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Wickenburg Arizona: Vacation in the Sonoran Desert Town with Something for Everyone

I have been many things in life: a mother, a technical writer, a preschool storytime presenter, the wife of a brain tumor survivor.

BNSF Railroad Bridge in Wickenburg Arizona.

BNSF Railroad Bridge in Wickenburg Arizona.

Wickenburg, a Hidden Gem in the Sonoran Desert

Wickenburg, Arizona is a western-themed small town in the Sonoran Desert with a diverse history that includes cowboys, gold and silver miners, dude ranches, and tons of natural scenery and wildlife. Wickenburg is a place where you can explore a completely unique ecosystem, have an outdoor hiking adventure, hang with colorful locals, view inspiring works of art, or just watch people as they pass by.

Wickenburg's downtown area meets at the intersection of state highways 60 and 89, and is about a 50-mile drive from Phoenix. Before Interstate Highways 10 and 20 were built, Wickenburg was one of the busiest highway towns in the United States, linking Phoenix to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

You'll want to visit in the fall or winter, when the Sonoran Desert comes alive and the outdoor temperatures are mild. But be aware that during the week of Valentine's Day you will need to book travel accommodations far in advance.

Where is Wickenburg?

Wickenburg is located about 40 miles northwest of Phoenix. It is within an hour drive of Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Wickenburg is located about 40 miles northwest of Phoenix. It is within an hour drive of Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Wickenburg is located between Phoenix and Kingman, Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. It is a relatively undiscovered Western town with a rich history in gold mines, dude ranches, and winter resort living.

Wickenburg Area Points of Interest

Points of interest as noted in Wickenburg article.

Map Points of Interest

  1. Desert Caballeros Western Museum
  2. Hassayampa River Preserve
  3. Vulture Peak
  4. Historic Vulture Mine
  5. Joshua Tree Scenic Highway
  6. Congress, Arizona
  7. Box Canyon
  8. Constellation Road

Things to Do and See Around Wickenburg

Here are some of my favorite places to explore in and around Wickenburg. You will find these on the map.

Visit the Desert Caballeros Western Museum

Wickenburg is home to a privately funded art and history museum that showcases the area's history and an excellent collection of Western-themed art and artifacts. Most visitors to this museum are astonished by what they find here: works by Bierstadt, Remington, Russell, and other iconic western artists from the 19th century, as well as contemporary western art that rivals what can be found in more established art communities like Taos, Tucson, and Santa Fe.

The Desert Caballeros Western Museum innaugurated its prestigious art show called "Cowgirl Up!" in 2006, showcasing new works by contemporary women western artists. If you are an art fan, this is your time to visit, but make sure to book your accommodations early.

Learn more Desert Caballeros Western Museum web site.

Joe Beeler's"Thanks for the Rain" sculpture outside the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

Joe Beeler's"Thanks for the Rain" sculpture outside the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

Nature Watch at the Hassayampa River Preserve

The Hassayampa is a seasonal river with areas along the river that also flow underground. According to local legend, Hassayampa means "upside down" river. Managed by the Nature Conservancy, the Hassayampa River Preserve is a riparian area on the Hassayampa River. Riparian areas are becoming more and more endangered as part of America's ecological chain. Many of Arizona's riparian habitats have been destroyed or disappeared. The River Preserve offers beautiful views and an educational experience describing the river and its role in the surrounding desert. You will see wildlife, bats, rare birds—a great place for birdwatching.

Hassayampa River Preserve and riparian area.

Hassayampa River Preserve and riparian area.

Vermillion flycatcher seen at the Hassayampa River Preserve.

Vermillion flycatcher seen at the Hassayampa River Preserve.

Vulture Peak Trail

This natural area is a bonafide Saguaro forest. The saguaro (sa-wa-ro) is the state cactus of Arizona. Saguaros usually grow about 15 feet tall at full maturity and take over 200 years to grow. In May and June saguaros blossom and then produce edible fruit at the tips of the cactus arms. In case you are wondering, the fruit is very sour and only tastes good in jam and syrup where lots of sugar has sweetened it up.

Vulture peak has a dedicated trail system with a primitive camping site, alternative road for 4-wheel vehicles, and a hiking route that will take you up to the saddle of the volcanic mountain. Plan at least three hours for your hike, and expect to traverse a lot of steep hills between your parked car and the peak. The reward of this hike is the superb views of natural desert plants that rival the Saguaro National Park in Tucson. It is a great place to see a sunrise or enjoy a sunset.

Make sure to bring plenty of water, (don't do this hike in the summer!), and avoid the teddy bear cholla (Choy-a) plants that sound deceptively cute. They are spiky and the plants propagate by sending "travelers" that can get stuck to your shoes and your pant legs.

