I found a lovely balance between playing in the outdoors and enjoying the fruits of the Verde Valley in Cottonwood, Arizona. Conveniently located just on the edge of outdoor adventure, I enjoyed the easy access to Old Town Cottonwood, while still being able to reach Dead Horse Ranch State Park in just a few minute’s drive. Over a few days, I was able to sample the delights of the outdoors near Cottonwood, as well as the award-winning wines that the Verde Valley is known for.
This article was created in partnership with the City of Cottonwood Tourism & Economic Development, Arizona.
Photos by Emily Sierra Photography.
I loved staying in Old Town Cottonwood with all of its historic charm. The location was suitable to both my mellow sip and stroll afternoons, and trail-hungry mornings. I settled in easily at The Tavern Hotel in Old Town which was equally comfortable, clean and stylish. Not only was the staff there overly accommodating and friendly, but I could walk out the lobby and into my choice of restaurants, coffeehouses, shops and wineries for the day.
Day 1 in Cottonwood
Dead Horse Ranch State Park on Foot or a Mountain Bike
There are multiple trails that weave through the Dead Horse Ranch State Park. I personally opted for mountain biking, and I loved that there were various options that cater to all skill levels. Even on the more difficult, technical trails, there are still alternate lines. These trails are super playful and entertaining, and receive far fewer visitors than those around Sedona to the north. Stunning scenery all around the park only improved the further I rode out. The red cliffs became more vibrant, and the yucca, ocotillo, agave, cactus and other desert plants stood proudly on the trailside. Truly, this state park is such a wonderful place to play, and it’s only a few miles from Old Town Cottonwood, making it a breeze to get on the trails.
Wine and Dine
In the afternoon, I explored the wineries around Old Town. There are nearly 10 tasting rooms to sample from, all within a few block’s reach of each other. Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria was one of my favorites, with its casual-yet-refined vibe. The wine is great, and the food is outstanding there—all scratch-made and sourced locally.
Day 2 in Cottonwood
Head into the Hills on an ATV
I rented an ATV from Vortex ATV and set out to find the best view of the Verde Valley. The vehicle felt incredibly safe and offered access to places I know my truck would have struggled to reach. It was nice to have an option of trails to ride on, ranging from beginner to expert, some requiring skills to navigate rocks, desert washes, and deep sand. My favorite trail took us up Black Mountain, serving up sweeping views of the Verde Valley below. The perspective from there was simply unmatched, especially with the moody clouds rolling in. Pro tip: bring a bandana or a buff to cover your mouth in case it’s a little dusty!
Sip and shop
Shopping in Old Town Cottonwood was so fun! Aside from traditional gift shops, I found my way into various antique stores, a glitter store (yes, 100% glitter), and an olive oil shop and tasting room. Shopping around Cottonwood felt more like an experience to me than simply bagging up souvenirs for the road. Of course, I couldn’t help but explore other wineries that I missed on my first day in Cottonwood. I loved chatting with the unpretentious wine-tender at Carlson Creek who made me feel welcome, even though my wine knowledge is relatively slim!
Day 3 in Cottonwood
Dead Horse Ranch State Park from Horseback
I returned to Dead Horse Ranch State Park for a horseback ride with Trail Horse Adventures. The scenery on the ride was much different than what I experienced on the other trails in the state park, we even traversed the Verde River… on a horse! The river is indeed a glowing green color, and I felt quite adventurous as my horse went thigh deep in the current. Our guide grew up in the area and educated us on the history of the region, including how the state park earned its name. Great story, but you’ll have to find out for yourself!
Relax in Old Town
On the final evening in Cottonwood, don’t miss a table at the Colt Grill. Unwinding at this comfortable, familiar restaurant is a great way to round out a trip to Cottonwood and recount all of the experiences there. Southern charm and hospitality are not lacking, and the smoked brisket tacos are a must!