Sitting in the shade of a rock overhang and reveling in views that spilled away in all directions, it occurred to me that I was enjoying one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets. This is a getaway with something for everyone, yet it still manages to fly under the radar.
When exactly did Kingman become so cool?
I first started spending time in Kingman as a Route 66 enthusiast, following that legendary highway toward astounding scenery and one adventure after another. Perched on the edge of the Mojave Desert in northwestern Arizona, Kingman anchors the longest unbroken stretch of Route 66 still in existence. For early westward travelers, this was the last chance to pick up supplies before tackling the harsh desert mountains ahead. Today, the burg is filled with iconic Mother Road stops, such as Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Locomotive Park, the historic Powerhouse, the Route 66 Museum and a revitalized downtown.
What really caused me to fall in love with the area is the bounty of beautiful hiking trails. The City of Kingman partnered with the Bureau of Land Management and carved a network of trails from the rugged landscape. The Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area includes 35 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
The Camp Beale Loop makes a meandering climb of 3.2 miles through lean grasslands punctuated by cacti and stands of yucca to a mesa top with expansive vistas of surrounding mountains and broad basins. During the 1870s, Camp Beale Spring occupied the flat ground below, providing protection for the nearby Fort Mohave and Prescott Toll Road and serving as a supply station.
Even more impressive views are on display on the Badger Trail, which winds its way up the slopes of the Cerbat Mountains. The trail gains more than 1,000 feet over its 3.2 miles but never feels grueling. It rises in a series of long, languid switchbacks. Trail markers appear every half-mile to chart your progress.
In spring, these hillsides are splashed with wildflowers, with pools of gold poppies, lupines and globe mallows adding color to the bristly array of ocotillo, yucca and cholla. Yet it’s the neon blooms of the beavertail cactus that are the real showstoppers.
The Badger Trail ends atop a high saddle and a junction with the Castle Rock Trail, a 0.6-mile level path that swoops along the ridgeline to reach the dark basalt formation that crowns the hilltop.
Of all the Kingman trails, my favorite is the 7-mile Monolith Garden Trail, a tangled route through dramatic boulder fields and crumbling ramparts of volcanic ash. With multiple trailheads and additional forks, hikers have some alternatives. You can make a shorter loop if you’d like, but unless I’m limping, I don’t believe in shorter loops. After passing a sharp canyon with scalloped stone walls, the trail continues through a rolling landscape of low slanted hills, past stacked rock towers and hunched ridgelines toothy with columns. It’s like a pint-sized version of Monument Valley.
Best of all, Kingman is one of those rare desert communities that encourage you to play outdoors all year long. When summer temperatures roll in, it’s time to enjoy the high ramparts of the Hualapai Mountains. Rising to an elevation of 8,000 feet and topped with shady forests of ponderosa pine, white fir and aspen, they make a delicious oasis, just minutes from downtown Kingman.
Hualapai Mountain Park is a 2,300-acre preserve named for the native Hualapai Indians. The park offers numerous picnic areas, 70 campsites and rustic cabins of various sizes that can sleep up to a dozen people. The roads and much of the infrastructure in the park are the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps, dating back to the 1930s. Over 16 miles of trails weave through lush, sun-dappled forests and granite formations. Keep an eye peeled for a variety of wildlife, including bear, elk, mule deer, mountain lion and fox.
History buffs will need a few days to experience all facets of Kingman. Start with an intriguing collection of museums. Two of them are found in the Powerhouse, the hulking concrete structure built in 1907 that now serves as the town’s visitor center. Upstairs, the Route 66 Museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits focusing on the cultural significance of the Mother Road. Downstairs, the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum displays a wide range of vehicles dating back over a century.
The Bonelli House, a fully furnished home filled with heirlooms and antiques, is an excellent example of early Anglo-territorial architecture. The Mohave Museum of History and Arts provides a detailed overview of the town’s storied past. The Kingman Railroad Museum is housed in the historic depot with three model train layouts.
But not all history is kept indoors. One other must-stop is the White Cliffs Wagon Trail. Dating back to the late 1800s, the old wagon route was used to carry ore from the Stockton Hill Mines to the railroad. Deep ruts cut into the soft bedrock by the heavy wagons are still clearly visible. The drivers used long poles for braking or leverage, which created gouges on both sides of the roadbed.
With a full day of exploring under your belt, it’s time to unwind and enjoy the bounty of food and drink that Kingman offers. Two breweries in particular have played an important part in bringing excitement back to downtown.
Black Bridge Brewery produces a full roster of rich and complex craft beers, from the citrus notes of Raspberry Poison to the “hopbursted” flourish of Evil Red, which has all its hops added at the end of the boil. They even make their own zesty ginger beer.
Besides the full slate of in-house beers, Rickety Cricket Brewing serves an extensive lunch and dinner menu. Everything from thin-crust pizzas and piled-high burgers to crispy salads fly out of the kitchen.
Even though I’m a man who likes a lot of elbow room on the trail, I can’t keep my mouth shut about Kingman. There’s plenty to do and see for everyone. But I will offer one word of caution: I’ve called dibs on that shady little spot beneath a rock overhang along the Monolith Garden Trail. Feel free to enjoy it. At least until I show up!