12 Attractions in Prescott, Arizona

Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Nestled in the mountains of north-central Arizona lies the historic city of Prescott. Founded in 1864, Prescott served as the capital of the Arizona Territory before statehood was granted in 1912. Today, this charming city of about 43,000 residents retains its Old West ambience while offering visitors a surprising variety of things to see and do. Blessed with four distinct seasons and surrounded by the Prescott National Forest, Prescott provides easy access to outdoor recreation along with cultural attractions, historical sites, and family-friendly destinations.

Whether you’re a history buff soaking in attractions along Whiskey Row or an outdoor enthusiast biking the urban forest trail system, Prescott has something for you. Here is an overview of 12 top attractions that highlight the diversity of experiences awaiting visitors to this mountain community.

Sharlot Hall Museum


As the center of territorial governance in the late 19th century, Prescott has no shortage of historical attractions. But the Sharlot Hall Museum stands out for its focus on life throughout territorial Arizona. Named for Sharlot M. Hall, a poet and historian who lived in Prescott, the museum comprises several buildings and artifacts collected by Hall herself beginning in 1928.

Housed in two restored territorial homes along with the historic Bashford House and the Fort Misery Log Cabin, the museum’s collections cover subjects ranging from transportation and mining to ranching and domestic life. Visitors can tour each building to get a glimpse of pioneer living conditions while also learning about the cultures of early Arizona. An on-site library and archives provide opportunities for more in-depth research. The museum grounds are also lovely, making this a pleasant spot to spend a few hours immersed in Prescott’s storied past.

Whiskey Row


One of Prescott’s most iconic attractions, Whiskey Row recalls the city’s early days as a Wild West frontier town. Lined with saloons and merchandise stores, the original Whiskey Row served as a major commercial district until a fire destroyed most of the buildings in 1900. Today, a block of Montezuma Street features restored 19th-century-style facades housing restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms, and shops.

Visitors can stop in for a drink or meal at eateries like the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, which first opened in 1877. Or pop over to wildlife sculptures representing the Prescott National Forest at the Elks Opera House. While wandering among the Western storefronts, you may just glimpse a costumed reenactor bringing the past to life. Anchoring one end of Whiskey Row is the St. Michael Hotel, offering historic accommodations on the site of President Theodore Roosevelt’s reception when visiting Prescott in 1903.

Watson Lake


Year-round outdoor recreation thrives around Watson Lake, an artificial reservoir created in the early 1900s to provide water for local mines and mills. Fed by Granite Creek, this lake amid boulder-studded hillsides makes a picturesque spot for canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding and fishing. Watson Lake is also at the heart of Prescott’s renowned urban trail system.

Hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners flock to named routes like the Peavine Trail for its lake views and challenging terrain. The scenic and accessible Watson Woods Riparian Trail skirts the lakeshore past restored wetlands. You’ll also find picnic spots, playgrounds and a dog park at Watson Lake Park. Don’t miss the unique Watson Lake Boulder Garden showcasing impressive balancing boulders scattered downhill toward the reservoir.

Lynx Lake Recreation Area


Another scenic lake surrounded by the Prescott National Forest, Lynx Lake offers its own roster of popular recreational opportunities less than 10 minutes from downtown. At an elevation exceeding 5,000 feet, Lynx Lake provides welcome respite from central Arizona summer heat. Go boating, swim from the beach, cast for trout or soak up stunning scenery along the lakeside trail.

Like Watson Lake, Lynx Lake allows non-motorized boating only. Pedal boats, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent during the summer. Anglers can try their luck catching rainbow trout and largemouth bass. The mile-plus trail circling Lynx Lake also connects to longer hiking routes like the acclaimed Greenways Trail System. With a serene setting accented by basking turtles and soaring ospreys, Lynx Lake makes an inviting destination for outdoor fun.

Hassayampa River Preserve


Nature lovers and birdwatchers flock to the Hassayampa River Preserve, an enchanting landscape of cottonwoods, willows and mesquite along a lush riparian corridor. Operated by the Nature Conservancy, the nearly 300-acre preserve safeguards precious habitat for an astonishing number of resident and migratory birds. Keep your eyes peeled for species like belted kingfishers, hooded orioles and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

Well-maintained walking trails wind through the trees, offering striking views of the Hassayampa River. Visit the small visitor center to learn about ongoing conservation efforts and borrow a pair of binoculars for birding. Whether joining a guided nature walk or wandering the trails solo, you’ll quickly appreciate why the Nature Conservancy picked this Prescott oasis for permanent protection.

The Smoki Museum


Delve into Native American culture and artifacts at the Smoki Museum, showcasing the history and traditions of indigenous groups from throughout the Southwest. Founded during the Great Depression by members of the Smoki People, an organization promoting Native American ceremonies and dances in Prescott, the museum houses an extensive collection of Native American arts and handicrafts.

Highlights of the museum’s galleries include intricate Hopi kachina dolls, woven Navajo rugs, Apache basketry, Puebloan pottery and precious stones used for jewelry making. Visitors can also observe educational videos about Native rituals and listen to recordings of cultural music. The museum gift shop offers plenty of authentic jewelry, pottery and artwork for taking some Native artistry back home. Don’t overlook the outdoor pueblo exhibit with replications of traditional dwellings found at archaeological sites like Montezuma Castle.

Phippen Museum


Admire outstanding Western art at the Phippen Museum, a cozy fine arts museum focused on the American West. Named after prominent cowboy artist George Phippen, a founding member of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America, the museum features paintings, drawings and sculptures depicting frontier life. Historic and contemporary exhibits cover subjects like native peoples, ranching culture, landscapes and wildlife.

