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How to Spend a Day in Cottonwood, Arizona

How to Spend a Day in Cottonwood, Arizona

These days, the small city of Cottonwood is often touted as the center of Arizona’s growing wine industry. But, its roots go a lot deeper than that. 

A historic river town, Cottonwood is almost right in the middle of Arizona. This town is kind of a bridge between the desert and the mountains. Fairly mild weather brings visitors throughout the year to enjoy almost panoramic vistas of mountains, mesas and buttes. 

Beyond the wineries and tasting rooms, this fresh and vibrant community in the remarkably green Verde Valley is an intriguing blend of its own. Read on for our ideas on how to make the most of a daylong visit to experience much of what this charming city has to offer.

Image Source: Ken Lund on Flickr

About Cottonwood, Arizona

In Yavapai County, between Prescott and Sedona, the community was established in 1879 after first serving as a U.S. Army outpost. Its name comes from the large cottonwood trees along the Verde River.

The first settlers here enjoyed a quiet farming lifestyle. But, within a few decades Cottonwood built up a busy business center. So big that it became known as “the Biggest Little Town in Arizona.”

Today’s Cottonwood has a population of just over 12,000. It’s probably best known to many travelers as a thruway to the red rocks region. But, it has enough laid-back allure of its own to snare many repeat visitors.

At around 3,300 feet above sea level, Cottonwood is high desert, and the not-too-cold, not-too-hot climate reflects that. Highs often reach the 60s during the winter and can reach the 70s and 80s in the spring and fall. The annual winter low is 28. It sees about 13 inches of precipitation a year. 

Pro Tip: This Arizona Snowbird Travel Guide has secrets to all the best AZ hotspots.

Morning in Cottonwood, Arizona

Start your day off right at the colorful and casual Crema Craft Kitchen, 917 N. Main St. This downtown eatery has a cool and inviting courtyard. But the real centerpiece is the breakfast that’s served all day (from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m.) seven days a week. Call it brunch if you prefer – just don’t miss out on savory favorites like chilaquilies (corn tortillas filled with braised pork, eggs, tomatillo salsa and poblano crema), frittatas or a mouthwatering assortment of breakfast tacos.

If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck because so does the chef! She’s also known for her giant and gooey cinnamon rolls and made-from-scratch gelatos and sorbets. Wash it down with organic, fair-trade coffee from Prescott Coffee Roasters. Or, try one of their creative takes on a mimosa or Bloody Mary.

Crema Craft Kitchen is quartered in two historic buildings that are connected by a tunnel that has a history of its own. Hint: It has to do with the city’s not-so-secret bootlegging past. Oh, and be sure and ask about the ghost!

Stay in the area for a leisurely sightseeing stroll through Old Town and enjoy the architecture of earlier eras. You’ll notice the high sidewalks that evoke the Old West and see places that tell stories from the Prohibition era.

Cottonwood played a big role in the film industry, too (mostly Westerns, of course), and the old Cottonwood Hotel (at 930 N. Main St.) was where many famous actors and actresses stayed while they were here on location.

Surprisingly, there’s also a small nature preserve running right through the town that’s teeming with rare plants and animals. Called the Jail Trail because it’s located near the old city jail, it  connects to the expansive Verde River Greenway. 

Old Town Cottonwood by Scottb211 on Flickr

Afternoon in Cottonwood, Arizona

The smoky aroma wafting through the downtown streets might draw you here anyway, but let us steer you to Colt 804 Grill, at 804 N. Main St., for a lunch you won’t want to forget. Kick back in one of their cool and comfy cowhide chairs or grab a table outside near the fountain. Either way, you can enjoy a mouthwatering selection of burgers and smoked meats like brisket, pulled pork, chicken and turkey. The sensational sides include butter garlic fries, ranch-style beans, jalapeno cornbread and parmesan Texas toast.

You might be tempted to linger because Colt 804 Grill is also a first-class watering hole, but you’ll need to get outside to fully appreciate what Cottonwood has to offer. A good start in that direction is Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which is across the river and just three miles from Old Town.

You’ll see more of the vast unspoiled area that includes the Verde River Greenway and the adjacent Coconino National Forest. The 423-acre park offers fantastic opportunities for observing wildlife and for hiking and biking and much more. You can also do some swimming or canoeing or fish its waters that are stocked with rainbow trout and channel catfish.  

With a scenic drive up Mingus Mountain Road, you’ll climb nearly 4,000 more feet above sea level, and your reward will be some of the most spectacular views of the area. This mountain route of Highway 89A passes through Prescott National Forest, and there are a number of scenic trails along the way that offer moderate or difficult hiking through primitive terrain. 

A note of caution: This mountain scenery is a draw for many, so the road can be stop-and-start at times as motorists slow for a series of turns. 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Evening in Cottonwood, Arizona

Cruise back down to Cottonwood for dinner and drinks and a one-of-kind nighttime experience that might leave you a little bit unsettled before you settle in for the night.

You might not expect world-class pizza in a setting like this, but we love it when life presents us with an unexpected blessing. Rustic old-world flavors find a comfortable contemporary setting at Pizzeria Bocce, 1060 N. Main St. 

The chef uses traditional techniques and recipes from her family in Naples, Italy for her wood-fired pizzas and classic Italian appetizers. The inviting, minimalist space is tastefully decorated and is extremely popular with young adults as well as families.

Just down the street, The State Bar, 1048 N. Main St., offers a friendly atmosphere and local flavor (literally) in the form of beers and wines crafted in Arizona. The bar’s laid-back vibe makes it a favorite among Cottonwood residents, too, who often congregate for live music there. When the weather is nice, they open the garage doors that lead to the patio.

You’ve been in Cottonwood for most of a day now, so chances are you have heard a few ghost stories. Maybe now you have the courage up to investigate them for yourself. A Night Ghost Tour is an opportunity to hear more details about those spooky stories that have been told and retold for generations in Cottonwood. 

This hair-raising tour could help to explain an unusual noise you heard, and you might end up very close to some familiar haunts from earlier in your day.

Image Source: Scottb211 on Flickr

Where to Stay in Cottonwood?

There are lots of reasons that Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort (6400 E. Thousand Trails Rd.) is the go-to place for so many travelers year after year. Just 9 miles south of Cottonwood, the campground is also a great home base to explore nearby towns like Prescott, Jerome and Sedona.

Located on 300 acres, the sprawling Thousand Trails resort has 340 sites with gravel pads, full hookups and lots of amenities. It’s a nice clean park and can accommodate rigs of over 40 feet, but some of the sites are a bit cramped. Cell service is not the best, but WiFi is available for a fee.

Like many of Cottonwood’s attractions, it’s in a beautiful setting. There is also a vineyard in the area that’s convenient to visit.

Where the Past Meets the Future

After your day’s visit, we think you’ll agree that the city of Cottonwood occupies a unique place in Arizona. It’s literally a connection between the mountains and the desert, and it also bridges the state’s historical past with an exciting future. 

The emerging wine culture is cause for celebration, for sure, but Cottonwood is certainly much more than just a stop along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

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