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Vulture Peak, saguaro in foreground. The hiking trail begins on Vulture Mine Road. Be sure to pack plenty of water. This hike is best done in the winter, when daytime temperatures average around 70 degrees fahrenheit.

Vulture Peak, saguaro in foreground. The hiking trail begins on Vulture Mine Road. Be sure to pack plenty of water. This hike is best done in the winter, when daytime temperatures average around 70 degrees fahrenheit.

Teddy bear cholla cactus are some of the prickliest cactii. Stands of these deceptively cute cacti can be found on Vulture Peak Trail. They send painful "travellers" that attach to people's shoes and clothes. Don't get too close, these are nasty!

Teddy bear cholla cactus are some of the prickliest cactii. Stands of these deceptively cute cacti can be found on Vulture Peak Trail. They send painful "travellers" that attach to people's shoes and clothes. Don't get too close, these are nasty!

Tour Historic Vulture Mine.

Past Vulture Peak is the Historic Vulture Mine. This was one of the first gold mines in the area. It was started by Wickenburg's namesake founder, Henry Wickenburg. It is open seasonally for tours, but you need to call ahead for an appointment.

Drive Arizona State Highway 93/ Joshua Tree Scenic Highway

Joshua trees are large tree-sized yucca plants that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. The plants have established themselves over miles of terrain about 12 miles northwest of Wickenburg. If you have never been to the Sonoran desert, make time to see this sight. It is an astounding natural wonder. Just make sure to use the restroom in town before you go, as the facilities are limited to construction-worker-type porta potties. If you are driving to Las Vegas after your trip to Wickenburg, you may want to wait to view this site as you leave town. There is plenty to see from the road.

Visit Nearby Congress and Yarnell Arizona

Congress is a very rural Arizona town with many retirees, a few businesses, a rich mining history, lots of abandoned (and very dangerous, I might add) mines, and a bizarre terrain of huge boulders set right against the mountains. On highway 89, this town is developing an interesting highway-frontage set of shops. If you think Wickenburg is fascinating, and you have an imagination that doesn't require rigidly defined tourist sites, an additional jaunt to Congress might also be worth your while.

If you keep driving up highway 89, you will ascend Yarnell "hill". This steep highway scales the side of the mountain that will take you to another fascinating town at the top of the mountain valley that overlooks all of Congress and Wickenburg. Not for the feint of heart, and especially not for those who are afraid of heights, but if you are brave enough to scale the hill, you will find yourself in the town of Yarnell.

The road up Yarnell Hill is a bit deceptively named. You will be scaling a steep mountainside with hairpin turns. But sweaty hands and a white knuckle grip will reward you with views of the valley below for miles.

The road up Yarnell Hill is a bit deceptively named. You will be scaling a steep mountainside with hairpin turns. But sweaty hands and a white knuckle grip will reward you with views of the valley below for miles.

The Sonoran Desert which surrounds Wickenburg is home to a wide variety of native cactus plants and desert wildlife. Spring in the desert begins in February! Blooming cactus can be almost any color.

The Sonoran Desert which surrounds Wickenburg is home to a wide variety of native cactus plants and desert wildlife. Spring in the desert begins in February! Blooming cactus can be almost any color.

Saguaro blossoms. Saguaros can be found growing in their native habitat around Wickenburg. These majestic cactii are extroardinarily slow growing and can take 70 years to mature.

Saguaro blossoms. Saguaros can be found growing in their native habitat around Wickenburg. These majestic cactii are extroardinarily slow growing and can take 70 years to mature.

Hike Box Canyon

This pretty canyon is a favorite haunt of locals. It is one of those places you kind of have to ask about to find. Box Canyon is on the northern part of the Hassayampa River and is often traversed by people on horseback. It is featured in Dana Burden's book about hiking in Wickenburg, Desert Hiking Out Wickenburg Way. This self-published book is available at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum and at the Old Livery Mercantile.

Box Canyon, viewed from above. I took this photo when I was 4-wheeling during my 9th month of pregnancy. Don't try this at home kids!

Box Canyon, viewed from above. I took this photo when I was 4-wheeling during my 9th month of pregnancy. Don't try this at home kids!

Inside Box Canyon the Hassayampa River flows.

Inside Box Canyon the Hassayampa River flows.

Constellation Road

Constellation Road is Wickenburg's Ghost Town. The steep, narrow, winding road goes for 15 miles into Wickenburg's mountains and will lead you to abandoned mines (do not enter—they are VERY dangerous) and a working ranch at the end of the trail. You will LOVE this scenic drive, which takes about 1 1/2 hours, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle is advisable.

At the end of Constellation Road, you will find Williams Family Ranch. This working guest ranch is an hour drive from Wickenburg, but is only 16 miles from town. The Williams Family Ranch is a guest ranch that operates seasonally, and is not open during the hot summer months.

