14 Top-Rated Things to Do in Prescott, AZ
Author Lana Law has spent several winters in Arizona and visited Prescott on numerous occasions.
Set at an elevation of approximately 5,300 feet and home to a lake, Prescott is a unique place to visit in Arizona. As locals love to tell you, the city has four distinct seasons and even sees the occasional snowfall in winter. Different seasons mean different activities throughout the year.
When it comes to things to do, the recreational opportunities here are outstanding, from hiking and camping to boating and fishing. In the surrounding hills and forests are towering Ponderosa pines and clear lakes just waiting to be explored. As someone who likes to camp, my favorite time of year to visit Prescott is the spring, when the days are warm and the nights are the perfect temperature for sleeping.
Prescott was once the capital of the Arizona Territory and has a number of historical attractions related to this period. Local museums also explore the history of the Native Americans in this region and the art of the American Southwest.
For more ideas on how to spend your time here, see my list of things to do in Prescott.
See also: Where to Stay in Prescott
- 1. Watson Lake
- 2. Historic Downtown/Courthouse Plaza
- 3. Sharlot Hall Museum
- 4. Hiking
- 5. Lynx Lake Recreation Area
- 6. Phippen Museum
- 7. Whiskey Row
- 8. Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary
- 9. Thumb Butte Hiking Trail
- 10. Museum of Indigenous People
- 11. Elks Theatre Opera House
- 12. Wolf Creek Falls
- 13. Goldwater Lake
- 14. Prescott Frontier Days
- Where to Stay in Prescott
1. Watson Lake
One of the most visually stunning areas of Prescott is Watson Lake. The dark blue water is a stark contrast to the orange granite hills and boulders that rim the lake and small rock islands that jut up in the middle.
For a scenic view over the lake, head to Watson Lake Park, where you'll find a high lookout point, or the lakeside area near the boat ramp where you'll find the start of the hiking trail that loops the lake.
This area offers an assortment of recreational opportunities, from kayaking or canoeing to fishing, hiking, and camping. Swimming is not permitted in the lake. Kayak rentals are available at the park office from spring until fall. In the summer, the lake and park are extremely popular.
Address: 3101 Watson Lake Park Road, Prescott, Arizona
2. Historic Downtown/Courthouse Plaza
In the heart of Prescott's Historic District is the 1916 courthouse, which, along with the grounds, takes up an entire city block. In front of the courthouse is the Rough Rider Monument, an equestrian statue of Bucky O'Neill.
Known as the Courthouse Plaza, the streets surrounding the block house restaurants and interesting shops, with plenty of places to visit for tourists to entertain themselves. This is a great place to start a visit to Prescott if you are here for the first time. The downtown area is easily walkable, and many of the top attractions, including Sharlot Hall and the Elks Opera Hall, are found in this area.
If you find yourself in Prescott in December, be sure to check out the incredible Christmas decorations that adorn the Courthouse Plaza. Prescott is known for being Arizona's Christmas city.
3. Sharlot Hall Museum
In downtown Prescott, Sharlot Hall Museum is a complex of historic structures, as well as modern exhibit buildings. Displays trace the history of Prescott and the surrounding region from prehistoric times to the present day, including information on Prescott's time as the capital of the Arizona Territory in the 1860s.
Tours generally start in the main building, where you will find an interesting display of dinosaur bones and recreations showing the huge animals that once roamed this area.
Afterward, you can walk through the first governor's mansion, as well as several other wonderfully preserved buildings, each with their own part to play in Prescott's evolution.
Docents are usually on hand in the main buildings to give you a tour and answer questions.
Address: 415 W. Gurley Street, Prescott, Arizona
Prescott sits on the edge of Prescott National Forest and is surrounded by beautiful natural areas, perfect for hiking. Mountains, forests, granite boulders, and lakes make this an enticing area for hikers who want to embark on short excursions or full-day hikes.
Watson Lake, Lynx Lake Recreation Area, and Granite Basin Recreation Area are some of my favorite hiking areas around the city. Two of the most popular hikes in Prescott are the Watson Lake Loop Trail and the Thumb Butte Trail (more details on this trail below).
