Best Arizona Small Town Hidden Gems 2024

Updated: February 25, 2024
Tombstone, Arizona - Geovea

Premium Trip Itinerary inspired by Living In Arizona Now

In this Arizona small towns travel guide we explore 10 hidden gem small towns that you can discover across the state. We’ve decided to add some new ones to the list for 2024. Many people visiting Arizona and Arizona residents love to visit small towns. Arizona does have many. But these are some of the top small towns for you and your family to explore in Arizona.

Trip Highlights: 1. Bisbee 2. Tombstone 3. Patagonia 4. Tubac 5. Wickenburg 6. Cave Creek 7. Payson 8. Cottonwood 9. Jerome 10. Oatman

Travel Tips: Pack comfortable walking shoes and a sense of adventure. Distances between attractions can be long, so ensure your vehicle is in good condition, and always check local weather conditions as they can change rapidly.

Step Back in Time: Explore an Age-Old Mining Town with a Turquoise Twist

Bisbee is an old copper mining town. Some of the important landmarks and sites to check out are going to include the Queen Mine, which operated for over 100 years. You can drive right to the old Historic downtown area, park the car, and then walk around here because there are a lot of shops you’ll want to check out. It feels like it’s stuck in time here in Bisbee. Bisbee is located near the US border, making it a popular travel destination for people looking to head down to the southwestern region of the United States. While here, also consider checking out the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, Bisbee’s Brewery Gulch, which is a district once known for its saloons and brothels. For those of you who like gems, Bisbee is known for turquoise, they call it the Bisbee blue. The good news about Bisbee is it’s known for having some of the best weather in the world, at least that’s what they like to claim, sitting up here at 5,000 ft in the mountains.

Tombstone, Arizona - Geovea

Explore the Historic Wild West: Saloons, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Lore

Tombstone is the old western shootout town, many of you know for the OK Corral with Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. You’ll know you’re in Tombstone when you’re at the Boot Hill graveyard down in the old historic district. Many of these structures date back to the early 1800s, including many of these well-preserved saloons, shops, and hotels. Also, the world’s largest rose bush is located here in Tombstone. If you go down to the actual historic area, you can take a stagecoach ride, you can go down to the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, go down to Allen Street walk around where there are many different shops. Also, they have historical tours, Wyatt Earp’s old home, so much to do down here, and be sure to check out The Bird Cage Theater. My personal favorite is the old Gunslinger Museum where they talk about the history of the Wild West, not just here in the Southwest or Arizona in Tombstone but all of the West. How the pioneers and the Wild West kind of came together. The old historical town does feel like it’s stuck in time, probably dating back to the 1800s. If you get to go to the Big Nose Kate Saloon, you go in there, and you’re like, wow, this must have been exactly how it was like back in the 1800s. One thing I will say about Tombstone in general, is the area, it’s very beautiful, and green, it’s a flat plateau. They get a lot of monsoon activity in the summertime and it is a bit high elevation so in the winter, it can get a bit brisk.

Uncover a Desert Oasis Filled with History, Hiking, and Havens for Wildlife

When you get to Patagonia, you’ll see it’s quite a small town. They also have a lake around here if you guys like to go out to lakes. Check out Patagonia Lake, great views of Mount Wrightson. The population of Patagonia, Arizona is around 800 people, so it’s a small town. Most people are drawn to it because of the name, not to be confused with Patagonia in Chile. By the way, in the wintertime, it can get pretty close to snowing down here and the summers get a lot of monsoons. There are two ways to get to Patagonia. The southern route would go through Nogales, and wrap around. If you wanted to wrap around the north side, you could also do that, although it’s a dirt road. The benefit of going the north route is you can also do Madera Canyon. The benefit of doing the southern route is Rio Rico and Nogales, but this area is about 45 to 50 minutes away on the southern route from Tubac, and probably an hour and a half away from Tubac if you go the northern route. But the northern route includes the Madera Canyon.

Savor the Southwestern Sun in a Vibrant Art Town with a Wine Country Twist

Just north of the US-Mexico border is the town of Tubac. It is right next to the start of the 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail which connects to Camino Royale in California where the missions are. So that means there are several missions here in Southern Arizona like San Xavier and Tumacacori, which is nearby to Tubac. The town itself is known for its vibrant art scene, home to numerous different galleries, and studios that showcase local art, that southwestern twist inspired by Spanish and Mexican culture. You have the Tubac Center for the Arts and the Presidio State Park. Even if you go a little bit further south towards Nogales (the border), about 25 minutes, you’ll come across some wetlands, so lots to do down here. But the big thing I would encourage is walking around Tubac’s downtown area where they have the boutiques, and do some wine tasting because Southern Arizona also has a wine country just like the Verde Valley. Tubac is about 35 to 40 minutes south of Tucson. Also, in between here and Tucson, is going to be Madera Canyon if you get a chance. You can drive up there and do some camping or hiking. At the very least, you will find black bears and a wide variety of wildlife. Actually, on the other side of Tubac is going to be Patagonia, so this is a really interesting part of Arizona.

Saddle Up for the Dude Ranch Capital: Cowboys, Gold Mines, and Rodeos

Wickenburg is known for its Western heritage. You can check out the dude ranch capital of the world, that’s what they’re calling it. You have the Vulture Mine, which was once the richest gold mine in Arizona during the 19th century. You can get a guided tour over there or you can just drive down the old historic downtown where you’re going to find the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. For those of you who don’t know, a vaquero is a cowboy, that’s just in Spanish. They also have the Wickenburg Rodeo here where you can experience the cowboy lifestyle. Hassayampa River Preserve is a nice biosphere ecosystem for the high desert. And then you have the Gold Rush Days, which is a celebration of the old Gold Rush history.

