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At the corner of Arizona, California, and Mexico lies the city of Yuma, which is packed with history, desert landscapes, lots of sunshine. This is a favorite destination for retirees in RVs, known as snowbirds, during the winter months because of the pleasant winter temperatures. Summers in Yuma are scorching hot, but there are still lots of things to see and do year-around when you take a trip to experience this Arizona city. Here are the top things to do when you visit Yuma!
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One of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Yuma is the Yuma Territorial State Historic Park and the prison here. You might remember this prison’s legacy if you’ve seen the movie, 3:10 to Yuma. This prison was built in 1875 and was home to thousands of male prisoners and 29 female prisoners. The prison became overcrowded, closed down, and was later used as a high school and a homeless shelter. Today, you can visit the museum to see the cell blocks, read the stories of prisoners who were here, and imagine what life was like inside. Also, make sure to climb the guard tower and check out the view deck for views of the Colorado River. The adult admission fee is $8 to visit this site.
Yuma is known as a big date-growing region, which means that there are quite a few date farms that you can see and visit. One of the most popular ones is Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm, which is about 10 miles outside of town. There are lots of date trees on the property and a great gift shops with samples, dates for purchase, and even a film to learn more about growing dates. Tours are offered between November and March and on Mondays through Fridays for $10 per person. You can book a tour by calling the store in advance or signing up in person when you arrive.
The Quartermaster Depot was an important military post for the U.S. Army to store supplies in the mid- to late-1800s. Come here to learn about how goods made their way from the Gulf of California, onto river steamboats on the Colorado River, and onward from Yuma with 20-mule wagon teams. There’s a nice trail out in front of the Quartermaster Depot to combine this stop with a jog or bike ride to Gateway Park.
There are quite a few public parks in Yuma, but the most famous one is Gateway Park near the Ocean to Ocean Bridge. This park is in downtown Yuma at the end of Madison Avenue, and it has a couple fishing docks, picnic areas, and a sandy river beach. Come here to take a dip in the water and cool off in the summer. Or during the winter, the paths here are great for walking your dog or going for a run. There are restrooms here, an outdoor shower, and playground for kids too.
To get a sense of the spirit of the city, plan to spend some time in Historic Downtown Yuma. You’ll also find festivals here, such as the date festival and Mardi Gras festival. There’s a great brewery downtown called Prison Hill Brewing Company, and other nice restaurants, shops, and art galleries. You can learn more about the history of this downtown area by taking a tour from the Sanguinetti House Museum on foot or via trolley. There’s a farmers’ market that takes place here on Tuesdays in the winter, and the Lettuce Festival is a popular two-day event that takes place in February each year.
Many people don’t expect to find sand dunes in the Yuma area, but here they are! The Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area has dunes that reach 300 feet tall and make you feel like you’re in the middle of an epic desert adventure. Many movies have actually been filmed at these dunes, which are about 20 miles from the city of Yuma and well worth a trip out to see. You’ll find lots of ATVs out here riding through the dunes, but you can also get some good exercise by hiking up and down them. The area is dog-friendly, so bring your pup to play in the sand!
Yuma has an extensive military history, and the Yuma Proving Ground celebrates that history and educates visitors with exhibitions about the training center, test station, and more. This museum is in the Sonora Desert and showcases military operations in history dating back to the early 1940s. Admission is free, and the museum is typically open on Tuesdays through Fridays throughout the year.
The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is another great place to visit when you’re in the Yuma area. This is an area of desert that spans over 665,00 acres and is home to many native plant and wildlife species. This is the second largest wilderness area in Arizona and a great place to reconnect with nature. The Palm Canyon Trail is a half mile each way and leads you to see the only native palm in the state. Plan to spend about an hour for this hike. Other top destinations here are the Kofa Cabin, Kofa Monument, and Hoodoo Cabin – all of which offer lovely views of the desert. There are two primitive cabins available to stay in overnight on a first come, first serve basis.
Operated by the City of Yuma Parks and Recreation Department, the Yuma Art Center is on main street and features a theater, art gallery, and work spaces for artists. This venue sees over 100,000 visitors each year and hosts two full-length theater productions annually, film screenings, arts classes, and festival events. Signature events take place here between October and April, so check the center’s website to see what’s going on during your trip.