Constellation Trails is another popular area for hiking around Prescott. You can meander through a variety of paths. This area is named for a Lockheed C121 G Super Constellation that crashed here in 1959. The site is marked with a memorial plaque that you can see as you walk along a trail.
At an elevation of 5,300 feet, Prescott's climate is much cooler than areas around Phoenix or Tucson, making it a great hiking destination during the warmer months, when temperatures are too hot for hiking at lower elevations.
Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Arizona
5. Lynx Lake Recreation Area
This beautiful area on the edge of Prescott is a pleasant place to hike, enjoy a picnic, rent a kayak, or just enjoy some nature. This is also my favorite place to camp in Prescott. The main feature at Lynx Lake Recreation Area is the blue lake at the base of the surrounding hills.
A walking trail circles the lake, running along the shore and through a lush pine forest. Above the lake is a campground, with easy trails that allow quick access to the shore.
You can pay a small fee and park in the day-use area. If you are camping at Lynx Lake Campground, you can use the day-use area for free.
Read More: Best Places to Camp in Prescott
6. Phippen Museum
Named for sculptor and painter George Phippen, the Phippen Museum features a beautiful collection of art from the American Southwest. Paintings and sculptures by renowned artists of this genre are thoughtfully displayed across several exhibit halls.
Of special note is the Arizona Rancher and Cowboy Hall of Fame gallery showcasing one-of-a-kind items. The museum has a roster of traveling exhibits that change every three months.
Be sure to check out the unique metal sculptures on the museum grounds and the massive work in the center of the traffic roundabout just in front of the museum.
Address: 4701 Highway 89 North, Prescott, Arizona
7. Whiskey Row
For a bit of Prescott's gunslinging history, take a swagger down Whiskey Row. Dating from the late 19th century, this infamous stretch in downtown, now named Montezuma Street, was known for its concentration of hotels and saloons.
Today, it'sa bit of everything and shops and galleries are some of the main draws for tourists. Of the original 40 establishments along this street, only five remain.
If you want to experience a bit of the past over lunch, head to the Palace Restaurant and Saloon. The décor is rustic and authentic, and memorabilia from the 1800s line the walls. It's famous for being Arizona's oldest operating bar, originating in 1877. The Palace claims that Doc Holiday and the Earp Brothers were regular patrons.
Although it's a bit touristy, it's not over the top crazy with people doing selfies at every turn. It's good fun with live music, and the food is decent with large portions.
8. Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary
The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary is noted for its exceptional assortment of native animals and its interactive programs that allow you to get up close and personal with many of the animals.
Each day a Wallaby Walkabout takes place along with the Kiwanis Korner Animal Encounter. Also, be sure to check out the daily tiger and black bear feeding shows, along with the Tarantula Grotto.
Special events include Breakfast with the Animals, Boo at the Zoo on Halloween, and a special visit from Santa close to Christmas. The sanctuary is located at Willow Lake and has picnic areas and a children's playground.
Address: 1403 Heritage Park Road, Prescott, Arizona
9. Thumb Butte Hiking Trail
One of the most popular hiking trails in Prescott is the trail up to Thumb Butte. The lovely views from the top encompass rolling hills, covered by Ponderosa pines, and out to the valley.
This hike is a steady climb and best done in a counter-clockwise direction. The trail is easy to follow and requires a moderate level of fitness as there are the occasional steep sections.
At the top is a small memorial to the 19 firefighters of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives in the 2013 Yarnell fire. Sections of the trail are paved, and interpretive plaques along the way highlight the flora and fauna found in the area.
Trailhead Location: Thumb Butte Picnic Area, Thumb Butte Road, Prescott, Arizona
10. Museum of Indigenous People
Housed in a creative-looking stone building, the Museum of Indigenous People (formerly the Smoki Museum) explores the history of the Native Americans who inhabited these lands for centuries. Inside, you'll find an exceptional collection of pottery, footwear, jewelry, petroglyphs, baskets, and carvings, among other items.
