Peavine Trai
Peavine Trail / Credit: Franz Rosenberger

Prescott to Sedona: What Not to Miss in North Central Arizona

Plan your incredible adventure around these area highlights.

Broadly encompassing the area between Phoenix and Flagstaff, and including the towns of Sedona, Prescott, Cottonwood and Jerome, North Central Arizona welcomes visitors with a landscape of pine trees, red rocks and an infamous Wild West history. Add adventurous outdoor options, plenty of local shops and some of the country’s best resorts and spas, and this is one area of Arizona that never fails to impress.

Unsure where to start? Keep the following destinations in mind for your North Central Arizona getaway.

Wild encounters north of Phoenix

Head north about an hour and a half from Phoenix to reach the town of Camp Verde and Out of Africa Wildlife Park. First things first: This is a wildlife park, not a zoo. Across this 100-acre preserve, exotic animals roam, allowing guests to get close to these fascinating animals. Try to catch one of the shows like Tiger Splash or Wonders of Wildlife, or book one of the safari tours before zipping by on the Predator Zip Line. There’s also a food court and gift shop.

Still craving more? Travel north to Clarkdale, about half an hour from Sedona, and grab tickets for either the reptile or eagle experience at the Verde Canyon Railroad. Mainly designed for young ones, any age can enjoy these two “wild” shows. A calm and scenic train ride through the Verde Valley follows before returning guests to the depot.

If you prefer more “Wild West” than wild animals, add Jerome to your list. Once home to one of the largest copper mines in the world, this town epitomized the best and worst of the Old West during its heyday. Now, it’s home to slightly more than 400 people — a ghost town to some — but it’s still rich in history and local flavor. Grab a burger and a shake at the Haunted Hamburger and then browse the businesses on Main Street. Or ride out to the nearby Gold King Mine, which features numerous antique trucks in varying states of rust and old buildings, making the destination worthy of its ghost town status.

Western history and pine trees in Prescott

Just an hour west of Camp Verde lies Prescott, a city located within the ponderosa pines of Prescott National Forest. The charming town has more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the national forest has more than 400 miles (640 km) of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails—a lovely combination of history and nature. You'll want to spend a few days here exploring the West of yesteryear.

A few places to consider visiting:

Phippen Museum: A must for country western or Americana fans, the Phippen Museum's permanent exhibits include a unique Western heritage gallery and the Arizona Rancher & Cowboy Hall of Fame. The artifacts and memorabilia of the permanent collection, as well as the museum’s rotating exhibits, help bring to life the importance of the timeworn items that were essential to life in the Wild West.

Museum of Indigenous People: Focused on American Indian arts and culture, the Museum of Indigenous People (formerly The Smoki Museum) honors the indigenous cultures of the Southwest. The exhibits feature everything from pottery and jewelry and adornments for an in-depth educational experience.

Sharlot Hall Museum: An educational and cultural center, Sharlot Hall Museum is an open-air museum comprising seven historic buildings with compelling exhibits and beautiful gardens that serve as settings for public festivals. It's a place to understand and appreciate the many historical, social and natural aspects of the Central Highlands of Arizona.

Peavine Trail: This trail follows the route of the old Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway and leads through rivers to the Granite Dells above Watson Lake.

Thumb Butte Hike: The permanent granite landmark, visible from downtown, is a short 2-mile (3 km) round trip, with nearly 600 feet (183 m) in elevation gain. Once there, expect panoramic vistas of the surrounding countryside.

Goldwater Lake: Great for kayak or canoe enthusiasts, this day-use park also has a volleyball net, horseshoe pit, picnic tables, two short trails (North Shore and Bannon Creek) and lots of space for social gatherings.

Courthouse Plaza: The Yavapai Courthouse sits at the center of the town's historic plaza, surrounded by boutiques, restaurants, galleries and shops, making it one of the main attractions—and a can't-miss-spot—of the city. Relax, unwind and wander after a day packed with adventure. The plaza frequently hosts live music and community events that draw residents and visitors downtown.

Sedona’s otherworldly beauty

Another two hours north, you'll find the majestic red rock formations and the widely talked about energies of Sedona, a city offering everything from glorious outdoors to fine dining and world-class art galleries. Sedona is also a haven for those seeking personal enrichment and wellness in some of the state's top spas.

With so many experiences waiting for you, you'll want to spend a few days here (ideally during the week when there are fewer crowds).

Start your Sedona exploration with the following destinations:

Sedona Arts Center: The Sedona Arts Center has been a refuge for artists since the early 1960s. Today, it's an educational institution dedicated to nurturing the creative process through arts education and artistic development. The Center's Fine Art Gallery showcases the largest selection of local art in Sedona.

Helicopter or hot air balloon rides: There are several options and opportunities to see Sedona from high above. Check out the various hot-air balloon or helicopter companies for details on packages and tours.

Oak Creek Canyon scenic drive: Oak Creek Canyon's 15-mile (24 km) scenic drive takes visitors past endless vistas and rock formations that include Kaibab limestone, Toroweap sandstone and Coconino sandstone—the same as in the Grand Canyon.

Vortex sites: Thought to be centers of energy conducive to spiritual healing, meditation and self-exploration, vortex sites are some of the most gorgeous spots around town, even if you are not part of this movement.

Outdoor activities and wine in small-town Arizona

Halfway between Prescott and Sedona, you'll pass through the community of Cottonwood in the heart of the Verde Valley. Cottonwood makes a fantastic base camp to lace up your hiking boots and explore the outdoors. On the banks of the Verde River just outside of town, you can camp, swim, fish and hike at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Just a short distance from there, discover American Indian history among ancient hilltop pueblos at Tuzigoot National Monument.

The Verde Valley is one of Arizona's three nationally recognized viticultural (wine-growing) areas. Save some time to stop and sample the local wines in any of the tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood.

The above towns and attractions are just a glimpse of what you'll find in North Central Arizona's wild canyons and valleys. Read on to uncover more about the region's charming frontier towns and stunning natural beauty.

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About the Author

Arizona Office of Tourism

These articles are brought to you by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, and occasionally local tourism organizations around the state.

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