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Things to do in Prescott, AZ
Trek through more than
450 miles of trails.

Rediscovering Outdoor Adventure

Inspired by Prescott’s natural beauty, I face the mountain, mending a body in the process

The fingers in my left hand are white from the strength of my grip. My right hand reaches up to a ledge; I’m centimeters from its grasp. Then, I’m holding on to nothing. I look to my left hand, which is slipping down the boulder—along with the rest of me—rapidly.

I’m on Karen’s porch.

I contemplate a long, sweltering summer and it’s easy to say yes to Prescott just so I can escape the humidity.

“I’ve been thinking about going to my parent’s vacation home in Prescott for a weekend,” she says. “You should join me for an outdoor escape. We’ll climb The Dells—those incredible boulder formations near Prescott—and hike and bike.”

I don’t respond immediately but she can read the hesitation on my face. I had a nasty climbing experience a few years ago, so consciously or unconsciously I’ve associated the activity—one I loved and pursued all over the country—with pain ever since. Karen knows I’ve been a bit hesitant to scramble up rocks.

Things to do in Prescott, AZ

“I know you haven’t been as active since your accident, but I think you’re ready to get back up there,” Karen encourages. “Besides, there’s tons more to do than just climbing, like hiking and biking. You still love to do those.”

I contemplate a long, sweltering summer and it’s easy to say yes to Prescott just so I can escape the humidity. But, I’m also bolstered by Karen’s encouragement and the lure of biking as a reward, so we pull out our phones and tap a three-day weekend into our calendars.

Day 1: acclimation

Live music in Prescott, AZ
Listen to live music
in more than 20 venues.

Situated at 5,400 feet, Prescott is one of Northern Arizona’s best places to experience the beauty of the American Southwest. Upon arrival, I find it’s easy to fall in love with Prescott and it’s mild, four-season climate. The high desert town is ringed by tall, cool pines and blessed with the kind of natural beauty that’s dramatic without being imposing. Karen takes me strolling along the leafy courthouse square, where I spy Thumb Butte in the distance, Prescott’s iconic mountain peak that rises more than 6,500 feet. While I enjoy the landscape view, the sight of cliffs still makes me think about climbing. I’m intimidated, but I have to admit that I miss it.

I push the thought out of my mind for now as we browse antique shops, galleries, a bootmaker and a bookstore all housed in handsome red brick Victorians. By early afternoon, we walk back to Karen’s family’s vacation home to load our backpacks into the SUV and hit our first trail of the weekend.

Prescott’s Circle Trail System forms a 54-mile ring of hiking, biking and horse trails that connect the city of Prescott, the Prescott National Forest and Yavapai County. It also traverses three of the town’s lakes and features several camping sites, making it a popular destination for marathons, mountain bike races and other special events.

Live music in Prescott, AZ

To help me acclimate to the elevation, we’re headed to Thumb Butte Trail #33 in the Prescott National Forest. The 2.1-mile trail is perfect for the start-up outdoorsman and acclimation; as such, it’s a favorite with families and is even suitable for those with disabilities.

We take our time following the trail, reading the signs and identifying vegetation along the way. However, our leisurely hike soon becomes more strenuous as we steeply climb to a ridge just below the rocky crest. The saddle tops out at 6,200 feet in elevation; my legs, heart and lungs get a workout.

“Not too shabby, huh?” says Kim, giving me a playful poke.

I grin and give a thumbs-up, as no verbal answer is necessary. The panoramic views of Prescott, Granite Mountain, Mingus Mountain and The Bradshaws—pale cliffs and reddish rocks laced with evergreen shrubbery—are spectacular. This feeling and this view—there’s only one way and one place to get them.

Day 2: personal challenge

Rock climbing in Prescott, AZ
Discover a variety of climbing challenges
at The Granite Dells.

It’s a new day and we’re heading to Watson Lake for climbing at the Granite Dells. I’m a little nervous; more excited.

Rock climbing in Prescott, AZ

The Dells are not technical climbing, but I still doubt my abilities as I stare up at the boulders. I haven’t climbed since my accident, so those muscles have grown soft and I’m afraid I’ll make the same mistake again. No, I’ll be careful.

The weather-smoothed bedrock and giant boulders piled on top of each other brings to mind The Flintstones, but I cannot deny their otherworldly beauty—it’s one of the reasons I pursued climbing. Karen straps on her helmet, fastens her gear and starts climbing first to show me it’s safe and relatively easy. I carefully watch her every move, and then, after much encouragement from her, I begin my climb.

The weather-smoothed bedrock and giant boulders piled on top of each other brings to mind The Flintstones.

I take slow, deep breaths and try to precisely calculate my every move. My strength definitely isn’t what it used to be, but I feel myself growing stronger as I get into a rhythm the higher I climb.

I intently kept my gaze on the granite in front of me, not daring to look away. But suddenly, the granite wall was gone—I have reached the top. The exposed rock and desert cacti below give way to Watson Lake and a lush riparian landscape with pine and firs. I did it!

Standing on top of the boulders together, Karen gives me a hug and a smile. “Proud of you, girl! We should try an outfitter called Rubicon Outdoors next time. Now that you’ve got your climbing legs back. It could be a good way for you to dip your toe back into the bigger climbs”

The family-owned business offers guided rock-climbing excursions in Arizona and Switzerland. On top of providing the gear, their guides have a great sense of humor and knowledge about the geologic and human history of the area.

I have to love Karen’s go-getter attitude. “I’m game,” I reply. “But for the rest of our weekend, lets keep to the kiddie pool—baby steps.”

Day 3: personal challenge

Cycle adventures in Prescott, AZ
Cycle through town or
off the beaten path.

It’s our last day and we decide to take our bikes for a spin. The Peavine National Recreation Trail near Watson Lake—named for its winding curves that resemble the tendrils of a vine—traces the route of the old railroad for 5.5 miles and is popular with bikers. Scattered railroad ties and wooden decking are reminders of the past. Pedaling is easy as long as the scenic vistas of creamy crags don’t cause me to veer off course. As we pass through the Point of Rocks, a cut made for trains more than a century ago, I can imagine the locomotive rumbling through the pass.

I soak in the impossibly bright blue sky and I feel at ease.

Karen breaks my reverie with, “Race ya,” kicking up gravel as her bike races forward. “Loser buys dinner,” she shouts over her shoulder.

Cycle adventures in Prescott, AZ

And I’m off, pedaling furiously after her, leaving my inhibitions behind. While I’m still going to try my best to beat her, dinner is already on me as a small thank-you for getting me back outside, chasing adventure again. 

Reinvigorate you sense of adventure in Prescott’s outdoors.