Overshadowed a bit by the neighboring mountainside marvel of Jerome and the fun Old Town scene of Cottonwood, the little town of Clarkdale, Arizona, is a true under-the-radar gem. It might not get the tourism attention of some of its Verde Valley neighbors, but Clarkdale positively glows with charm and history.
A visit to Clarkdale will yield early 20th-century Americana in virtually every direction — from the lovingly preserved Craftsman-style homes to the historic train that takes passengers along the scenic Verde River Canyon to the row of vintage storefronts on Main Street.
Known as Arizona’s first master-planned community, Clarkdale got its start in the early 1900s as a “company town” for the United Verde Copper Company, the behemoth that was extracting massive amounts of precious metals from the mines of Jerome, perched high on nearby Mingus Mountain.
As a frequent visitor to Clarkdale, I have long been enchanted by the wide streets fronted by rows of houses with broad front porches, graceful gables, and colorful stucco exteriors. Add in the fascinating copper-mining history and the varied outdoor-recreation opportunities, and Clarkdale makes for a wonderful stop on a tour of the beautiful Verde Valley. And at less than two hours north of Phoenix, it also makes a great day trip destination. Here are nine reasons you’re sure to fall in love with quaint Clarkdale.
1. The Charming Historic District
Clarkdale was founded in 1912 to serve as a home base for the employees of the United Verde Copper Company’s smelter, which was located near the Verde River. From 1913 to 1953, the smelter processed the copper ore that was brought down the mountain from Jerome.
The little town in central Arizona was planned, owned, and developed by William A. Clark, a mining and banking magnate who had interests all over the United States and is known to this day as one of the wealthiest people in American history. The town was developed with meticulous care to cater to every need of the United Verde Copper Company employees.
Today, virtually every building in the original homesite of Clarkdale is a treasure trove of history from Arizona’s early mining days. Its pretty town-square park and classic small-town business district are well-preserved, as are its charming brick and stucco homes.
Any sightseeing visit to Clarkdale should include a walking tour through the neighborhoods that include Upper Town (where upper management with the United Verde Copper Company lived), Lower Town, and the Clark Memorial Clubhouse and old Post Office, which now houses Clarkdale town offices.
2. Tuzigoot National Monument
Just a few miles from the townsite of Clarkdale is the stunning Tuzigoot National Monument — proof that the region along the Verde River was prime real estate centuries before mining interests officially put it on the map.
The ancient village sits atop a rugged hilltop that looks out onto the winding Verde River far below. Dating back to 1000 A.D., Tuzigoot was home to the Sinagua people who farmed the fertile valley and had trade routes that spanned hundreds of miles. Experts believe the native people left the area around 1400.
Tuzigoot was excavated and reconstructed in the 1930s, and today it serves as a fascinating national monument on the outskirts of Clarkdale. Visitors can wander through the interconnected homes and gaze out at the tree-lined river below, vivid green in the summer and golden in the fall.
3. The Verde Canyon Railroad
For a step back into the early days of train travel combined with a journey through amazingly beautiful natural treasures, it’s hard to beat the Verde Canyon Railroad.
The railroad, which is based in Clarkdale, emphasizes the juxtaposition between worlds, inviting you to “breathe deep, order a drink, and relax as you glide along on a four-hour, 20-mile journey through 110 years of history while enjoying modern creature comforts like climate control, comfortable seating, thoughtful décor, and awe-inspired scenery.”
Along with its gorgeous scenery and frequent wildlife and bald eagle sightings, the railroad offers everything from wine-tasting events in May to Fright Nights in October to its Magical Christmas Journey in December.
4. Arizona Copper Art Museum
The role that copper played in the history of Clarkdale — and indeed in all of Arizona, sometimes known as the Copper State — is front and center at the excellent Arizona Copper Art Museum.
Housed in the stately old Clarkdale High School building right along Main Street, the museum features everything from copper “trench art” to a huge array of pots and pans of burnished copper to drinkware and winery equipment made of copper.
