You may not find cowboys, dusty trails, and saloons in Phoenix these days, but in Cave Creek, AZ, the spirit of the Old West is alive and well.
Cave Creek is a quirky, eclectic town north of Phoenix where you’re just as likely to see horseback riders along Main Street as a group of motorcyclists on the way to their favorite watering hole. It has small-town charm and friendly locals, who’re always happy to advise visitors on what’s going on around town.
If you’re looking for gorgeous desert scenery, you’ll find it here. With the Sonoran Desert and Tonto National Forest nearby, there’s an abundance of outdoor adventure opportunities such as hiking, horseback riding, and golf. There are also interesting shops and great restaurants and an abundance of bars and saloons.
Did you know that Cave Creek once had a thriving gold mining industry? I’ve lived in the area for twenty years, and had no idea until I dug in and started exploring. Since you’re about to do your own exploring, here are twelve exciting things to do in Cave Creek. Have fun!
- 12 Exciting Things To Do In Cave Creek AZ
- Country and Western Music and Dancing
- Experience the Old West
- Hit the Links
- Enjoy Homemade Ice Cream
- Crystals, Geodes and Petrified Wood
- Go to a Rodeo
- See Stars in the Desert Sky
- Bourbon and Vodka Tasting
- Authentic Native American Crafts
- Explore Local History
- Hike the Desert
- Horseback Riding in the Desert
- Wrapping Up Things to do in Cave Creek
12 Exciting Things To Do In Cave Creek AZ
Country and Western Music and Dancing
6895 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-1906
6823 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-9118
If you like Country Western music and dancing, you’ll find several Country and Western saloons in Cave Creek. Harrold’s and the Buffalo Chip are two of the best.
Harrolds “Wild West” saloon and restaurant features live music Wednesday through Sunday and Country Western dance lessons on Fridays. On Sundays during football season, it becomes “Heinz Field West,” as hundreds of Pittsburgh fans convene to eat, drink, and dance while they cheer for the Steelers.
The Buffalo Chip is one of the most authentic dance halls and saloons in the country. True West Magazine named it the “Best Western Saloon” two years in a row, and Phoenix Magazine has voted it “Best of the Valley” for the past two years. Live bands perform Tuesday through Sunday and there are free line dancing lessons on Tuesdays and Country Western dance lessons for couples on Thursdays. During football season, the Buffalo Chip is Badger country on Saturdays for University of Wisconsin fans and “headquarters” for Green Bay Packer fans on Sundays.
There’s always something going on Harrold’s and The Buffalo Chip. Just show up in your jeans, boots, and cowboy hat and join the fun.
Experience the Old West
6245 E.Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 488-9129
Frontier Town is one of the few remaining authentic western towns in Arizona. It was in Cave Creek before the town was incorporated, and has been giving locals and tourists a taste of the wild west for over fifty years.
You’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back to 1870 as you stroll past a boot hill graveyard and gallows, and see old wagons and a country chapel (which is often rented for weddings). If you’re there on a weekend, you may see Arizona Gunfighters, a local stunt group, reenact stories of the old west such as Wild Bill Hickock and the Shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Main Street is filled with old-fashioned shops, such as the Cave Creek Mercantile, which features Southwest novelties such as Prickly Pear candies and jellies, Suzanne’s Hot Stuff with hot sauces, salsas, and flavored olive oils, and Udder Delight Natural Skin Care with natural soaps, lotions, and creams made from goat’s milk.
So, put on your cowboy hat, pretend your name is Gene, Roy, or Miss Kitty and take a stroll through the old west.
Hit the Links
5734 E. Rancho Manana Blvd. // (480) 488-0398
If you decide to take in a round of golf at the Rancho Manana Golf Course, consider bringing your camera along with your shooting irons. Golfers who play Rancho Manana see stunning, high-desert scenery, and if they’re lucky, spot wildlife such as rabbits, mule deer, owls, roadrunners, and bobcats as they drive, chip, and putt their way through nine or eighteen holes.
