Prescott – AZ Outdoor Adventure

In Adventure, Arizona, Guides, Photography, RV, Travel

Watson Lake, the Granite Dells

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The Jersey Lilly Saloon, one of the many historic bars in town.
The Jersey Lilly Saloon, one of the many historic bars in town.

RV’ers, travelers, photographers, cyclists, mountain bikers, rock climbers, hikers, kayakers, and more will all find something of value in Prescott Arizona.  One of the most outdoor oriented places we’ve ever visited, Prescott really does have something to offer most any visitor!

Prescott Arizona is located between Flagstaff and Phoenix.  Well, it’s sort of located between the two.  Traveling from Flagstaff to Phoenix on I-17 visitors will see a sign to Prescott in between the two.  You have a few miles to travel West on Route 69 to visit this scenic town, and by all means you should pay it a visit.

Before Phoenix was the state capitol of Arizona, Prescott was the Territorial Capitol for Arizona.  The town is steeped in history, and offers a great deal to any visitor who spends a little time in the city.  From a historic downtown and courthouse square to Granite Mountain and the Granite Dells, you’ll be offered a variety of things to do, and amazing places to visit.

The Yavapai County Courthouse
The Yavapai County Courthouse

Historic Prescott

Prescott was once part of the Wild West.  Figures such as Wyatt Erp, Doc Holiday, and “Big Nose Kate,” spent time in Prescott.  Silver mining was prevalent in the area, and a scenic downtown was created.  Historic Whiskey Row still slings drinks every night, of course today you shouldn’t need to worry about bringing your six shooter along.

Downtown Prescott is charming to say the least.  That’s probably one of the reasons why it is often referred to as “Everybody’s Hometown.”  Spending a little time in the downtown will make you think of scenes from Rockwell, or your own idealized image of what a town should look like.

The lighting of the square is a huge event each year in Prescott, AZ.
The lighting of the square is a huge event each year in Prescott, AZ.

Prescott is also Arizona’s “Christmas City.”  Yes, it’s in Arizona, and yes it does sometimes snow in town.  At an elevation of 1 mile high the city does actually have seasons!  And Christmas is certainly a season where the town (and the courthouse plaza) shines.

Visitors can of course visit year round.  There are many places to stay.  RV Parks, National Forests, Motels, Hotels, and The Motor Lodge (if you’re into cool retro places to stay, they fit the bill).

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The Bird Cage recently burned down, but has been re-opened at a new location on Whiskey Row

During the summer time Prescott remains much cooler than Phoenix.  So Prescott makes for a great summer get away for the folks down in the Valley.  With temperatures 15 – 20 degrees cooler it’s a haven for people seeking cooler temperatures and looking to enjoy all the activities associated with summer.

Also, during the peak season (Spring through Fall), Prescott hosts many art shows and events on the Courthouse Plaza.  The Phippen Museum puts on a western art show every May that is beyond impressive.  Have you ever wanted to meet a famous “Cowboy Artist?”  You could at the Phippen show!  The 4th of July celebration in Prescott’s historic downtown is one you don’t want to miss.  The Bluegrass festival is a fun event for the entire family, and some of the most enjoyable performances are put on by amateurs around the square forming pick up groups and playing for an hour or two.  And the host of other weekend events means you’re sure to find something of interest on your visit.

Beyond visiting the downtown area, Whiskey Row, the Antiques district on Cortez, the Courthouse, and locations of historical significance, what else is there to do?  Take a hike on Granite Mountain.  Visit the Granite Dells and walk or cycle on the Peavine Trail.  Rock climbers will love Granite Basin and the Dells.  Cyclists and Mountain Bikers too.  Or maybe you’d like to rent a kayak and paddle Watson Lake, located in the Dells.

Granite Mountain

The Whiskey Row Off Road from 2011
The Whiskey Row Off Road from 2011

Two items of interest always seem to dominate the skyline of Prescott.  Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain.  Thumb Butte is a great hiking destination, and offers some interesting Mountain Biking.  The Whiskey Row Off Road race comes through Thumb Butte each year.

Granite Mountain is a little further out of town.  Years ago it was listed as one of the top 10 climbing locations in North America by Rock & Ice magazine.  There are multiple climbing locations within Granite Basin (home to Granite Mountain), and you can find short climbs, bouldering, and trad climbing.  The choice is yours.  Spend a few hours or spend the day.

Mountain Bikers will find so many opportunities for trail rides around Granite Basin.  The off road riding can be mild, or if you like there are extremely strenuous routes as well.  It’s up to you how you want to spend the day.

Hikers will also enjoy the same trail system that bikers do.  The trails are shared with hikers, bikers, and equestrians as well.  Just make sure you know the trail rules!  If you’d like to see everything around you, it’s pretty simple.  You can do an ascent of Granite Mountain and return in a single day.

