Dropping down into the Verde Valley on the drive north from Phoenix is a welcome respite; ribbons of green riparian areas cut through the high desert, set against a backdrop of sandstone mesas. Oak Creek and the Verde River provide ample water, drawing everyone from the ancient Sinagua people to modern day winemakers. Situated between Phoenix and Flagstaff at 3,800 feet in elevation, the valley is spared from cold winters and blistering summers, making Cottonwood a perfect year-round destination.
This article was created in partnership with Visit Cottonwood.
Over 60 shops, restaurants, and hotels line Main Street in Old Town. Whether you’re looking for antiques, jewelry, art galleries, restaurants, or a good watering hole you’ll find it here. Many of the original buildings have been well-preserved, landing the downtown corridor a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The town boomed during prohibition as a bootlegging hub, and much of Old Town looks remarkably the same as it did back then.
When you’re done exploring Main Street, Old Town seamlessly connects to lush riparian trails along the Verde River. Right at the north end of the strip, the Jail Trail starts right behind (you guessed it) the historic jailhouse. This easy 1.6-mile loop can easily be added on to an afternoon spent in town, or you can make a day of it entirely by continuing on into Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
With over 20 miles of trails, there’s something for everyone at this park on the edge of town. Riparian cottonwood and willow forests along the Verde River provide an ideal habitat for wildlife, making this a top spot for birdwatchers. Several lagoons offer anglers an opportunity to reel in largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and channel catfish. The park is also popular among mountain bikers and equestrians. During the summer, the shady, half-mile Forest Loop trail offers river access to beat the heat.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Built over a thousand years ago by the Sinagua, this hilltop pueblo was once a bustling center of trade between peoples of the Colorado Plateau and villages as far south as Central America. Artifacts excavated from the site include macaw feathers and seashells, attesting to the Sinagua’s vast trade network. With over 100 rooms that have been excavated, it’s one of the largest pueblos in the region. The ⅓ mile Pueblo Trail leads to the site, where you can explore the rooms and take in the panoramic view of the Verde Valley. The onsite Tuzigoot Museum houses a collection of artifacts uncovered from the pueblo, including pottery, baskets, jewelry and arrowheads. The building itself is even a historic relic; built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, it’s one of the few buildings from that era that are still being used for their original purpose.
Verde Valley Wine Trail
Hit the trail– the Verde Valley Wine Trail! Over two dozen tasting rooms and vineyards make up the “trail,” with nine stops at tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood alone. Even more surprising than the number of wineries in the Arizona desert is their quality—in fact, the region recently earned its designation as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Hot days and cool nights make for unique growing conditions that are attracting a growing list of winemakers. Print out or pick up a map and passport. If you visit 10 different stops on the trail, you’ll be entered into a quarterly drawing to win trips and other prizes—the perfect excuse to plan a return visit!