Rediscover the small-town charm of rural Arizona. Get out of the city and head for quiet places where life moves at a slower pace. Here are five places in Arizona you really should visit.
Why go: Wine and wide-open spaces.
Cattle still graze the sweeping ranchlands of Willcox but they do so at the edge of new vineyards. This is the center of Arizona’s wine industry. In 2016, Willcox was granted American Viticultural Area status. The designation means the region is recognized as a unique and distinctive wine-growing area. Tasting rooms are open in town and at surrounding wineries. willcoxwines.com
A sleepy innocence permeates downtown Willcox where historic buildings are stretched along Railroad Park. The Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame celebrates the life of the town’s favorite son. Rex Allen was the last of the singing cowboys. 520-384-4583, rexallenmuseum.org
A museum with a wider range of subject matter can be found 20 miles west of town. Tucked away amid the soaring boulders of Texas Canyon, the Amerind Museum promotes an understanding of America’s first peoples from the last Ice Age to the present. In March and April, the Amerind will host the Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Water/Ways,” a look at the history and science of water in the United States. 520-586-3666, amerind.org
The best Arizona has to offer — scenery, history and fun things to do — are available in these communities. Nicole Schaub, azcentral
Don’t miss: Known as the Land of Standing Up Rocks, Chiricahua National Monument is 36 miles southeast of Willcox. It offers a scenic drive, hiking trails and camping amid a vast garden of pinnacles, spires and hoodoos. 520-824-3560, nps.gov/chir
Surprise: The Willcox region produces 74 percent of Arizona’s wine grapes.
Reminiscent of a Swiss village, Alpine nestles in the San Francisco River valley ringed by forested mountains. Fishing, hunting, camping and just relaxing are top priorities.
There’s not much to downtown, just a handful of businesses strung along the crossroads of U.S. 191 and U.S. 180. Compared to Alpine, Mayberry would qualify as Sin City. But you can stroll down the sidewalk to grab a burger, a beer and some bait, and that’s really all the civilization you need for an idyllic summer getaway.
Luna Lake, just outside of town, supports a healthy population of rainbow and cutthroat trout. Facilities include hiking/biking trails, picnic tables, a seasonal campground and a tackle shop. Watch for the resident bald eagles. For those looking for a larger expanse of water, popular Big Lake is 17 miles away.
Don’t miss: A slice of homemade pie at Bear Wallow Café (928-339-4310). Now it feels like vacation, right?
Surprise: Alpine sits on the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway (U.S. 191), the lonely twisting road that stretches from Springerville to Clifton. It is considered the curviest federal highway in the nation.
If you’re smitten by Jerome, you’ll fall head over heels for Bisbee. Both were once booming mine towns built on near-impossible terrain that found second lives as artist havens. Bisbee is the much larger of the two. So you’ll find even more of the things you love — old-world architecture, eclectic galleries, narrow picturesque streets and creative energy.
At 5,300 feet, Bisbee perches in the Mule Mountains. Clusters of Victorian homes and refurbished miner shacks are sprinkled among the canyons and cliffs. Downtown is a colorful collection of shops, galleries, hotels, saloons and restaurants. Bring your walking shoes and your eating pants.
To learn more about the reason Bisbee sprang to life, take the Queen Mine Tour (520-432-2071, queenminetour.com), a journey 1,500 feet into a tunnel where you’ll be regaled with tales of what life was like underground by former miners turned tour guides. The Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum (520-432-7071, bisbeemuseum.org) provides a comprehensive look at the town’s rowdy past.
Don’t miss: The Old Bisbee Ghost Tour offers six different ways to probe the mysteries of the great beyond. The 90-minute walking tour is the most popular, but on the haunted pub crawl at least you’re guaranteed to encounter some spirits. 520-432-3308, oldbisbeeghosttour.com
Surprise: Bisbee is the nation’s southernmost mile-high city.
At 8,500 feet in elevation, with a trout stream serving as the main drag, Greer is the antidote for a desert summer. The Little Colorado River cuts a sparkling ribbon through Greer, flanked by lush meadows that lap at the base of forested slopes. Think about that when June rolls around.
Of course, there’s no reason to wait. Greer holds nothing back in any season. Many of the surrounding hiking trails, such as those at Pole Knoll and Squirrel Springs, become cross-country ski routes in winter. And nearby Sunrise Park Resort offers 65 downhill ski runs, as well as a ski school and tubing hill. 855-735-7669, sunriseskiparkaz.com
Don’t miss: Housed in a log cabin, the Butterfly Lodge Museum was once owned by writer James Willard Schultz, and later his son, painter and sculptor, Hart Merriam “Lone Wolf” Schultz. Open in summer, the museum is crammed full of writing and art. 928-735-7514, butterflylodgemuseum.org.
Surprise: The Greer Lakes (Bunch Reservoir, Tunnel Reservoir and River Reservoir) are known for their trophy trout.
The tree-lined hamlet of Patagonia is known as an arts community, a haven for birders and a hot spot for butterflies — the most charming triple threat imaginable. Historic buildings house shops, restaurants and inns that surround a big shady park, which is the heart of downtown.
Patagonia also serves as a gateway community for the Arizona Trail, which cuts right through town. Patagonia Lake State Park (520-287-6965, azstateparks.com/patagonia-lake) lies to the south. The lanky piece of water tucked amid desert hills is popular with birders during winter months and with recreationists all year round.
The neighboring towns of Sonoita and Elgin are best known for the dozen or so wineries that dot the rolling plains. This high sun-kissed basin ringed by mountains is where Arizona’s wine industry began and is the first officially designated American Viticultural Area in the state. sonoitaelginchamber.org
Don’t miss: The Paton Center for Hummingbirds is a uniquely Patagonia spot. The Paton family began feeding birds in the 1970s and were soon welcoming strangers into their yard to enjoy the array of species that showed up. Tucson Audubon continues the legacy today, providing free access to this birding hot spot at 477 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Surprise: Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve was the first project for the Nature Conservancy in Arizona. The streamside oasis shelters towering cottonwood trees and diverse habitat veined by gentle hiking trails. 520-394-2400, nature.org