The Best of the Southwest

As the seat of Arizona's least populous county, Clifton offers an unbeatable combination of thrilling history, a remarkably well-preserved turn-of-the-century downtown and opportunities for outdoor adventure — real adventure — that have all but disappeared from most of southern Arizona.

Clifton is an up-and-coming off-the-beaten path mecca for hikers, backpackers, birders, bikers and refugees from the heat of the valley looking for a cool place to explore a historic, culturally diverse Arizona mountain town.

  • Clifton Tucson Weekly article Clifton's comeback is the cover story for the June 28 issue of the Tucson Weekly.

    "Sleepy Clifton is on the brink of a renaissance, led by locals and transplants who love the town's overflowing history and are putting their backs into its revival."

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Rivers Run Through It

In the water-starved Southwest, Clifton enjoys an enviable location on the San Francisco River, close to three other major waterways including the the Gila and Blue Rivers and Eagle Creek.

Getting There

Just three hours from Tucson and four hours from Phoenix, Clifton is a great destination for an unforgettable weekend getaway. From Tucson it's an easy drive via I-10 through scenic Texas Canyon. Just east of Willcox, turn north on US 191 and wander through the cotton fields and bucolic Safford, Arizona. From Phoenix, it's US 60 through the Superstition Mountains and then pick up US 70 just east of Glibe. At Three-Way — no, not that kind of three-way — turn north and begin climbing into the jagged remains of a chain of volcanos including iconic Thumb Butte and Guthrie Mountain. In the spring, this stretch of road is known for the best display of wildflowers anywhere in Arizona. When the Morenci copper mine comes into view, you'll drop down into the Gila River Valley and find Clifton tucked into a narrow canyon astride the San Francisco River.

Where to Stay and Play in Clifton

You won't find a lot of four-star French restaurants in Clifton, but you can find a room in your choice of delightfully converted historic buildings and enjoy a hearty helping of classic Mexican-American road food. And Chase Creek Street will delight you with some fantastic antique shops and craft markets.

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The "Devil's Highway"

Clifton is the gateway to the Coronado Trail, a National Scenic Byway that provides access to hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the lightly traveled Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. With most of the Coronado Trail soaring between 6000 and 9000 feet in elevation, the hiking trails and campgrounds in this area are typically 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the valleys below, and an ideal destination for outdoor recreation even in the depths of the summer.

Unlike the straightforward, gentle passage of retired Route 66 ... U.S. 666, its descendant, is tortuous, wild, and as strange as its name. In little more than 100 miles, the surrounding altitude ranges from twenty-nine hundred feet to more than eleven thousand feet. With some four hundred twisting curves in one sixty-mile stretch, the road has sent more than its share of travelers crashing off cliffs. If, as Nat King Cole sang, drivers get their kicks on Route 66, they take their risks on 666.

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The Wildest of the Wild West Towns

With its fate tied to the mining industry, Clifton's history has been marked by dramatic cycles of boom and bust. So many fortunes won and lost gave the town its unique character and its dynamic multiethnic work force. And while the nearby communities of Old Morenci and Metcalf were erased by the expansion of the Morenci copper mine, Clifton was preserved, leaving a remarkable testimony to its heyday as a Victorian-era mining boomtown.

Begin with a visit to one of the state's best small historical museums, take a walking tour of historic Chase Creek Street, spend a night at a national historic landmark and learn about the Clifton area's many opportunities for outdoor adventure and thrilling road trips.

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Of all the reasons to come to Clifton, perhaps the most compelling is the presence of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. They are backyard wildlife in this former mining town. Don't be surprised to encounter them grazing at the city park, peering down at you from the cliff behind Chase Creek Street, or crossing Route 191. The sheep are believed to have migrated from the Mogollon Rim to the Clifton area in the 1960s, following the San Francisco River. Today there are so many sheep in the area that Arizona Game and Fish has been capturing and relocating some of them to establish new herds in historic habitat in eastern and central Arizona.

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bighorn sheep