Finally, in Granite Basin there is forest service campground.  So if you’re looking for a place to stay while you explore all the Granite Mountain area has to offer….well, you’re already there so why not stay for a few days?  It is of course “dry camping” or “boondocking,” but you won’t be at camp all that much, as there’s too much to do and see in Granite Basin.

The Granite Dells in Pastel
The Granite Dells in Pastel

The Granite Dells

Another incredible outdoor wonderland a few miles North out of town on Route 89 would be the Granite Dells.  Amazing rock spires, canyons, and trails lie within the Granite Dells.

Like Granite Basin, the Dells offer so many climbing opportunities.  Top roping, trad climbing, and sport routes as well.  For climbers you’ll need to spend days in the area just to see all of the opportunities.  Routes run from about 5.5 through 5.13.

For hikers, the Dells are loaded with trails.  City trails abound, and information signs can be found along both Watson and Willow Lakes (the two lakes that are smack dab in the middle of the Dells).  If you don’t feel like rock hoping up and down the granite there are also mild trails along the lakes.  Whatever your speed is, there’s a trail for you.

Mountain Bikers have a huge set of opportunities as well.  Ride granite slabs, or enjoy the mild railroad grade Peavine Trail.  Big adventure, or a casual ride.  You can find everything in-between when visiting the Dells.

If you don’t feel like climbing or hiking, you could always bring up your boat and set in on Watson or Willow Lake.  And if you don’t have a boat?  Don’t worry, there are vendors during the busy seasons who rent out kayaks and canoes.  Paddling on Watson Lake is something else, and you can find yourself paddling in and out of canyons!  Almost like Lake Powell, but a lot smaller!

Camping is available in the Dells.  Willow Lake RV Park, Point of Rocks, and a small city park located right at Watson Lake (not open to camp year round so be sure to check ahead).  In addition to the campgrounds there’s also a B&B nearby.  Or you can just stay in town, the Dells are only a few miles North.

Senator Highway

Heading out of town on the Senator Highway, visitors can ride all the way up to Crown King, AZ.  The dirt roads leading out of town from Senator Highway are passable for most any vehicle type, however a 4WD high clearance vehicle is always recommended “just in case.”

Leaving Prescott on the Senator Highway, visitors can first stop in to see Goldwater Lake.  If you’d like to bring your canoe or kayak along, that’s great!  The park has facilities and picnic areas too, so you could make a great day trip out of Goldwater.

As you make your way past Goldwater Lake you’ll find a pull off for a trailhead.  Equestrians, mountain bikers, and hikers have a variety of trails to follow.  And climbers will find that there are some amazing bouldering opportunities a short hike from the trailhead parking.

An abandoned silver mine outside of Prescott
An abandoned silver mine outside of Prescott

Continuing toward Crown King the road turns to dirt.  It winds and curves along Wolf Creek (far below where you’re driving) and leads past an old silver mine.  Amazing photo opportunities can be had near the mine, but visitors should proceed with caution.

Finally, there are some camping opportunities along Senator Highway.  After the road turns to dirt travelers will find themselves back in Forest Service Land.  And there are several dispersed camp sites along the route that can fit smaller RVs, and make for perfect tent camping locations.  Our one request when you’re visiting these locations is simple.  No campfires, ever.

Getting there

Getting to Prescott is relatively easy.  From Phoenix follow I-17 North as if you were headed to Flagstaff.  About 45 minutes North from Phoenix you’ll see the exit signs for Prescott on Route 69.  It’s approximately a 45 minute drive on 69 into town.

Coming from Flagstaff, you’ll head South on I-17.  Once again, you’ll find the Prescott exit for Route 69, and then you’ll follow just like the directions above.

Route 89 also passes right through Prescott.  From Sedona Arizona you can follow this more scenic and winding route, but we would not advise any RV’s to follow this route.  From Wickenburg (to the south) you can also follow Route 89 North right into Prescott, but once again, this road is NOT advisable for RV travelers.  Sharp turns, steep grades, etc.  According to the signs on 89 from Sedona or Wickenburg, nothing over 40 feet!  They mean it, and I’d suggest nothing over 30 feet!

Camping in the prescott area

There are several camping options in the Prescott area.  Several commercial parks are in Prescott, and then there are many Forest Service locations available for both RV’ers and tent campers alike.  Both Point of Rocks and Willow Lake RV Park are private commercial campgrounds located in the Granite Dells.  Watson Lake Park is a City operated park, and is only available late Spring through Early fall.  The park is open year round, but camping isn’t offered year round.  Granite Basin, White Spar, and Lynx Lake are all Forest Service parks and still require a fee.  Plan on dry camping at these 3 parks, and there are “generator hours.”  Finally, the dispersed camping following Senator Highway isn’t not signed.  You’ll notice dispersed sites that can easily fit up to a 35 foot RV, but you will not find signage at the sites.

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