Just one of your points of interest in Constellation Road. The road is about 15 miles long and will take you about 1 1/2 hours to drive. Take it slow and be careful around old mines. This road is narrow and steep.

Just one of your points of interest in Constellation Road. The road is about 15 miles long and will take you about 1 1/2 hours to drive. Take it slow and be careful around old mines. This road is narrow and steep.

Old gold, silver, and copper mines are fascinating to explore, but they can also be deadly. Do not explore abandoned mines on your own.

Old gold, silver, and copper mines are fascinating to explore, but they can also be deadly. Do not explore abandoned mines on your own.

More mining equipment at an abandoned mine along Constellation Road.

More mining equipment at an abandoned mine along Constellation Road.

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Wickenburg Community Events and Festivals

All of these events are held yearly in Wickenburg, and are detailed with dates and details on the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce Website.

February: Annual Gold Rush Festival

During February, Gold Rush is Wickenburg's community 's biggest and longest-standing festival featuring a 200-horse parade, street carnival, community dance, car show, craft fair, and rodeo.

April: Cowgirl Up!

Cowgirl Up! is an art show and sale hosted by the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in late April. The show has attracted national interest from the Western Art Communities in the United States. The show features the work of just under 60 female western artists, giving them a strong venue to show their work, and helping some of the newer participating female artists to have the chance to be "discovered" on a national scale.

Many colorful characters enliven the Wickenburg scene once a year at Wickenburg's annual Gold Rush festival.

Many colorful characters enliven the Wickenburg scene once a year at Wickenburg's annual Gold Rush festival.

Photos Copyright Carolyn Augustine 2009 All Rights Reserved.

Photos Copyright Carolyn Augustine 2009 All Rights Reserved.

September: Fiesta de Septiembre

Wickenburg host its annual Fiesta de Septiembre with Mexican folk dancing, a salsa contest, heritage displays, craft booths, and mariachi music hosted by the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce. Wickenburg's Hispanic heritage is as old as its roots in gold mining. Our family has attended this festival many times at the Wickenburg Community Center. We enjoyed the food, fun, and the wonderful entertainment.

October: Fly In and Classic Car Show

The Fly In and Classic Car Show hosted at the Wickenburg Municipal Airport attracts a growing crowd of car enthusiasts, and includes an aerobatics display and helicopter and plane rides. If your interests lie in classic cars, be sure to stop early for a breakfast burrito at Avi's Screamer's Drive In.

November: Bluegrass Festival

Even if Bluegrass Music isn't your scene, this three-day festival is well-worth attending. Featuring nationally-renowned fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar playing, the festival attracts visitors from all over the country.

December: Cowboy Poetry Gathering

During the first weekend of December, this event features readings, poems, and stories from some interesting cowboy personalities. This event is over 30 years old.

Panning for gold during Wickenburg's annual Gold Rush celebration.

Panning for gold during Wickenburg's annual Gold Rush celebration.

More Fun Things To Do On a Wickenburg Arizona Vacation

Take A Hike

Wickenburg is surrounded by miles of pristine desert. This makes for some great hiking. Be smart in the desert, though. If you don't know the area, stick to marked trails. It is easy to get lost in the desert, and the temperatures are at extremes here, by definition. The area near Vulture Peak is deceptively easy to get lost in. Use published hiking guides and maps.

Go Camping

Wickenburg has public camp grounds near the Rodeo Arena on Constellation Road and a very primitive camping area at the Vulture Peak trail head. Paid camping with RV Hookups is available at Horspitality RV Resort and a few other selected RV Sites in town.

Keep in mind that March-November is snake season in Wickenburg. If you are doing primitive-style camping, be on the lookout for snakes. We've had enjoyable camping experiences in Wickenburg as late as April, but encountered a few rattlesnakes during the excursion. If this is too much adventure for you, RV camping or "hotel camping" might be more to your liking.

Take A Bike Trip

Whether your bike is a Schwinn, a Cannondale, or a Harley, you'll find Wickenburg a great place for a biking excursion. Because of the hilly terrain and the gorgeous views, road biking clubs are beginning to use Wickenburg as a staging area for bike events. Wickenburg is also part of the scenic route a lot of Harley riders use to travel from Wickenburg to Prescott, up scenic highway 89.

Go Horseback Riding

Bring your own horse or find one to ride while you're out here. Horseback riding is a popular pastime.

Take a Rock-hounding Expedition

With so many gold mines in the area, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Wickenburg and the surrounding areas have mineral-rich deposits that attract rock hounds from all over the country. Our family enjoys this hobby and have taken day trips to search for Apache Tears (obsidian), quartz crystals, amethyst, geodes, and jasper. People still arrive in Wickenburg questing for gold.

Go 4-Wheeling

Be aware that more and more of Wickenburg's land is privately owned, but there are lots of great places to go 4-wheeling. You can rent a 4-wheeler (or a quad, as they're commonly called out here) at a few places around town.

