Nestled in the desert foothills, Cave Creek is a magnet for outdoor adventures, cowboy heritage and live music.
Pull into any parking lot in Cave Creek, and you're likely to see a Tesla, a Harley and a horse (firmly tethered to a hitching post, of course) parked side by side. This random crew pretty much sums up the spirit of this town located near the northern reaches of Greater Phoenix. It's modern, a bit rebellious, yet rooted in the West. With a history that includes ancient peoples, gold mining, ranching and dam construction—all of which you can absorb at the most excellent Cave Creek Museum—this scenic town is filled with nods to the cowboy life, wide-open spaces, and fun eateries and watering holes.
Release your inner cowboy
Cowboy boots and a Stetson might garner you strange looks elsewhere. Not in Cave Creek, where the "Old" West is still very "now." Saddle up for a trail ride with Arizona Horseback Adventures in the surrounding conservation area, or join Cave Creek Trail Rides for a loop through a vast, scenic regional park (they'll even loan you boots, chaps and hats for those Instagram shots).
In downtown Cave Creek, learn to two-step at Buffalo Chip Saloon, which serves barbecue, beer and bull-riding competitions that draw "real" working cowpokes. Nearby, Frontier Town is a recreated 19th-century Western town, with a faux Boot Hill cemetery and gallows, plus modern amenities like shops and a restaurant. In spring, mark Cave Creek Rodeo Days on your calendar, when the town hosts a parade, dances and a professional rodeo.
And to dine on true Arizona foraged cuisine with a side of cowboy culture and hospitality make sure to include Tonto Bar & Grill at Rancho Manana. This staple in the community has strong ties to the heritage of the area focusing on Native American ingredients and the stories of the property's past.
With access to pristine stretches of the Sonoran Desert, Cave Creek makes it easy to hike, bike and explore Cave Creek outdoor activities. Cave Creek Regional Park has unfettered views, looping trails and—if the winter rain gods are benevolent—hillsides filled with spring wildflowers. Check out the park's nature center for interpretive exhibits. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area has seven miles of trails that weave along the waters of Cave Creek itself, through riparian zones and past archaeological sites.
Nearby, Tonto National Forest's Seven Springs offers a circa-1934 Civilian Conservation Corps-built picnic site and campground, shaded by towering sycamores. The trail from the site crosses Cave Creek several times. Seek more watery adventures at Bartlett Lake, an oasis in the desert with a marina for watercraft rentals. Anglers with their own boats will appreciate the solitude of Horseshoe Reservoir.
Change your tune
Live music is a big source of Cave Creek entertainment, luring day-trippers, vacationers and local "Creekers" alike to local venues. Opened in 1935 as a watering hole for workers building nearby Bartlett Dam, Harold's Cave Creek Corral is a landmark where music is on the menu weekly. Live music and all things motorcycle pair up at the lively Hideaway Roadhouse, while Carefree Spirits Distillery offers vodka and bourbon tastings plus laid-back acoustic music. The Grotto Cafe's indoor seating and shady patio are the perfect places to kick back with musical interludes on weekend afternoons. At the architecturally striking Raven's View, enjoy wine, light repasts and music, far from crowds. Want other options? Cave Creek Music on Facebook is a clearinghouse for who's playing what and where.