With its massive display out front that depicts mining carts filled with copper ore, you’re sure to notice the museum upon entering Clarkdale. It is definitely worth a stop — both for the mind-boggling assortment of copper art items and for the captivating lesson on Clarkdale’s early days as “Smelter City.”
5. Beautiful Mingus Mountain
Clarkdale lies at the base of the Verde Valley’s largest promontory, Mingus Mountain, and you are never far from the views of the rugged mountain range as you wander the town’s streets.
A visit to Clarkdale wouldn’t be complete without a drive up the mountain along Highway 89A toward Jerome, and beyond to the mountain summit that lies at more than 7,000 feet elevation. The road is twisty and full of hairpin turns, but the views are consistently splendid.
6. Brewery, Bars, And Restaurants
Clarkdale packs plenty of dining and beverage opportunities into its small downtown — featuring everything from a new brewery to a local favorite Mexican restaurant to a classic Main Street eatery.
Several of the spots are located within steps of one another along Clarkdale’s Main Street.
Among the Main Street spots to check out are mainstay Mexican restaurant Su Casa, known for its large outdoor patio and Mexican favorites like queso dip, chimichangas, and street tacos; the Main Street Café, serving an assortment of salads, pizzas, and burgers; the 10-12 Lounge, known for cocktails and live music; and the Smelter Town Brewery, a new establishment with a friendly vibe and locally produced brews like the Modern Miner Milkshake IPA and Clark’s Copper Ale. Or for a chance to check out local wines, head to Chateau Tumbleweed along Highway 89A.
7. Hiking At Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Located about halfway between Clarkdale and Cottonwood is the lovely Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located right along the banks of the meandering Verde River.
The state park features a variety of activities — from bird watching to fishing to camping. It also is a great spot from which to venture out on a hike in the rugged limestone hills that line the river. For sweeping views that encompass the surrounding valley, the Tuzigoot ruins, and wildflowers (in the springtime), head to the nearby Lime Kiln Trail or the twisting Raptor Trails.
Pro Tip: Note that the trails in the hills around Dead Horse Ranch State Park offer little shade and are best hiked in the cool-weather months of late fall, winter, and early spring.
8. Easy River Access
With its location right along the Verde River, Clarkdale offers several convenient spots for accessing the river for fishing and kayaking, including the Tuzigoot River Access Point, a part of the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area. The area features a primitive boat landing/launch area and allows kayakers and canoeists a small landing space with a path that leads up to the parking area on the lower bench.
The access point is near the Tuzigoot Bridge, where fishermen often park and fish under the bridge.
Clarkdale is also known as the gateway to Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area in the Verde Valley, and it is about a 30-minute drive from the canyon’s beautiful Parson’s Trail, which offers a shady stroll along a cool, clear desert stream set in a magnificent red rock canyon.
9. Jerome, Cottonwood, And Sedona Are Nearby
One of the beauties of the Verde Valley is that each of its towns has a unique character, and they are all located within a quick drive of one another.
For a deep dive into Arizona’s rough-and-tumble mining past, be sure to check out the town of Jerome, positioned precariously on the steep slope of Mingus Mountain — about a 10-minute drive from Clarkdale.
And for a fun day of hopping from wine-tasting rooms to assorted restaurants and cafés, check out the nearby town of Cottonwood and its charming Old Town area, located less than 10 minutes from Clarkdale.
Or, for a chance to take in the one-of-a-kind wonders of Arizona’s stunning red rock country, Sedona is just a 30-minute drive northeast of Clarkdale.
Pro Tip: Although there are no major chain hotels located within Clarkdale town limits, the small Clarkdale Lodge occupies a historic building in the downtown area, and there are numerous Clarkdale vacation rental options available on Vrbo. In addition, there are plenty of lodging spots to choose from in nearby Cottonwood.
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