Take a Desert Tour

A few companies in Wickenburg offer Jeep Tours by appointment, and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum also offers Jeep Tours from time to time. The tours will take you into the desert to view wildlife, birds, old mines, or ghost towns.

Visit the Day Spa

Visit Rancho de Los Caballeros, a historic guest ranch that caters to a more upscale clientele. The services offered at this guest ranch include swimming, golf, and day spa.

Play Golf

Wickenburg has four golf course—The Wickenburg Country Club, Rancho de Los Caballeros, and Wickenburg Ranch's Big Wick and Little Wick courses. The golf course at Wickenburg Country Club is open to the public.

Eat Out

Your day trip to Wickenburg may include a dining experience. The places locals repeatedly visit are the Cowboy Cafe (great for breakfast), Bar 7 restaurant and lounge, Anitas, and El Ranchero. Many other restaurants exist, including Screamers (great for classic car fans and the 1950s appeal) and Ringos, at the Wickenburg Country Club.


© 2008 Carolyn Augustine

Comments

John R Wilsdon from Superior, Arizona on March 08, 2017:

I was thinking of writing a Hub about Wickenburg. I live in Superior with a long mining history. In addition, I have been in and traveled through Wickenburg many times. About half of your detailed sites I have seen, but you described much more than I knew about. Now we must go and hike Vulture Peak. Not far from Congress is a gold placer claim my club owns and have been through there many a time. The Hassayampa River has also been one of my haunts.

I could never improve on your Hub, so let's forget about this for a topic! Splendid job, and thanks for all the ideas.

WesternHistory from California on July 09, 2011:

Great post. Lots of things to do in Arizona plus the scenery is beautiful. Thanks.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 23, 2011:

Hi Chuck, Wickenburg has so much to offer. We no longer live there but we still feel it is our home away from home. Regards and enjoy!

Chuck Bluestein from Morristown, AZ, USA on June 21, 2011:

Great hub article with lots of information. I just moved to Morristown a month ago which is 10 miles from Wickenberg. I have already climbed to the top of Vulture's Peak and saw a lot of vultures. I have also been to the gym there in the community hospital and took a clase on yoga and tai chi.

TheDisneyVacation on August 28, 2010:

Sounds like fun for my boys, they will sure love having a cowboy vacation.

Great hub!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 28, 2010:

I'm glad you found this hub helpful. November through February are great times to visit Wickenburg and you won't need to worry about the rattlesnakes that way. :)

I'm not sure about metal detecting clubs. I have read some stuff online about this hobby and it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this around Ghost Towns, which are protected by laws. And NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act also comes into play any time you find Native American artifacts. Metal detecting surely isn't my area of expertise, but there is a lengthy clubs listing in the Wickenburg Sun newspaper, and a Gem and Mineral Society that is extremely active, friendly and accomodating to questions. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.

The Gene on July 28, 2010:

My wife and I will be taking a vaction here while visiting family in Glendale, Arizona.

I CAN'T WAIT, I metal detect and wonder if there are

any local clubs.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 13, 2010:

Thanks Nevada, I hope you drop by! The folks in Wickenburg would give you a warm welcome, and it is a fun little town with lots and lots to explore. Even the local plant nursery is fun to visit because all of their plants are adapted to the desert and are rather exotic by normal standards. Enjoy your trip!

Nevada Logan from USA on July 13, 2010:

Great hub. Sounds like a really nice place to travel. We are planning a road trip out West in the next two years so I was happy to read all the details here.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 10, 2010:

Thanks Viking,

One thing that sets Wickenburg apart from some nearby Western attractions in Arizona is Wickenburg's legitimate Cowboy and Gold Rush history. When my husband worked at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum they had a mining exhibit with some real gold nuggets on display.

I think anywhere there are old mines you will face danger, and agree mines are not places for young children. Sounds like your Dad was a goldbug!

About the Australian Gold Rush: I had a great great grandrelative who left the Mormon settlements in Utah after being chastised by Brigham Young for taking a young girl for a ride on his horse, so he headed west for the California gold rush and ended up in Australia!

L M Reid from Ireland on July 10, 2010:

Wow a great hub. I always loved the history of the old west and the gold rushes.

We lived in Australia when I was a kid after emigrating from Ireland. My father was fasinated by the gold rush in Western Australia. This was in the 1960's.

He seriuosly thought of going there but we lived in Adelaide and people died getting to the gold fields. He had 5 small children aged from 4 to 12 so had to let go of his dream.

Fasinating stories and history about Wickenburg thanks for sharing

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 06, 2010:

DonaRosa and EverythingMouse, I hope you both have a chance to visit, preferably between October and May. Today the temperature is 110 degrees and the weather forcasters have promised we should cool to 105 by next week. :)