Prescott, Arizona is a fabulous and fantastic vacation destination that you may not have considered before – but you should!
Although Prescott is small as cities go – only 43,000 people live in Prescott and only 130,000 reside in the entire metropolitan area – there are lots of things to see in Prescott and the beauty in this area is breathtaking and unmatched.
It’s an easy place to get to, since it’s just ninety minutes or less from Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Sedona, but it’s quiet and remote and when you spend a few days or a week here, you’ll feel like you got away from it all.
There’s something for everyone in this lovely little southwestern town. If you’re wondering what to do in Prescott, you came to the right place. Read on to learn more about this charming and enchanting destination.
Table of Contents
- Nature Attractions in and Near Prescott
- Watson Lake
- Lynx Lake Recreation Area
- Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary
- Goldwater Lake
- Prescott Peavine National Recreation Trail
- Prescott National Forest
- Granite Basin Recreation Area
- Historical Attractions in and Near Prescott
- Prescott Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Information
- Downtown Historic Area
- The Sharlot Hall Museum
- Prescott Frontier Days
- The Phippen Museum
- The Museum of Indigenous People
- Entertainment in Prescott
- Whiskey Row
- Buckys & Yavapai Casinos
- Elks Opera House Theatre
- Prescott Center for the Arts
- Why is Prescott, AZ famous?
- Does Prescott, AZ have an airport?
Nature Attractions in and Near Prescott
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll love Prescott. At 5300’ above sea level, Prescott’s natural, mountainous terrain is home to unique fauna and flora. The Prescott National Forest surrounds the city and there are so many beautiful things to see.
This area truly is the best of the west. Spending time out in nature near here is one of the very best things to do in Prescott.
One of the most popular things to do in Prescott, Arizona is to visit Watson Lake. This lake is actually a giant reservoir – something that is crucially needed to conserve water for the people of Prescott and surrounding areas in such a dry environment.
However, this reservoir is not simply a backup water supply, because it’s also a recreation area to be enjoyed by all too! Whether you’re taking a day trip to Prescott or spending a much longer time in the area, Watson Lake is something that you absolutely should not miss.
This large reservoir covers 70 acres and the average depth is around 50 feet. It’s a great place for fishing – the reservoir is full of largemouth bass, sunfish, carp, catfish, and other species. Non-motorized boating is allowed – although swimming is not – and there’s a campground that’s open during the summer months.
The look of this body of water is striking; tall, colorful, granite rock towers surround the lake and peek out from its surface. These rocks also make this a popular destination for photographers and rock climbers from around the nation (and around the world at large).
Visitors will be excited to know that this lake is just four minutes from downtown Prescott! The reservoir is owned and maintained by the City of Prescott. Considering it is a reservoir, the city does a wonderful job of maintaining the trails and the canoes and kayaks available for rent there. Watson Lake is a lovely place to spend a quiet afternoon.
Lynx Lake Recreation Area
Lynx Lake is another reservoir in the Prescott area. It’s a little smaller than Watson Lake at fifty-five acres, but it’s a very popular recreation area for both locals and visitors.
Wildlife is abundant at this reservoir. Like Watson Lake, it’s full of a variety of fish and anglers will love it. Non-motorized or electric boaters will love it too! If you like to hike, the two-mile Lakeshore Trail will take you around the lake.
For those who wish to stay overnight, there’s a lovely campground here as well. If you don’t feel like camping, the Forest Villas Hotel is a pleasant option that’s only a few minutes away.
Lynx Lake Recreation Area is a bit further outside of town than Watson Lake. Unlike Watson Lake, Lynx Lake is actually within the confines of the Prescott National Forest. Because of that, you’re more likely to see wild animals like mule deer, bald eagles, osprey, javelinas, and others.
You’ll feel a million miles from everywhere when visiting Lynx Lake Recreation Area, but you’re just fifteen minutes from downtown Prescott if you need to take a break for civilization.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Phoenix, Arizona
Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary
Although the animals in the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary aren’t living in the wild, if you love animals or the beauty of nature then you’ll love visiting this place. This is not simply a zoo, but rather a wild animal sanctuary.
It was founded in 1985 by a group of citizens and since then, it has grown quite a bit. It does not breed animals nor keep animals for study, but rather it provides a home for local and exotic animals that can’t be released into the wild.
There are 175 animals at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary and this non-profit relies on public support to care for them. If you visit and like what you see, consider donating a bit more when you return home.
The caretakers here really care about the well-being of the animals. In addition to seeing amazing creatures during your visit, you will learn a lot about animal welfare and conservation, too. If you’re looking for kids’ activities in Prescott, the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary will be a big hit that the whole family can enjoy.
Afterward, take time to explore Willow Lake Park which surrounds this attraction. It’s also quite lovely and a great place for kicking back with a picnic lunch or dinner.
Like Lynx Lake Recreation Area, Goldwater Lake is south of town in the Prescott National Forest. This lake is smaller than Watson Lake and Lynx Lake, but many visitors prefer it because it’s also a bit less busy and a bit quieter as a result.
