3 Days in the Heart of Arizona’s Verde Valley

You can take a leisurely, shady walk along the Verde River after grabbing a meal in town, or make it an all-day outing.
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Located halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Verde Valley straddles Arizona’s low and high country. This means the valley is spared from scorching summers and cold winters, making it an ideal year-round destination. Besides the weather, the valley is distinct in another way: the abundance of water. The Verde River and Oak Creek provide ample opportunities for fishing, wading, floating, wildlife watching, and notably, farming. The valley is one of the best wine grape growing regions in the Southwest and is home to a rapidly growing wine industry. And right in the heart of the valley lies Cottonwood—with plenty of restaurants, tasting rooms, lodging, boutiques, and galleries, it’s the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the region.

This article was created in partnership with Visit Cottonwood.

Preparation

Though the Verde Valley’s climate is milder than other parts of Arizona, there’s the occasional chance of snow in winter and summertime highs can hit triple digits. If you’re planning a visit during the hottest months, plan your outdoor activities around dawn or dusk and always carry plenty of water and salty snacks. During the heat of the day there are plenty of opportunities to cool off, whether it’s taking a dip in the Verde River or staying indoors by visiting the shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants in Old Town Cottonwood.

Day One: A Walk (or Ride) in the Park

Just on the edge of town you’ll find Dead Horse Ranch State Park– so close that you can hike along the Jail Trail into the park right from Old Town. You can take a leisurely, shady walk along the Verde River after grabbing a meal in town, or make it an all-day outing. Once you’ve entered the park you have access to over 20 miles of trails open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. This is also a great place to spend a day in the water, with trails leading to fishing lagoons and river access. This riparian zone is also perfect for spotting birds and wildlife, such as otters, foxes and quail.

Day Two: Old Town to Old West

With its bootlegging days behind it, Old Town Cottonwood is now booming in more legitimate ways: with restaurants, shops and wineries. Much of the New Deal-era architecture has been preserved, landing Old Town a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. To start off the day, you can’t go wrong with a hearty breakfast from local favorites Old Town Red Rooster Cafe or Crema. Walk off those huevos rancheros along Main Street, where you’ll find dozens of shops, galleries and boutiques. This is a great place to pick up some Southwestern jewelry, antiques, or even some rare rocks and minerals at Jim and Ellen’s Rock Shop.

During the evening, don’t miss out on a chuckwagon dinner and live Western show at the Blazin’ M Ranch. This is more than just dinner and a show; it’s a whole Old West experience wrapped into one tidy, barbecue sauce-covered package. Before the show you can explore Frontier Town, where you can try your hand at bull riding (don’t worry—it’s a mechanical bull), axe throwing, and tractor pulling.

Day Three: Verde Valley Wine Trail

Over two dozen vineyards and tasting rooms (and counting) make up the Verde Valley American Viticultural Area, with eight tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood alone. If that seems overwhelming, let the  Verde Valley Wine Trail guide you in the right direction. Along the trail, you can’t go wrong with a shady walk in the vineyard along Oak Creek at Page Springs Cellars, and for food try the lasagna cupcakes at Merkin Vineyards Osteria. Print out or pick up a map and passport, and if you visit 10 different stops on the trail you’ll be entered into a quarterly drawing to win trips and other prizes.

Day Four: Pack up, and Plan a Return

Cottonwood has so much to offer, from culture and history to meals and vineyards you ran out of time to taste, to views you won’t find on a hike anywhere else in Arizona. So once your visit is over, you may just find you’re planning your next three days in Cottonwood!

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