Hidden Tourism Gem in Southeastern Arizona
Looking for a great day trip or active long weekend away without even having to leave the state?
Located just three hours southeast, Sierra Vista has something for everyone from history buffs to outdoorsmen to even food and wine enthusiasts. The region is also a global leader in military intelligence as well as a bustling hub for cybersecurity research, workforce development, testing and certification.
It also has something the Valley does not during the summer months—a respite from the heat!
Sierra Vista’s 4,600-foot elevation means the average daytime temperature is about 74 degrees, and it rarely exceeds 100 degrees even during the height of the summer months. The only thing better than the weather? The endless list of things to do, to see and to eat. Here are some best bets:
Fort Huachuca Museum: Still an active military installation, Fort Huachuca was established in 1877 to defend American settlers and protect Mexico. Those who mustered there in the early years quelled Apache raids and tangled with the likes of Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa. The fort was also home to Buffalo Soldiers, who earned their nickname during the Indian Wars. The Fort Museum, located on Fort Huachuca, commemorates more than 150 years of history, from the first attempts to tame the territory in 1846 to World War II. A visit to the museums on Fort Huachuca is a must for history buffs and espionage enthusiasts alike. The museums boast historic buildings, exhibits and dioramas that bring the past to life and show guests how military surveillance and reconnaissance has evolved from Revolutionary War spy tactics to modern satellite technology.
Garden Canyon: Inhabited since 600 A.D., the Garden Canyon Village Site is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. There, archaeologists have found evidence of Hohokam, Mogollon, Trincheras and Casa Grandes cultures. The Garden Canyon Pictograph Site has 53 pictographs (painted rock art) from some of its earliest residents, as well as Apache pictographs from the 1700s. A short stroll away is Rappell Cliffs Rock Shelter Site, where the rock art is thought to date back to 1300 C.E.
Fairbank: Established in 1881 along the San Pedro River, Fairbank offers a peek into the Wild West. Take a self-guided tour of one of southeastern Arizona’s most complete ghost towns. Stroll past a post office, general store, homes, saloon, jail and schoolhouse, which serves as the museum and visitor center, staffed by volunteers who will regale you with stories about shootouts, train robberies and strict schoolmarms.
Stargazing: Amateur astronomers can find a host of stargazing opportunities in southern Arizona because of Sierra Vista’s dark sky ordinances and vast, unlit county lands, which help reduce astronomy photolight pollution, making the stars shine even brighter. In total, there are 16 observatories in the area.
San Pedro Valley Observatory is a favorite as it specializes in individualized experiences. The owners recently purchased new telescopes and upgraded the facilities. Guests can book a two-hour session for up to four people with one of the observatory’s professional astronomers.
Patterson Observatory on the University of Arizona Sierra Vista campus houses a 20-inch telescope, making it another hot spot for locals and guests alike. Each month, in fact, the Huachuca Astronomy Club holds “star parties” to introduce visitors to the wonders of the night skies. The monthly astronomy night focuses on astronomy events and general education about space and the night sky.
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area: With nearly 40 miles of riparian vegetation, this 56,000-acre area is teeming with plant and animal life. Highly popular with bird watchers (more than half of the known breeding bird species in the United States have been spotted here), visitors can hike solo or choose from regularly scheduled bird, interpretive and river walks led by docents from the San Pedro House. 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and dogs are welcome.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve: The Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve is world-renowned, thanks to the unique interplay of geology, biology, topography and climate that create a diverse habitat for plant and animal life. The 280-acre preserve provides a haven for over 170 varieties of birds, including 14 species of hummingbirds. Inside the visitor center is the kid-friendly “Please Touch” Room with bird nests, snakeskins and other wildlife bits.
Street Biking: Hopping in the saddle—the bicycle saddle—and exploring southeast Arizona is easier than almost anywhere else in the nation. Whether your bike has skinny tires or knobby ones, or you ride astride a single-speed cruiser, Sierra Vista is the place to start your bicycle adventure. Road cyclists looking for long, winding roads with low traffic can’t beat the stretches of asphalt in and around Sierra Vista. Recently formally designated a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists, Sierra Vista is located along U.S. Bicycle Route 90, part of the transcontinental network of designated bikeable roadways.
Mountain Biking: Mountain bikers can find miles of single track trails in the Huachuca Mountains, just a short ride from your hotel. One of the most popular jumping on points is along Ramsey Canyon Road at Brown Canyon Ranch. The Brown Canyon Trail gains about 1,900 feet in elevation and connects with the Hamburg Trail, making a nice loop ride; be sure to take the well-traveled jog to avoid the Miller Peak Wilderness Area. Popular with experienced riders, Brown Canyon gets a little gnarly with the elevation gain and rocky terrain, but the reward is breathtaking views and smooth, flatter trails in open areas. A gentler ride is the Perimeter Trail, gaining only 834 feet in an 8.5-mile loop.
Hiking: Sierra Vista marks the southern terminus of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, an 820-mile cross-state route that traverses mountains, deserts, canyons, forests and communities from Mexico to Utah. Along the way, you’ll experience some of the most breathtaking landscapes in North America. The trail is free and is open every day with easy on and off points for day hikes or longer treks. Ash Canyon is also a popular option and is easily accessible by car.
Food and Drink
Wine: In the heart of Arizona’s premier wine regions, Sierra Vista is ideally situated near Sonoita and Patagonia to the west and Willcox to the east. Rich soil, high elevation, cool nights and warm days are a vintner’s dream. If planning a weekend or longer stay in the area, take advantage of the more than two dozen tasting rooms within an hour or so practically in any direction of the heart of the city, including:
- Dos Cabezas WineWorks
- Flying Leap Vineyards
- Hannah’s Hill Vineyard
- Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards Tasting Room
- Kief-Joshua Vineyards
- Lawrence Dunham Vineyards
- Lightning Ridge Cellars
- Passion Cellars
- Rune Wines
- Silver Strike Winery Tasting Room
- Sonoita Vineyards
- Village of Elgin Tasting Room
- Wilhelm Family Vineyards
- Zarpara Vineyard
Dine: Have a hankering spicy kimchee, Old World German breads or down-home American eats? You’ll find it in Sierra Vista’s foodie scene with dozens of locally owned restaurants serving American and international fare. Chefs from around the globe have brought their culinary heritage and set up shop in Sierra Vista. Some locally recommended favorites include the German Café, Sunna’s and Indochine.
For more information, visit Visit.SierraVistaAZ.gov.