Pieces are showcased with information plaques, and helpful volunteers explain the significance of artifacts on display. If you are feeling inspired and looking for a souvenir, the Smoki Museum Trading Post has an excellent collection of Native American jewelry for sale.
Address: 147 N. Arizona Avenue, Prescott, Arizona
11. Elks Theatre Opera House
The large elk on the top of the Elks Theatre makes this building easy to spot in downtown Prescott. Built in 1905, this theater is filled with character and history, but upgrades in 2010 have turned it into a prominent venue.
Today, the theater is largely used to host a great lineup of musical performances by tribute bands.
You can tour the facility on certain days of the week, generally from 10am to 2pm, and your tour guide may be dressed in a period outfit. The performance hall has been wonderfully restored to its former glory and is definitely worth seeing, and if you have time, enjoy it while watching a show.
Address: 117 E. Gurley Street, Prescott, Arizona
12. Wolf Creek Falls
Less than a one-mile round-trip, the hike to Wolf Creek Falls is an ideal family outing near Prescott. Wolf Creek tumbles off a ledge into a small pool and then makes its way down through boulders.
A small swimming area at the base of the falls offers a chance to cool down if you feel the need for a dip. If you have the energy, scramble up to the top of the falls for expansive views out over the nearby forests.
The best time to visit the falls is in the spring, when the water will be plentiful. In the summer, the falls frequently dry up. Another option is to hike to the falls in the winter to check out the impressive icicles.
The trail is mostly level, with a bit of a steep section at the end. Access is off Forest Road 384 just past Upper and Lower Wolf Creek Campgrounds.
Read More: Top-Rated Campgrounds near Prescott, AZ
13. Goldwater Lake
Goldwater Lake is a perfect family thing to do while visiting Prescott. The lake is small and just perfect for kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. Boats are permitted but no gasoline-powered motors. Fishing here is pretty good.
You'll find a wide selection of picnic tables and Ramadas set underneath towering pine trees, just perfect for your crew to chow down on a picnic lunch. A playground for the kids is nearby and features an interesting assortment of play structures.
Other highlights of the park include horseshoe pits, a hiking trail, and sand volleyball courts.
A small fee is charged to use the park.
Address: 2875 S Goldwater Lake Road, Prescott, Arizona
14. Prescott Frontier Days
Prescott makes the bold and audacious statement that they are home to the world's oldest rodeo. First established in 1888, this rodeo event has been running uninterrupted for nearly 140 years. It's a spectacle that features rodeo competitions bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, along with bull riding and many more thrilling events.
Prescott's Frontier Days run for a week, starting a few days out from the first weekend in July. In addition to all the competitions, midway rides, specialty daredevil acts, a parade, a crafts show, and multiple evening dances make for good family fun.
Where to Stay in Prescott
Accommodation options in Prescott are mainly mid-range and budget, but you will find some interesting historic properties with character and style that set them apart. The best place to stay is downtown near the Historic Courthouse Plaza and the surrounding streets. This will allow you to walk everywhere.
Luxury and Mid-Range Hotels:
- A great boutique option mere steps from the courthouse and the city's top attractions is the Vendome Hotel. The hotel dates from 1917 and oozes character and history.
- Right on the Courthouse Plaza is the Grand Highland Hotel. This hotel dates from the turn of the century, and rooms are decorated with items from that era. Each room has its own unique name and background.
- If you'd like to step back in time to the 1950s, The Motor Lodge is your best bet. Here, you'll find fun and funky rooms that have been lovingly brought back to their mid-century modern roots.
- A good, modern, and comfortable chain hotel is the Hampton Inn Prescott. Not far from downtown, the Hampton Inn has an indoor pool, and the room rate includes breakfast.
- The Heritage House Motel is a family-run establishment well located near Courthouse Square. Rooms here include a mini fridge and microwave.
- The Apache Lodge is easily identified by its adobe-style architecture and is a short drive from downtown. It dates from 1947 but has been renovated and updated with modern conveniences.
- Prescott's beautiful landscape and tall pines make it an ideal place for camping from spring until fall. For details on where to camp, see our article on the best campgrounds in Prescott.
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