Non-motorized boats are also allowed on the lake, but like the other two reservoirs mentioned here, swimming is not allowed – these are reservoirs first and foremost, after all. No one wants drinking water flavored with “essence of YOU”.
See Related: Best Boundary Waters Waterfalls You Need to Visit
Prescott Peavine National Recreation Trail
Taking a hike on the Prescott Peavine National Recreation Trail is a very Prescott thing to do since this national scenic trail is named for Prescott itself!
This trail is six miles long and was originally laid as part of the Santa Fe Railway back in 1893. Today, you can enjoy it on foot, or by bike. You can even explore it on horseback, or by e-bike with this unique tour with Viator.
You can start in town and then walk along Watson Lake for an entire morning or afternoon. Eventually, the trail splits; you can continue on the Prescott Peavine Trail or branch off onto the Iron King Trail which will take you another four miles further.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Forest Lake, Minnesota
Prescott National Forest
Prescott National Forest nearly surrounds the city of Prescott. It’s been mentioned above already in descriptions of Lynx Lake Recreation Area and Goldwater Lake, but both of these lakes are just minuscule spots on the map of this 1.25 million-acre forest. There is so much to explore in these woods and deserts.
Established in 1908, Prescott National Forest has over 950 miles of hiking trails, eleven family campgrounds, ten dispersed campgrounds, eight designated wilderness areas, and dozens of picnic areas, lakes, creeks, and mountain peaks.
Wildlife is everywhere you look here, and you could spend years in this forest without getting to know every nook and cranny of it well. This forest’s perfect and official tagline is “Where the desert meets the pines.” They ain’t wrong, as you’ll find much of both here, as well as something to amaze and intrigue every visitor.
Seriously, don’t miss it.
You’ll love exploring this national forest on your own or in a group. If you’d like a guide, check out these Private Off-Road Adventure Tours around Prescott National Forest. If you’re looking for cabins to stay in right in the national forest itself, you might consider Crown Kings Cabins Bradshaw for a comfortable, secluded stay.
Granite Basin Recreation Area
The Granite Basin Recreation Area is also in Prescott National Forest but it’s northwest of town, unlike Lynx Lake and Goldwater Lake which are to the south.
This recreation area is at the base of Granite Mountain and you’ll find hiking trails, picnic tables, rock climbing opportunities, great fishing spots, and more in this park. Horseback riding is also allowed, and there’s a campground on-site if you want to sleep under the stars.
Again, this outdoor area is just minutes from downtown Prescott, but you’ll feel like you are deep in the wilderness. The many opportunities to experience this feeling are undoubtedly a big draw of Prescott for so many visitors and residents.
Historical Attractions in and Near Prescott
This small Arizona city has a storied history. It was named the capital of Arizona Territory in 1864 and again in 1877, and it served as that center of government until the title was passed to Phoenix in 1889. Today, it’s the county seat of Yavapai County.
Due to this exciting past, many of the things that you’ll find to do when visiting Prescott will help you learn more about the history of the southwest.
Prescott Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Information
Any time you visit any city anywhere in our country or the world, it’s always wise to stop at the local Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center to learn a bit more about the area…if there is one.
Well good news, Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center fans! Visit Prescott and see the wonders for yourselves!
The people who work in these places are enthusiastic about sharing their cities with you – Prescott is no different. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and learn about hidden gems in Prescott that you might otherwise miss.
The Prescott Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center serves over 26,000 visitors each year; it was founded in 1910 and is still housed in the original building.
The staff will be more than happy to provide you with city maps and hiking trail maps. And, they’ll even tell you where the very best hiking trails in the area are. Don’t forget to ask about dining options – these folks know this city better than anyone, and they’ll direct you to their personal favorites!
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Downtown Historic Area
Prescott’s downtown historic area will make you feel like you have stepped back in time into the Old West. There are dozen of historic buildings in this area for you to explore and photograph. And, there are plenty of shops, galleries, and restaurants to check out as well.
Courthouse Plaza is the center of town and the center of the action. You can spend an entire afternoon wandering around this part of town; this is where many people who have relocated to this area say they first fell in love with Prescott.
If you’d like some guidance in exploring this area, you might consider following the Prescott Heritage Trail.
This self-guided historical tour takes about an hour and will lead you to and past sights like the city jail, the Palace Restaurant & Saloon, the Centennial Tree, the Yavapai County Courthouse, Prescott City Hall, the Prescott War Memorial, several museums, and so much more. You can pick up the map at the Prescott Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center or you can download it online before you go.
For those traveling with children who are looking for kids’ activities in Prescott, you might consider approaching a tour of this area differently.
This Prescott Scavenger Hunt Walking Tour and Game from Viator is interactive and lively and will be a fun way for the whole family to explore and discover downtown Prescott without anybody getting too bored or antsy.
The Sharlot Hall Museum
The Sharlot Hall Museum is one of several museums in Prescott. It’s actually the largest and most-visited museum in town. This open-air museum is honestly spectacular.