Explore rotating shows in seven galleries highlighting both professional and up-and-coming Western artists. The museum also fosters youth education through regular children’s programs. Visitors gain fascinating context about artistic interpretations of the frontier from the museum’s welcoming staff. For those captivated by artistic visions of the Old West, an afternoon at the Phippen Museum makes for time well spent in Prescott.

Hiking the Granite Dells


No trip to Prescott is complete without venturing into the famed Granite Dells. These sculpted granite boulders, slabs, and knobs date back 1.75 billion years, making for a geologic wonderland perfect for hiking. Trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels snake through the Dells, delivering nonstop scenery guaranteed to impress.

Shorter routes like the Peavine Trail allow you to sample these massive rock formations while avoiding extreme elevation changes. Or challenge yourself summiting Thumb Butte, a prominent knob reaching nearly 7,000 feet. Countless natural artworks formed by rounded granite catch the eye at every turn on Dells trails. From fascinating rock walls to panoramic mountaintop outlooks, each step offers a new visual reward. Just remember to watch your footing amid the irregular terrain.

Thumb Butte Recreation Complex


For even more recreation centered among the Granite Dells, head to the Thumb Butte Recreation Complex. Operated by the City of Prescott park system, this 300-acre facility bursts with activities for visitors of all ages and interests. Test your skills on a 27-hole disc golf course weaving through picturesque boulders. Go for adrenaline-pumping laps at the BMX track or skatepark built directly into the rock features.

Younger kids can burn energy at two different playgrounds with inventive equipment inspired by mining and railroads. Meanwhile, competitive athletes play baseball, softball, volleyball and more at the sports complex. And everyone in the family will enjoy miles of scenic hiking trails emanating from Thumb Butte proper. With so much to do against the unparalleled backdrop of the Dells, you’ll want to block out ample time to take advantage of this exceptional park.

Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary


For animal lovers visiting Prescott, the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary provides a uniquely personal experience. This intimate zoo focused on education and conservation hosts an array of rescued animals. Meet leopards, a tiger, foxes, macaws and more while touring the small but informative exhibits. As a sanctuary promoting Earth stewardship and compassion toward all creatures, Heritage Park takes excellent care of beloved residents like and Milky Way the cougars.

Friendly, knowledgeable staff share fascinating details about each species during daily educational presentations. You’ll leave better understanding these animals along with threats they face in the wild. Beyond the bred-in-captivity species found at many zoos, most Heritage Park residents arrived via wildlife refuges and rescue facilities. An on-site nature trail through native vegetation caps off a heartwarming visit. By supporting Heritage Park Sanctuary, you help sustain vital efforts to protect vulnerable creatures.

Historic Downtown Prescott


Wander the National Historic District in downtown Prescott to soak up more old-timey vibes. Along the lively pedestrian-friendly streets, you’ll discover an array of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars housed inside preserved 19th-century buildings. History buffs will delight in mileage markers, memorials and plaques denoting key moments in Prescott’s past.

Standouts landmarks downtown include the historic Yavapai County Courthouse and townsquare complete with the county’s first schoolhouse. Don’t skip the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, Arizona’s oldest frontier saloon. For bird’s-eye views over downtown’s red-tiled roofs and surrounding mountains, head up to the overlook deck atop the Hassayampa Inn. Whether shopping for regional souvenirs, enjoying happy hour specials or simply admiring old architectural flourishes, downtown Prescott offers something for everyone.

Hassayampa Preserve Golf Club


Known for its beautiful but challenging layout, the Hassayampa Preserve Golf Club appeals to duffers of all skill levels. Set amid one of Arizona’s finest housing developments yet accessible to the general public, this 18-hole course utilizes subtle elevation changes and strategic bunkers across tree-lined fairways surrounded by granite outcroppings.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the par-72 course incorporates its high desert environment while taking full advantage of lovely vistas. Skilled players will relish tricky tee shots and pesky natural areas threatening errant balls. Beginners appreciate multiple tee boxes allowing those new to the game to progress hole by hole. And everyone gets a kick out of roaming wildlife like great horned owls and deer. For a premier golf experience against the fabulous backdrop of Prescott’s signature boulders, Hassayampa Preserve delivers beautifully.

Goldwater Lake


Whether visiting Prescott in winter or summer, scenic Goldwater Lake offers year-round diversions courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service. This long, narrow reservoir immersed in pine forest delivers cool high-altitude relief during hot central Arizona summers. In chilly months, it becomes a beloved spot for ice fishing.

Anglers can cast lines from the shore or small watercraft in pursuit of rainbow trout, bass and sunfish. Non-motorized boating like canoeing and kayaking also thrives on the peaceful 150-acre impoundment. Land lovers take on the multi-use trail circling Goldwater Lake. Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians share this intermediate single track route delivering big nature immersion just minutes from town. Picnic sites scattered around the lakeshore encourage lingering to soak up pristine forest scenery.

Conclusion

Encircled by granite mountains with a colorful past, Prescott captivates visitors with its striking high desert setting and wealth of things to do. From the galleries and eateries of downtown to boating, fishing and trails through the Granite Dells, this former territorial capital offers enough attractions and diversions for an extended stay.

Families relish kid-friendly sites like Thumb Butte Recreation Complex and Heritage Park Zoo. Outdoor recreation thrives at scenic lakes and across hundreds of miles of trails. And history buffs tour museums and restored buildings offering windows into frontier heritage throughout the Old West. Whether coming for a weekend escape or weeklong vacation, Prescott serves up authentic Arizona vistas and experiences guaranteed to delight.

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