5 Must-See Destinations in Southeastern Arizona
Heading to Southeastern Arizona? I’ve got 5 must-see destinations for you. First, let’s talk about where to stay then we’ll get onto the good stuff!
Where to Stay
Tombstone Territories RV Park outside of Huachuca City was an ideal hub for exploring southeastern Arizona. It’s adjacent to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and about 15 to 20 minutes from Tombstone, Sierra Vista, and Kartchner Caverns State Park. It’s within decent driving distance of Bisbee, Benson, Las Cienegas Natural Conservation Area, the Coronado National Forest, and more. Our review of Tombstone Territories RV Park contains much more information for you.
#1 Fairbank Ghost Town and River Trail
First on the list of 5 must-see destinations in southeastern Arizona is the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. This NCA has so much to offer! The visitor center is a converted ranch house and there are tons of trails, including one to an archaeological site (Murray Springs Clovis Site) and the remains of the northernmost Spanish Presidio. Friends of the San Pedro River offer guided walks regularly, and you can camp on the land with a permit. Fairbank, a nearby ghost town, is also part of the NCA.
The entrance to Fairbank is just a few miles from the RV park, so it was an easy afternoon outing. The parking area is a short walk from the Fairbank Schoolhouse, which has been renovated as the museum and visitor center for the old mining town. They have some great artifacts and information there, including old desks and a copy of the Teacher’s Contract.
Other nearby buildings include an abandoned house, outhouse, and a barn. These haven’t been renovated, though I suspect they do enough to keep them from falling into further ruin. If you’re a history buff, or want the tour or trail information, check out the online brochure.
We had a lovely walk through the mesquite forest and took the side trip to the old pioneer cemetery. Since it was Fall, the path was covered with pale green mesquite leaves that muffled our footsteps and provided a quiet, relaxing stroll.
#2 Kartchner Caverns State Park
Number 2 on our list is Kartchner Caverns State Park. It was holding its 20th Anniversary celebration the day we decided to visit, so all the cave tours were sold out even when I checked online a few days before. However, they had a local bird sanctuary presenting some educational information with some of their non-releasable birds and we toured their small exhibits about the cave.
Outside, there are a few trails that take you around the property and up high for a great view of the valley. Note: These hikes are not ADA-worthy. The trails have lots of fairly steep up and down hill sections on rocky trails that are sometimes quite narrow. It can also be quite warm outside of the trees, which is most of the trails; so bring lots of water and a hat. We did about half of the Ocotillo Trail, which wasn’t too difficult for us out-of-shape 50-somethings; but had to turn back at the top of the saddle due to my heat sensitivity, especially seeing that the rest of the hike would have been mostly or all sun.
Yes, I had a hat and water – with electrolytes; but the combination of 80-degree heat and exertion level was a bit too much for me. Maybe I could have made it? I didn’t want to take that chance, though, with more than half the trail remaining. There was also the option of taking the longer, less rocky route; but not knowing if there was any shade made us unsure. When in doubt, go with what you know.
#3 Sierra Vista
The third location in our must-see destinations of southeastern Arizona is the city of Sierra Vista, which is a good-sized town near Fort Huachuca (Army) that has most of your big box stores, grocers, and plenty of restaurants from local to chains. This is the nearest and best place to stock up, purchase repair or maintenance items, and run general errands while in the area. On Thursdays, you could check out the year-round Farmer’s Market and the museum at the Army Fort.
Number four on the list is Tombstone. Yes. Really. Honestly, Brian and I aren’t fond of the tourist trap destinations; but we both enjoy history and the stories of the frontier men and women. I even did a report on some of them in middle school!
So, as much as we were leery of the town especially after disappointing Deadwood; we decided to check out Tombstone. Yes, it was touristy; but it was actually fun to visit. We walked around the shops and read all the history plaques lining the street. I loved those plaques for reminding people that all the ‘characters’ we’ve read about or seen in movies were actually real people and that they were surrounded by other, less famous, real people – shopkeepers, barbers, farmers.
We avoided paying for any of the tours, such as O.K. Corral, the Bird Cage Theater, and Boot Hill Cemetery. While it would have been cool to stand in the place where the famous gunfight occurred or to walk through such a famous cemetery, we didn’t feel we should have to pay money for it. Besides those tours, there are also stagecoach and trolley tours, as well as mine tours, all within a couple of blocks of the main street. They also have regular gunfight shows on main street with a full funeral procession if one of the characters ‘dies’.
The Crystal Palace has decent pub-style food, and the Longhorn makes a great breakfast. There are a few shops that sell period and modern western clothing and hats, some amazing art galleries, a mustachery, and even such mundane shops as Tombstone Oil and Vinegar where we made our only shop purchase of Juniper infused balsamic vinegar. It’s quite tasty!
Would we go back to Tombstone? Probably not. It was fun to see the history and explore a little, but I think that was enough for us. Think of it as a small theme park. If you have kids or just enjoy old west action, Tombstone may be a place you’d return to now and then. Otherwise, it could be a one-and-done situation. I would, though, plan to spend either one very long day in town, or a couple of shorter days, just to experience everything without getting too tired.
Last on the list of must-see destinations, but not least, is Bisbee – a small mining town south of Tombstone near the Mexican border. We didn’t make it there, even though we had many people tell us we needed to visit. I learned that Bisbee does have multiple museums and mine tours, and that a large draw is the quaint town scene and surrounding landscapes. Photographers seem to love the area. If you’re looking for a picturesque drive in the desert, head on down to Bisbee.
There you have it. Five must-see destinations for your southeastern Arizona explorations. Enjoy your visit!