Discover Arizona's Best Kept Secret with Western Charm and Natural Wonders

If you want to get to Cave Creek from Phoenix, you just take Cave Creek Road North for about 20 minutes and you’ll be here, right along old Frontier Town. While here, check out The Rare Earth Gallery, and Cave Creek Museum, head up to Spur Cross at the Jewel of the Creek, and also Frontier Town. They got some popular saloons here like Harold’s and Buffalo Chip. Local businesses here do love it when you come up and spend your hard-earned dollars. And if you do show up, tell them that the good guys over at Living in Arizona Now sent you. Cave Creek is my (Jeff from Living in Arizona Now) hometown. If there was a restaurant here that I would recommend, it’s a place that I used to work at when I was in high school called El Encanto. So, if you like Mexican food, definitely check that one out. Just so happens to be right across the road here from Frontier Town. There used to be a restaurant here called the Satisfied Frog, but there was a fire and it burned down, unfortunately. The population of Cave Creek is around 10,000 but they have a city ordinance saying that no corporations or fast-food chains can build here, but there is one, it’s the Dairy Queen because it’s grandfathered in. If you’re looking for a hike to do, you can go to the top of Black Mountain. It takes about an hour and a half. I’ve gone up there around 5 to 10 times in my life. The neighboring town with Cave Creek here is Carefree, which is considered one of the most expensive ZIP codes in all of the state. And I’m sure by now you’re wondering why they call it Cave Creek. Well, the truth is there’s a small stream we call a creek out here where the water comes down from Spur Cross and an Elephant Butte, and on the right side of that creek, there is a large cave. It’s a bit of a hike to get there and not easy to find.

Discover the Hidden Gem Where Desert Transforms to Lush Pine Forests

As you arrive at Payson, on the Beeline Highway, you’ll notice that it turns from a high chaparral desert right into pines right there at Payson. Payson is one of those areas that is growing. It’s currently sitting at around 177,000 people living there. That’s up quite a bit, it’s doubled in the last 20 years. So, it’s just a matter of time it seems like before Payson starts to take off, kind of like what we saw in Prescott. But while you’re up here, you can check out the Tonto Natural Bridge. Also, go up to Star Valley and then head up onto the rim where they have many different lakes. While you’re up on the Mogollon rim, you’ll see elk up here and some bears. The forest is thick around Payson also. But that’s what people like, there’s a couple of small towns around here. Past the Natural Bridge, if you go up a bit, you’ll come up into Pine, and Strawberry which are nice small towns.

Indulge in Art, History, and Award-Winning Wines in the Verde Valley Region

Heading up the Verde Valley is Cottonwood, which translates to the Green River. Cottonwood is known for its historic old town where you’ll find boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and a historical ambiance right here with these preserved buildings. It’s also famous here for the Verde Valley Wine Trail, so if you come up here do some wine tasting because they have several award-winning wineries and tasting rooms with vineyard tours. People also like to take the Old Verde Railway. In this area of the Verde Valley, you’re going to find Clarkdale, Cornville, and several other towns including Verde right alongside the old river here which has the headwaters up there near Sedona. Right here is where Oak Creek meets the Verde, so lots to do out here. And there’s an old Native American ruin here called Tuzigoot. The area is popular with people who drive motorhomes around America and they stop right here for a couple of days at one of these RV parks. But that’s because you have historic parks and museums in the area that people visit. There are a lot of water activities out here that people like to enjoy, especially on a hot day. You also have a lot of hiking in areas like Mingus Mountain along with birdwatching, especially right along the river.

Relive the Gold Rush: Spooky Strolls & Wine in Old West Style

They call Jerome a ghost town, although technically to be a ghost town, there’s got to be no one here but the ghosts of the past. So, it’s just a revived ghost town. It’s an old mining copper, silver, and gold village that was a main boomtown in Arizona. It was one of the largest towns in Arizona around the 1920s with old Phelps Dodge. Nowadays most people just consider it a ghost town because some of the buildings up here are considered haunted. That’s why you would go on a ghost tour. Also, just walking the main drag down the mountain or up the mountain is a cool experience. Maynard from the band Tool has a vineyard around here, so he’s got a classic shop right there on the mountainside. His vineyard is called Caduceus Vineyard, so look them up if you’re looking for the wine. The population of Jerome is around 467 people as of 2021. It’s not growing and it’s not losing population, so it’s staying steady up here. There’s also a cool burger joint up here called The Haunted Burger. So, plan for around 1 to 2 hours walking around Jerome, depending on what you do. Some people come up here and stay the night. That’s if you wanted to experience some of those haunted vibes that people talk about. It happens in the evening time.

Step Back in Time at this Secluded Historic Western Hotel and Ghost Town

Located in northwestern Arizona, it’s out here in the mountains all by itself. The old Oatman Ghost Town is known for its history and structures that remain, creating a ghost town atmosphere. The old Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, is one of the town’s oldest historic landmarks known for its Western charm that was once frequented by Clark Gable and Carol Lumbard during their honeymoon. The name of the mountain range here is called the Black Mountains. It is about a 55-minute drive from Kingman. The population of Oatman is 43, which is down from 2014’s estimate of around 80 people. So, as you can see it truly is a small town. Originally settled in the mid-1800s as a gold mining camp, the name came about because of a 14-year-old girl named Olive Oatman who was captured by the natives after her pioneer family was massacred on the way from Illinois in 1851. While here, do be sure to take a picture with some burros.

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