Have you ever been to one of those unicorn places you can’t believe has managed to stay under the radar as long as it has? And then you’re conflicted because you want to shout its praises from the rooftops, yet simultaneously keep its wonders all for yourself, too? That’s Prescott, Arizona.
Home to a charming downtown and stunning outdoor spaces, it’s an idyllic mountain escape less than two hours from Phoenix when the high desert heat starts to wear on you. Home to the largest free bluegrass festival in the U.S., the world’s oldest rodeo, and Arizona’s official Christmas city, Prescott is teeming with festivities year-round. Here are just a few of the highlights that make it so magical.
Whiskey Row & the Historic Downtown
Appointed the first territorial capital by President Lincoln before Arizona was even a state, Prescott’s diversity came from an eclectic convergence of settlers that included miners, cowboys, and Indians. The train gave them early access to goods from places out east like New York, inspiring the growing metropolis. Downtown is comprised of 600 historically preserved buildings centered on Courthouse Plaza and Whiskey Row, where the majority of business and play took place. They have a heritage walking tour or you can wander around on your own.
After a massive fire wiped out most of the town in the ‘60s, it was rebuilt in gorgeous red brick. In fact, the only thing that survived was the bar from the Palace because the townspeople made a point to carry it out. Now the oldest saloon in Arizona, it’s like a living history museum dedicated to the Wild West.
Other not to miss places include Prescott Brewing Co., located in an old-timey mall also home to a variety of artisanal vendors from pralines, spices, and olive oils to Superstition Meadery. Sip and sample their 1 oz. pours of fermented honey to taste dry ciders and rich, complex dessert aperitifs. For a truly unique stay, the Grand Highland Hotel is a boutique bed & breakfast and former brothel with each room themed after various characters from the time like Big Nose Kate (complete with claw foot tub).
The Great Outdoors
With 450 miles of trails, Prescott has plenty of room to play. Watson Lake is one of those incredible places you’re not really sure how it’s not a designated state or national park. Home to 1.6 billion-year-old rainbow rock formations that are popular with everyone from rock climbers to horseback riders, there is rail to trail hiking and biking routes, but you can also explore via kayak or SUP. Rental gear can be obtained from Born to be Wild Tours & Rentals or Prescott Outdoors that can be used in 3 of the 5 local lakes.
For more epic photo ops, head to Granite Gardens or Thumb Butte at sunset. To simply get back to nature, the loop around Goldwater Lake is a great place to waste away the day, especially popular with fishermen.
World’s Oldest Rodeo
Frontier Days is a huge part of Prescott’s cowboy culture and the rodeo is a major town to-do. In fact, Prescott really created the blueprint for the first professional Rodeo back in 1888. They were the first to pen a rulebook for competition, charge an admission to draw fans, and charge cowboys an entry fee to make it a contest.
Not much has changed with the same formula for success today. One of top 30 rodeos in the country based on prize purse, they have record ticket sales virtually year over year with over 30,000 attendees coming to see 8-days of “performances” each summer. The second largest parade in Arizona after the Fiesta Bowl, between the roping, riding, and revelry, it’s one of the most anticipated events of the year.
This article was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks.