse Plaza and shows at the historic Elks Theatre. It’s also the perfect town if you’re in the mood to explore a great beer scene. Hit the ever popular Prescott Brewing Company or The Palace, an iconic saloon that’s been slinging drinks since 1877. Plus, just a few miles away from downtown, visitors can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities—from fishing to kayaking—at scenic Watson Lake and Lynx Lake.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Most Scenic Towns in Arizona

Use this guide for a scenic road trip that will surely leave you amazed

From former mining town gems, to desert beauties, and mountain charmers, here are eight of the most beautiful towns in Arizona.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Established in 1880, Bisbee is a charming town with a mining history located in the Mule Mountains. Once known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps”, the town is home to artists and retired folk. Neighborhoods with Victorian and European-style homes sit on the steep hillsides, while many unique shops, art galleries, and cafés reside in redesigned former saloons. Attractions include the Queen Mine Tour and Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

Nestled at an elevation of 5,200 feet amongst a large stand of ponderosa pine, Prescott’s perfect weather provides an average temperature of 70 degrees, with four distinct seasons, and breathtaking landscapes with mountains, lakes, streams, and meadows. Popular activities include horseback riding, golfing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, local breweries, restaurants, shopping, and a hometown feel.Once the territorial capital of the state, Prescott is rich with history embodied in its world famous Whiskey Row and abundant historical landmarks.

Old Presido, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. Saguaro National Park is situated on either side of the city. These tall and ancient cacti stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges which cradle the Tucson valley and are showered with sunshine over 300 days a year. The average winter temperature is 70.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holbrook

Several miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook boasts pretty epic scenery. Backcountry hikes take you through the eponymous petrified logs and other archeological wonders. Park guides will show you the daylight sights, but you can also join a night adventure in the newly designated International Dark Sky Park.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

Located near the top of Cleopatra Hill is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was born a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents into a roaring mining community. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist hub with a population of around 450 people. Jerome resides above what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona which was producing an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper per month. Once a thriving mining camp full of miners, bootleggers, gamblers, and prostitutes, now a bustling tourist destination full of artists, musicians, and gift shop proprietors.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keneta

As synonymous with cinema Westerns as John Wayne, Monument Valley embodies the westward expansion more than any other American landscape. The noble spires, dusty red and orange, jut upward toward wide-open skies, which morph into fiery swaths of color come sunset. If you’ve ever had dreams of taking to open land on horseback, this beautiful Southwest spot is a must. Be sure to stay for sunset.

On the road to Patagonia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia

Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

The Most Beautiful Places in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

Half the state looks like it was drawn by Dr. Seuss.

Just over three decades ago we made several stops in Arizona on a cross country journey in an RV. My first reaction was how could anyone choose to live in this big, desolate god-forsaken desert? While camping at Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park, I entered into a conversation with the campground host. A full-time RVer originally from Michigan, she had similar sentiments upon seeing Arizona for the first time and within several weeks fell in love with the desert and never left. I, too, fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and its flora and fauna and have returned to Arizona more than a dozen times.

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona will completely shatter any pessimistic expectations you may harbor. Arizona is an absolute stunner! It’s a state where orange-hued slot canyons and colorful sandstone formations could trick even the most experienced explorer into thinking they’ve wandered off to Mars. Here, ancient deserts seem painted by unseen artists. That canyon? It is indeed grand! But look beyond it and you’ll discover a state whose beauty all but ensures you’ll want to stay for the long haul or return again and again.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

I can’t tell you exactly what it was at the time, but something brought me to Arizona… looking back, maybe it was the pull of Sedona’s vortexes. And I’m not the only one feeling the tug of some sort of unknown spiritual energy. Nearly 3 million tourists visit Sedona annually; a figure that’s tripled over the last decade or so. Just a day trip from Phoenix, Sedona is a gem of a town surrounded by forests and red-rock buttes that thrust skyward; all obvious reasons why so many seek out the new-agey Northern Arizona town. Recognized for their powerful energy and scenic views, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Cathedral Rock are said to be the strongest vortexes around the town. What does a vortex feel like, exactly? You’ll have to experience it for yourself in Sedona. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Located just 10 miles from Downtown Tucson, this stunningly beautiful mission was founded in 1692 and built in 1700 which makes it the oldest intact European structure in the state of Arizona and the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the country. Referred to as The White Dove of the Desert, the church’s interior is brimming with original statuary and detailed mural paintings that portray motifs influenced by both the Spanish and Tohono O’odham people. The style is truly unique to Arizona and is a must-stop when passing through Tucson or nearby Saguaro National Park.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley 

Since the 1930s, Monument Valley’s iconic desert landscape has been featured in dozens of movies and western-style films. With its tower-like red sandstone bluffs and long-stretched highway, Monument Valley’s panoramic scenery is essentially the picture of the American Southwest. Parts of the area including Hunts Mesa and Mystery Valley are only accessible by guided tour. However, road-trippers can drive through the park on a dirt road that winds 17-miles. A trip through the park takes about two to three hours from start to finish. Monument Valley also made our list of Most Beautiful Places in Utah.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Bisbee’s reputation for being a little eccentric isn’t exactly a lie. The town has been nicknamed “Mayberry on Acid.” Hell, they even printed it on t-shirts. Nestled in Southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains and just 10-miles north of the Mexico Border, this mining town turned arts colony provides travelers an offbeat experience against a backdrop of historic mines, psychedelic art displays, and staircases leading to houses on stilts. What made Bisbee so… Bisbee? After a lucrative and long-running mining boom, creative souls from near and far found a home in the sleepy desert town. And there is certainly no denying that the creative influence remains very, very strong today in this underrated small town.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Desert

Millions of years in the making and spanning more than 953,000 acres from Grand Canyon National Park to Petrified National Forest, the aptly named Painted Desert is a living canvas featuring a palate of red, pink, and lavender. The unique landscape consists of innumerable impressive formations and features created by volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes. About 25 miles east of Holbrook is Petrified Forest National Park. It takes some imagination to see it, but this area of what we know call Painted Desert was flourishing with vegetation and trees some 200 million years ago before volcanic lava basically destroyed everything in its path. The petrified wood, made mostly of quartz, is all that’s left today. 