It was opened in 1928 by Sharlot M. Hall, a very impressive and locally famous woman who you can learn more about at the museum. However, the Sharlot Hall Museum is not about Ms. Hall, but rather about the interesting history of this area.
The main building of the museum grounds is the old governor’s mansion which was built on this site in 1864. Three other buildings were later moved to the property: the Fremont House, the Bashford House, and Fort Misery – the oldest log cabin in Arizona.
There are other historic buildings to investigate as well. Exhibits will teach you much about the way people lived in Arizona long ago.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
Prescott Frontier Days
Prescott Frontier Days is advertised as “the World’s Oldest Rodeo” and it very well may be; this annual event has been happening since 1888!
This event is a big deal for cowboys and rodeo fans and it happens during the last week of June into the first week of July every year at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds.
People come from all over the state and the nation to watch and participate in rodeo events in one of the first places rodeo was born. So, put on your Stetson, some worn jeans, a button-down flannel shirt, and some cowboy boots, and you’ll feel like a local during this exciting week of cowboying and cowgirling to the max.
The Phippen Museum
The Phippen Museum of Western Art celebrates the immense beauty of the American West through paintings, drawings, sculptures, and more. You’ll see dozens if not hundreds of images of cowboys, settlers, Native Americans, animals, plants, and landscapes at this museum.
This part of the country is alluring and inspirational for artists in all mediums, and this museum is a great setting to display their creations. It’s quite different from the Sharlot Hall Museum, and it’s wise to check out both museums while you’re in town.
This museum is named for local artist George Phippen. Phippen was also the first president of Cowboy Artists of America.
Although he passed away in 1966, two decades before the Phippen Museum was built by his friends, family, and supporters, his spirit lives on in this fantastic and impressive gallery that any visitor to Prescott will surely enjoy.
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The Museum of Indigenous People
No visit to the southwest is complete without some time spent learning about the indigenous people of the Americas.
Formerly known as the Smoki Museum of American Indian Art and Culture, this museum had some controversial beginnings but has come a very long way over the past near-century since it was first conceptualized and initiated by a group of local, white, Native American culture “enthusiasts”.
Today, the museum offers culturally sensitive educational programs to visitors. You can also view more than 2,000 Native American artifacts on display here, and the building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Entertainment in Prescott
If you’re looking for a fun night out and some memorable entertainment, you’ll find that in Prescott too. The arts scene in this small town is bigger than you might think, Whiskey Row is lively every night of the week, and if you’re a gambler, you can try your luck at the local casinos as well. There are lots of fun things to do in Prescott if you know where to go.
Whiskey Row is part of the Prescott historic downtown area; in fact, it’s full of some of the town’s oldest history. Unfortunately, most of the town’s historic Gold Rush-era saloons burned down in a fire in 1900, but many of them were rebuilt in the same spots they first stood.
Today, people enjoy drinking and revelry while standing in the footsteps of some of the most well-known figures of the legendary American West in these bars.
While you’re knocking back a few, be sure to ask the bartenders for stories about the histories of their establishment. They love to tell these tales – but keep in mind that embellishment is part of the art of storytelling, and the stories they tell may or may not actually be true.
If you don’t want to have to drive afterward, the Grand Highland Hotel is in the middle of the block and is a fantastic choice for accommodation.
A night on Whiskey Row is an adventure you won’t soon forget – if you can remember it the next morning!
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Buckys & Yavapai Casinos
If gambling is your thing, then one of the best things to do in Prescott is to take a trip out to Buckys & Yavapai Casinos on the outskirts of town.
This pair of casinos are on the 1400-acre Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation and offers a variety of games including slots, table games, and more.
There are also two restaurants on-site and the Prescott Resort and Conference Center is nearby if you want to book a comfortable stay nearby. If your companions aren’t into gambling, you can set them loose in the 250-acre shopping center that’s also on the reservation to keep them busy while you play!
Elks Opera House Theatre
The Prescott Elks Opera House Theatre was built in 1905 and today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was one of many Elks’ Opera Houses in the country, but it’s the only one that remains standing today.
This theatre was built to host artistic performances for turn-of-the-century folks and it still serves that purpose today. If you’re looking for cultural activities in Prescott, this is the place to go.
It seats a little over 500 patrons and today you can enjoy movies, plays, concerts, comedy, classes, and more at this historic theatre.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US
Prescott Center for the Arts
The Prescott Center for the Arts is housed in a historic church – the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Rectory – that was built in 1894.
For historical reasons alone, this place is worth a visit, but this arts organization has much more to offer, too. The Prescott Center for the Arts offers programs and volunteer opportunities in performing arts for all ages and its productions are highly attended and worth checking out.
There’s also an art gallery on-site and between plays and musicals, you can catch other concerts here as well.
Why is Prescott, AZ famous?
It’s famous for its wild-west history and heritage. It’s particularly famous for the Prescott Rodeo and a large number of saloons!
Does Prescott, AZ have an airport?
Yes, Prescott Regional Airport, Ernest A. Love Field, just 10 miles from the city center of Prescott. As of writing, the only major airline that flies in and out of Prescott Regional Airport is United Airlines.
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