Rancho Manana is a par 70 championship course and was recently listed by Golf Digest as “One of the Top 50 Courses in the Country for Women,” and ranked as one of the “Top 10 Golf Courses in Arizona” by Ranking Arizona. It consistently receives positive reviews because it’s a challenging course for all types of golfers.
If If your golf game isn’t “up to par,” just enjoy the Southwest experience. The front nine includes the Cave Creek Wash, one of the last remaining riparian areas in the state. You also have magnificent views of Camelback Mountain, Mummy Mountain, and Squaw Peak, as well as Elephant Butte and the dramatic Tonto National Forest.
Enjoy Homemade Ice Cream
6268 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 397-1130
If you like ice cream (and who doesn’t?) you’re in for a big treat at The City Creamery. It’s conveniently located across from Frontier Town, and serves homemade ice cream that’s hand-churned on-site and served in waffle cones and bowls made from scratch. Chocolate lovers will enjoy the homemade hot fudge sauce that’s concocted using “Grandma Marian’s” recipe.
Maddie, the resident “mixologist,” is an avid baker and often prepares 20 to 30 pumpkin, lemon meringue, or key lime pies, or dozens of loaves of banana bread or batches of oatmeal cookies to crush and mix into ice cream to create one-of-a-kind flavors.
Unusual flavors that were on the menu the day I visited include Pistachio Prickly Pear, Double Chocolate and Orange, Green Tea with Ginger Honey, and Coconut with Chocolate Almond. I had a scoop of the Coconut with Chocolate Almond with Grandma’s hot fudge sauce and enjoyed every bite.
Crystals, Geodes and Petrified Wood
6401 E. Cave Creek Rd. // 480-575-4360
The Rare Earth Gallery is a rock store that could easily double as a museum. Billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” it features 9,000 square feet of unique and exotic geodes, crystals, petrified wood, unique sculptures, furniture made of carved and polished stone, and an extensive fossil and mineral collection.
Wayne Helfand, the president and owner, began working in the open-mining industry when he was 19, and eventually became a certified gemologist. Owning a store like Rare Earth Gallery was always his vision, and today he travels throughout the world six months out of the year to buy items such as agate geodes from Brazil, malachite sculptures from Congo, copper wall hangings from Michigan, and petrified wood items locally.
Most of the work is done by artisans, but some finishing work is done in-house, such as polishing petrified wood. The staff also does all metalworking onsite and custom designs and makes all the displays and stands.
Some of the pieces cost thousands of dollars but there are many items priced for more modest budgets. Not interested in buying? No problem. Just come to look.
Go to a Rodeo
37201 N 28th St, Cave Creek, AZ 85331 // 480-304-5634
Every year in late February or March, Cave Creek celebrates its western heritage during Wild West Days, a weeklong festival that includes a parade, golf tournament, dance, rodeo, and other festivities.
The main event is a Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) rodeo where cowboys and cowgirls from all over the U.S. and Canada compete to win prize money and earn points that will help them earn a spot in the National Finals Rodeo. The National Finals are held each December in Las Vegas and only the top fifteen competitors in each event are invited to compete.
Proceeds from the rodeo support charitable organizations in Cave Creek such as the Desert Cancer Foundation, the Foothills Food Bank, Domestic and Teen Violence Awareness, and the Triple R Horse Rescue. They also go toward maintaining and enhancing the Cave Creek Memorial Arena where the rodeo is held.
See Stars in the Desert Sky
email@example.com // (480) 488-3952 (leave a message)
You don’t go to someone’s house to visit a planetarium—unless you’re in Cave Creek. The Star Barn Planetarium is located at the home of Ron Walker, an electrical engineer who grew up with a passion for astronomy. When the Scobee Planetarium at San Antonio College solicited bids for a planetarium projector that was a replica of the one at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, he submitted a bid and won.
He built a 30’ dome to house “Bob,” as the projector is named, to honor a neighbor and friend who helped him rebuild the projector. Unfortunately, Bob never saw a show produced by his namesake because he passed away the day before the first show was scheduled.
“Bob” can reproduce around 6,000 stars and replicate the night sky anywhere in the world, 25,000 years into the past or future. Ron presents entertaining and informative programs such as “Introduction to the Night Sky” and “Around the World in 80 Minutes” to individuals and groups. Each year in early November, he resets “Bob” back 2,000 years in the Middle East for his “Star of Bethlehem” show which runs from mid-November through mid-January.
For a unique experience where you see what the sky would look like on a completely clear night, gather your friends and family and schedule a visit to the Star Barn Planetarium.
Bourbon and Vodka Tasting
6201 E. Cave Creek Rd. // (480) 466-7424
Renea and Michael McQuiggan believe that premium spirits produce memorable moments, and that superior ingredients create superior experiences. So, they decided to develop handcrafted premium bourbons and vodkas that were authentic and natural. The result is the Carefree Spirits Distillery in nearby Carefree, AZ, and a tasting room in Cave Creek.
Their Carefree Bourbon and Chakra Vodka are made using exclusive recipes that include all-natural ingredients and extracts.
Carefree Bourbon consists of a blend of 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt, and water that is high in calcium and low in sulfur and iron. Water quality is very important because it affects the bourbon’s final weight, texture, and flavor. Bourbons are stored in new American Oak barrels and aged over two years, which results in a smooth blend with hints of caramel and vanilla.
Chakra Vodka is made from 100% corn and contains no sugar or additives. It’s distilled six times and filtered five times, and only pure, tasteless water is used in the flavoring, blending, and proofing process to ensure the best taste and texture. Chakra is a trademarked brand and refers to energy centers in the body.
Carefree Spirits Distillery’s bourbons and vodkas have received top awards in international tasting competitions in 2020 and 2021 in a pool of almost 1,000 submissions from 45 countries. Stop by their tasting room to see why.
Authentic Native American Crafts
7100 E Cave Creek Rd, Cave Creek, AZ 85331 // 620-353-3331
If you love authentic Native American jewelry and Southwestern art, be sure to visit the Cimarron River Company.
Connie Miller, the owner and “Queen of Acquisitions,” purchases one-of-a-kind items directly from local Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi artists or from sources that supply items that are certified as authentic. Vintage pottery, hand-carved wooden bowls, collectible birds, and Hopi katsina (kachina) dolls are some of the many items on display.
A large kachina doll that’s the result of two years of painstaking work greets visitors as they enter the store. It was made by Chester Poleyestewa, who is a Hopi Master Carver whose work is sought after by collectors worldwide. He uses only natural dyes and mineral paints that he mixes himself, and is known for his beautiful finishing touches that include eagle feathers, Angora goat hair, and deerskin.
It may sound as though everything at Cimarron River Company is out of your price range, but many beautiful items fit lower budgets. Connie and Billie Casillas, the store manager, are always happy to help customers find the perfect keepsake or gift that won’t break the bank.
Explore Local History
6140 E. Skyline Dr. // (480) 488-2764
The Cave Creek Museum is the best place to learn about the archeology and history of the area, and the mining and agricultural industries that were essential to its growth. There are two wings and an outside exhibit to explore.
The archaeology wing displays artifacts such as pottery and stone tools from four local archaeological sites. The history wing recounts the history of Cave Creek since 1863, including the “gold strike” that began when miners discovered precious metals in the hills and mountains in the surrounding area.
The outdoor exhibit features the first church that was built in Cave Creek and a fully operational, ten-stamp crushing mill that processed ore removed from the (former) Golden Reef Mine into fine gravel so it could be panned for gold.
Demonstrations are held on Saturdays, and visitors are invited to be a miner for a day and try their hand at panning for gold. The Cave Creek Museum also hosts children’s programs on Sundays where kids have fun learning about minerals, desert plants, and Native American history.
Hike the Desert
44000 N. Spur Cross Rd. // (602) 506-2930 Ext 8
The Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area consists of 2,154 acres and offers hiking trails that vary in length and difficulty level. As you hike past towering saguaro cactus—some of which are over 400 years old, you might see coyotes, mule deer, hawks, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas. Some trails pass by old mines and ranches as well as Indian ruins.
The Dragonfly Trail is an intermediate trail that is about 1.5 miles long. It leads through a riparian habitat along Cave Creek and has wonderful scenic views. The Tortuga Trail, another intermediate trail, is about 1.2 miles long and takes you to the top of a mesa that offers spectacular views.
The Spur Cross Trail is a longer intermediate hike, about 5.2 miles, and leads past the ruins of the 6L Ranch. It’s a good choice if you’re interested in archeology because there are many petroglyphs along the trail that were created hundreds of years ago by the Hohokam people.
For something easier, try the Mariposa Hill Trail. It’s about a half-mile round trip and you can see panoramic views of the conservation area as well as the adjacent Tonto National Forest. If you’re there in the spring, you may see an abundance of Mariposa Desert Lilies along the trail.
If you’re an experienced hiker and up for a challenge, take the 2.1-mile Elephant Mountain Trail. The terrain is rough and not maintained, but locals say the views are worth it.
Horseback Riding in the Desert
44029 N. Spur Cross Rd. // (480) 488-9117
43001 N. Spur Cross Rd. // (480) 488-4538
Hiking isn’t the only way to enjoy the spectacular desert scenery. You can also see it on horseback. Arizona Horseback Adventures and MTM Ranch Horseback Adventures both offer trail rides in the Spur Cross Conservation Area and Tonto National Forest.
One- and two-hour rides through the Spur Cross Conservation area are ideal for inexperienced riders and families with small children. They’re on relatively easy scenic trails dotted with saguaro cactus and lead through canyons with breathtaking mountain views. Keep a close watch on your surroundings and you may spot mule deer, hawks, owls, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas.
Longer rides for more experienced riders lead beyond the Cave Creek Riparian areas into the Tonto National Forest. You’ll see petroglyphs that tell tales of the ancient Hohokam Indians who used to inhabit the area, a spring-fed waterfall (in the middle of the desert!), and an area that’s popular with various types of birds such as hawks, finches, owls, hummingbirds, and tanagers.
Arizona Horseback Adventures has an intimate cantina onsite where you can enjoy a cookout and live entertainment or sit by a bonfire and watch the desert sunset. You’re free to rent the cantina and make your own catering and entertainment arrangements or have the staff arrange everything.
Wrapping Up Things to do in Cave Creek
Cave Creek is contemporary Southwest with an Old West vibe. It’s a popular day trip and weekend getaway destination for golfers, shoppers, Country Western fans, outdoor enthusiasts, and Old West aficionados.
Like most of Arizona, Cave Creek has around 300 days of sunshine per year. With interesting attractions, amazing scenery, great shopping, and a variety of restaurants at your fingertips, you’ll never run out of things to do.
Visiting other destinations in Arizona? Check out our other guides:
- 15 Best Restaurants in Prescott, Arizona
- 7 Sedona Restaurants With a View
- 10 Fun Things To Do In Goodyear Arizona
- 6 Must-Try Glendale Restaurants
- 8 Must-Try Flagstaff Restaurants
- 7 Must-Try Lake Havasau City Restaurants
- 8 Best Cave Creek Restaurants
- 10 Best Restaurants In Salt Lake City
- 20 Best Restaurants In Tucson
- 10 Fun Things To Do In Flagstaff, Arizona
- 5 Best Scottsdale AZ Restaurants
Which of these best things to do in Cave Creek AZ do you want to try first? Let us know in the comments section below!
Marni Patterson is a travel writer, photographer and videographer in Phoenix, AZ. She has lived and traveled extensively in the U.S. and Europe and is gradually making it to all the destinations on her “bucket list” in Asia/Pacific, Africa and South America. After years of writing web content and marketing materials in the high-tech industry, she’s applying her experience writing about software, cloud computing and cybersecurity services to promote destinations and provide travel tips.