While Arizona is more often than not celebrated for its vast deserts and awe-inspiring natural landmarks, the "Grand Canyon State" has much more to offer those who don't mind digging a little deeper. Beyond the usual tourist routes, you'll find numerous off-the-beaten-path Arizona towns offering no end of great excuses for you to want to visit. From artistic communities in former mining towns such as Bisbee to the twin towns of Pine and Strawberry, Arizona's hidden gems offer unique experiences that will entice you to be at least a little adventurous.
Once the epitome of a booming mining town, Bisbee has now evolved into a picturesque retreat for creative types from across the USA. Set in the southeast of the state's scenic Mule Mountains region, the town was established in 1902 and, after experiencing a decline due to the closing of its mines, started to get the attention of artists on the lookout for a place to set up their studios and galleries. This transformation has led to its becoming one of Arizona's leading arts, crafts, and creative hot spots. Highlights of a visit include the incredible Lavender Pit, a former open-pit copper mine, and the Copper Queen Mine, once one of the country's most productive mines.
A two-hour drive due north of Phoenix, the remote town of Jerome, makes for an exciting day trip from the state capital. The town's population of just 467 residents live on and around Cleopatra Hill and Verde Valley. This stunningly beautiful yet arid area is accessed by a series of switchback roads branching off from the I-17 highway. Once a thriving mining town, Jerome is another Arizona community that's proven attractive to creative types seeking like-minded neighbors, as well as a warmer climate. While the town's Main Street is short and the downtown area is small, you'll find plenty of reasons to want to explore the area, from art galleries and studios to historic buildings such as Douglas Mansion. Part of Jerome State Historic Park, this former mining magnate's home was built in 1916 by and can be toured.
Pine And Strawberry
Although officially two separate communities, their proximity has led everyone from locals to official tourism offices to refer to the small towns of Pine and Strawberry as a single destination. Situated on the Mogollon Rim two hours northeast of Phoenix and named for the abundance of Ponderosa pines and wild strawberries, these off-the-beaten-path Arizona towns are just three miles apart and are certainly worth visiting. The towns are a must-do destination for outdoor enthusiasts, here to hike and bike the hill and forest trails that crisscross the area. The area is also rich in native history, with the first peoples drawn here for the same reasons as the settlers who came later: plentiful fresh water from the myriad of streams and abundant natural food sources.
Although just 48 miles from the much larger city of Tucson and a 25-minute drive from the border with Mexico, Tubac certainly feels a little more remote than it actually is. Popular among creative types, the town has a prolific art scene and is a haven for artists. In fact, the numerous art galleries and studios sprinkled throughout the town have led to Tubac's being known as Arizona's "art village." Other reasons to want to visit include the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Here, you'll find exhibits about the town's storied past, including the ruins of the first Spanish settlement and fort dating from the 1750s.
The town of Patagonia is just a short distance east of Tubac, so it could easily be included in a day trip from Tucson that takes in both communities. Here, though, the emphasis is on wildlife and nature. Thanks to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the town is a must-visit destination for birdwatchers, drawn here for a glimpse of species, including hawks, warblers, cuckoos, and waterfowl. Another must-do for birdwatchers is to visit the Paton Center for Hummingbirds. Be sure to spend at least a little time in town. Here, the streets are dotted with cafés and artisanal shops like the Patagonia Trading Post, where you'll want to splurge on local crafts and arts.
The small town of Superior, population 2,479, is an easy hour's drive east of Phoenix near the neatly named Superstition Mountains. The spectacular scenery here is matched by the rich flora and fauna surrounding the town, which can be enjoyed at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Superior is also where you'll find the spectacular Apache Leap rock formation. Named after the tragic events that culminated in an estimated 75 Apache warriors leaping to their deaths rather than surrendering to the US Cavalry, it's a sobering yet beautiful spot to visit.
Considered the gateway to the magnificent Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Ajo is one off-the-beaten trail town in Arizona that's simply begging to be explored. Situated in the Sonoran Desert, it is the only place in the USA where the huge organ pipe cactus grows in the wild, along with other rare species, including Senita cactus. This former copper mining town also features many examples of old Spanish colonial architecture, including around its original town square.
Its location on the Verde River and the discovery of copper in the area secured Clarkdale's importance in the early 1900s. Established as a company town in 1912 and the state's first master-planned community, the town's population has started growing again after the decline of the mines here, with its remoteness and rugged surrounds being particularly appealing to outdoor enthusiasts. It's also increasingly popular as a tourist destination. A star attraction is the Verde Canyon Railroad, a fun adventure that ferries visitors through some of Arizona's spectacular but lesser-seen landscapes.
Set in the Pinal Mountains between Phoenix and Tucson, Globe is another small town in Arizona that was built up around nearby mines. Drawing its name from a huge "globe" shaped piece of raw silver that kicked off the town's still-important mining industry, this town of over 7,000 people offers many reasons for visitors to want to stop by. Outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers are drawn by its proximity to a number of important parks, including the Tonto National Forest and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. Also worth visiting is the Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum, which provides a glimpse into the prehistoric Salado culture that once thrived here.
The Final Word
Few pleasures can match the thrill of venturing off the beaten path in Arizona. From a diverse array of vibrant art villages to its numerous old mining towns, read through our list of the most off-the-beaten-path Arizona towns for ideas and inspiration.