11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Prescott, AZ
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Located at an elevation of approximately 5,300 feet, Prescott is a unique destination in Arizona. As locals will tell you, the city has four distinct seasons and even sees the occasional snowfall in winter. In the surrounding hills and forests are towering Ponderosa pines and clear lakes.
When it comes to things to do, the recreational opportunities here are outstanding, from hiking and camping to boating and fishing.
As a former capital of the Arizona Territory, the city has particular historical significance and related attractions. Local museums also explore the history of the Native Americans in this region and the art of the American Southwest. Winter is a mild season here, but the city does receive cool temperatures, and visitors should plan accordingly.
For more ideas on how to spend your time here, see our list of things to do in Prescott.
See also: Where to Stay in Prescott
1. 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 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.
2. 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 a lakeside area near the boat ramp and 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.
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 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.
Afterwards, 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, forest, 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 the most beautiful hiking areas around the city. Two of the most popular hikes in Prescott are the Watson Lake Loop Trail and the Thumb Butte 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.
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, camp, or just enjoy some nature. The main feature 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 at the day use area. If you are camping at Lynx Lake Campground, you can use the day use area for free.
6. Phippen Museum
Named for sculptor and painter George Phippen, this museum features a beautiful collection of art of 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
Official site: http://phippenartmuseum.org/
7. 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
Official site: http://www.heritageparkzoo.org/
8. 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.
9. The Smoki Museum
Housed in a creative-looking stone building, 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
Official site: www.smokimuseum.org
10. 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, the 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 in the afternoon, and your tour guide will 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
Official site: http://www.prescottelkstheater.com/
11. Wolf Creek Falls
Less than 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.
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.
- Budget Hotels: The Heritage House Motel is a family-run establishment well located near the 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.
- Campgrounds: 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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Also worth seeing are the attractions in and around Flagstaff, with its historic downtown, nearby cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon, and the volcanic landscape of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.