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page

For the uninitiated, Page looks like nothing more than a desolate spot on the map near the state-line crossing into Utah. Look a little closer. Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, local secrets for years, have become some of the most photographed natural attractions in the Southwest (thanks to Instagram). A quick hike will get you to the Horseshoe Bend overlook where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Colorado River and horseshoe-shaped meander below. And in a state with no shortage of unique geological formations, some of the most puzzling and fascinating is to be found at Antelope Canyon. Guided tours are required, but the supernatural beauty of it all is definitely worth it. And a short drive to simmering Lake Powell and the stunning Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

The Fountain Hills fountain is one of those strange sights that only seems to make sense in Arizona. There’s something especially impressive about a fountain that reaches a height of 330 feet, in the middle of the desert—even if it is man-made. The spray cranks up to 560 feet high on special occasions (like St. Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July), but it’s a captivating sight anytime, and it’s available for your viewing pleasure for 15 minutes every hour, on the hour, from 9 am to 9 pm every day.

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix

One of the first things you’ll learn about this state is that it’s beloved for its colorful sunsets, and one of the most quintessential ways to watch an Arizona sunset is by viewing it through the famous “Hole-in-the-Rock” at Papago Park, a naturally-formed opening in the red butte. In addition to its beauty, the park also holds historical significance—it was the home of ancient Hohokam Indians, served as a prisoner camp during World War II, and some areas of the park are still used for Arizona National Guard training today.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

When you need to get out of the Phoenix Heat, Cool off with These Getaways

Looking for somewhere to escape the heat? Here are some of the coolest places near Phoenix.

When you’ve had it with 100+ degrees, plan a trip to one of these cooler destinations.

Summer is so hot in Phoenix. You’re desperate to escape. But … you are out of ideas. 

If you need inspiration on where to flee the oppressive triple-digit temperatures, you’ve come to the right place. All of these destinations can be done in a recreational vehicle.

Here are six cool getaways, complete with mileage from central Phoenix and typical summer temps. (Don’t blame us if you hit traffic.)

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

100 miles, 85 degrees

Topping our list is an Arizona city that gets you into cooler temps in the least amount of time. Prescott sits at an elevation of 5,200 feet and the mercury rarely hits 100. 

Watson Lake, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you want to hike or kayak on Watson Lake or Lynx Lake or check out the art scene, the Prescott Office of Tourism has some suggested itineraries on its website.

Fans of history will enjoy strolling Whiskey Row (don’t miss the Palace Saloon, Arizona’s oldest bar) or browsing booths at the art festivals on Courthouse Plaza most summer weekends. If you want to make it a weekend trip or longer, there are plenty of RV parks and campgrounds to choose from.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams

174 miles, 80 degrees

The opium dens, bordellos, and other landmarks of Williams historic past are long gone. But some kinder, gentler vestiges of this town’s Wild West era remain. The town of 3,000 residents, considered the gateway to the Grand Canyon, is home to the Grand Canyon Railway, an excursion train that traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between a historic depot and the canyon.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams boasts the final stretch of Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (on October 13, 1984). Today, the town’s Main Street is a National Historic District. Its storefronts house gift shops and classic diners and motels which preserve a bygone era.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

207 miles, 90 degrees

You might not think you’ll get cooler by heading to southern Arizona, but if you visit the historic mining town of Bisbee, elevation 5,538 feet, you’ll find temperatures 15-20 degrees cooler than Phoenix. 

Queen Mine, Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco, Bisbee dwindled to a small town after the mines shut down. But there’s still a lot to explore. Learn about the town’s mining history by touring the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and Queen Mine. Visit Arizona’s smallest bar, go on a ghost tour, or climb the Heritage Stairs.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

230 miles, 90 degrees

Situated in southeastern Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument spans an elevation of 5,124 feet at the visitor center to a peak of 7,310 feet at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. That elevation makes it a cool mountain getaway where you can hike amid wildly eroded rock formations.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no admission fee to the monument. You’ll only have to pay if you plan to camp, which costs $20 per site, $10 if you have an America the Beautiful access pass.

For a full-service RV park, base yourself in Willcox, 35 miles away. The little community is building a reputation among wine lovers for its downtown tasting rooms and numerous wineries within easy driving distance.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula, California

347 miles, 82 degrees

Southern California’s wine country made Wine Enthusiast’s 2019 list of 10 best wine travel destinations. Temecula Valley has nearly 40 family vineyards and a variety of craft breweries and distilleries.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula is the heart of the foodie and event scene. Along with Shakespeare in the Vines at the Baily Winery, popular events include the Temecula Art & Street Painting Festival and Pechanga MicroBrew Festival in June, Old Town Temecula 4th of July Parade, and California Wine Month in September.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

480 miles, 83 degrees

Santa Fe prides itself on celebrating all of its rich history. It recognizes its roots in Pueblo Indian culture, the Spanish colonial period, and its position today as New Mexico’s state capital and a haven for artists, writers, and other creative types.

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe means holy faith in Spanish and the city also celebrates its spiritual heritage with some of the oldest churches in the country. With its intriguing mix of galleries, restaurants, museums, and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, Santa Fe has experiences for everyone.

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith