Arizona Road Trip: Riding, Dining and Imbibing from Cave Creek to Cottonwood

On a due north, 90-mile course, discover the Verde Valley Wine Country—a land of horseback trails and grapevines—in Cottonwood, Arizona.
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Cave Creek to Cottonwood:

Head west on Carefree Highway and take I-17 N toward Flagstaff. In 62.5 miles, use Exit 287 in Camp Verde and turn left onto AZ-260/Finnie Flat Rd. When the road intersects with AZ-89A just three miles from your destination, turn left onto S Main Street.

Lime Kiln trailhead

If you’re in need of a quality breakfast joint, you’re about to roll right by Pepe’s Café (324 S Main St.), open early every day but Monday. It will be on the left between E Cherry and Birch streets.

[READ MORE: Arizona Guide: The Team Roping Journal's Winter 2019/2020 Complete Guide to Arizona]

Cottonwood to Dead Horse Ranch State Park:

Follow Main Street for another 1.5 miles, then make a right onto N 10 Street, cross the Verde River and make a right onto Dead Horse Ranch Road. The park, a once-working ranch, charges a $7/vehicle entrance fee, but boasts ample parking and corrals for horse camping, as well.

Within the park alone, there is a 20+ mile trail system—most of which is shared use (also allow hikers and bikers) and horse-friendly (horses are not permitted around the lagoons)—from which you can concoct any number of loops, depending on how much time and mileage you’re looking to put in. Many of the trails also lead out of the park and into the greater Coconino National Forest, including the Lime Kiln Trail No. 82—a 15-mile thru-trail that terminates in Red Rock State Park, just south of Sedona.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park to Old Town Cottonwood:

Once off the trail, it’s a literal five-minute (car) ride to charming Old Town Cottonwood, a hot spot on the Verde Valley Wine Trail. To get there, exit the park, turn left on 10 Street, cross the Verde River, and make a right onto N Main Street. When the road bends north, you’ve arrived.

On a one-block strip between Pinal and Yavapai streets, you’ll find every one of the five listed wine destinations in town. Swing into the bright and airy Winery 101, the warm and cozy Burning Tree Cellars, or the award-winning Pillsbury Wine Company for tastings; enjoy some light eats with your wines at Arizona Stronghold; or indulge in a full wining and dining experience at Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria.

VisitCottonwood:OTA_oldtown

Riding in and around Dead Horse Ranch State Park

(928) 634-5283

azstateparks.com/dead-horse

• If tackling the Thumper Loop Trail, hike or ride in a counter-clockwise direction (mountain bikers are advised to do the opposite).

• On the Lime Kiln Trail, it is advised to ride from Dead Horse Ranch State Park to Red Rock State Park. Also note, this option requires arranging for a pick-up vehicle and trailer to be at trail’s end.

• The Lime Kiln Trail has motorized sections, so may be shared with various off-road vehicles at times.

• Though winter roping months align well with Cottonwood’s rainy season, the elevation is just 3,500 feet or so, so snow is rarely a concern.

• To avoid spring winds, get an early start, as they tend to kick up in the afternoons.

Cottonwood Events

(928) 634-7593, oldtown.org

• Second Saturday Art Walks

Nov. 9:

Walkin’ on Art Show

Dec. 6:

8th Annual VIP Chocolate & Wine Tasting

(Tickets Required)

Dec. 7:

65th Annual Christmas Parade

Dec. 7:

26th Annual Chocolate Walk (Tickets Required)

Feb. 14:

Sip and Stroll

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