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Have you ever dreamt of stepping into a town frozen in time, where wild burros roam freely and the Wild West comes to life? Look no further than Oatman, Arizona – a historic mining town nestled in the heart of the desert along Arizona’s stretch of U.S. Route 66. As you traverse its dusty streets, you’ll find yourself transported back to the days of the Gold Rush, with its wooden facades, rustic saloons, and tales of gold miners seeking fortune.
In this blog post, I’m uncovering the hidden gems and must-see attractions that make small town Oatman a treasure trove of adventure. From hand feeding the wild burros that roam the streets to exploring antique shops filled with relics of the past, Oatman promises a day steeped in history, culture, and scenic beauty of the Black Mountains.
The Town of Oatman
Oatman is located just an hour north of Lake Havasu City and 2 hours from Las Vegas. It makes a great day trip from Las Vegas or an even better road trip stop along the Mother Road when heading from Arizona towards California. The Oatman Highway weaves in and out through the Black Mountains, along Sitegraves Pass, stretching for 48 miles from Kingman, Arizona, to Catfish Paradise. You’ll reach Oatman in about 23 miles from Kingman; 8 of those miles involve 191 curves, turns, and switchbacks along one of America’s most dangerous roads. There are some drop-offs and no guard rails, so proceed cautiously, but the views are SO worth the journey!
While quirky and fun, the town of Oatman is small, with limited offerings and no overnight accommodations. Its remote location and dwindling business have caused many to label it a ghost town, although it’s not quite that. In the early 1900s, at the height of the Gold Rush, Otaman’s population grew quickly to over 3,000 residents in one year. Currently, it has around 100 residents living amongst its 2,000 wild burros.
In Honor of Olive Oatman
Once arriving in Oatman, you’ll immediately grasp the history that shaped the small town and the resilience and strength that emerged from its tragic past rooted in the Oatman Massacre of 1851.
Tragedy befell a young girl named Olive Oatman when her family faced violence at the hands of the Yavapais Indians while traveling west, killing most of the family. Olive, taken captive, endured five years as a slave amongst the Mojave Indians before her release. Olive’s survival and the Oatman Massacre marked a pivotal chapter in the region’s history, leaving an enduring impact on the town that bears her name.
The Top Things To Do in Oatman
Most of the town’s attractions are centered around the town’s main street and offer a more low-key experience. It won’t take much time to explore the town, allow at least a 1/2 day to wander down the main street, watch a Gun Fight reenactment, and pop into a historic site or two.
Enjoy the Wild Burros of Oatman
I can almost guarantee an interaction with the wild donkeys roaming the streets of Oatman if you visit in the afternoon. These charming ambassadors showcase the town’s unique character and serve as a living reminder of its past mining days. These donkeys are descendants of the animals brought here in the late 1800s to carry essential supplies for the miners who eventually set them free when the mines shut down. They now live in the hills of the Black Mountains and freely wander through town, adding a touch of authenticity to the Old West ambiance. Although feeding them is a popular activity- proceed cautiously and respect their wild nature, some donkeys get aggressive when smelling food.
Visit the Oatman Hotel
The Oatman Hotel, built in 1902 and initially named the Durlin Hotel, stands as a living relic with a history steeped in Hollywood glamour. Legendary Movie Star Clark Gable and his third wife, Carole Lombard, chose this historic establishment for their wedding night in 1939. The hotel is famous for its Honeymoon Suite, where the iconic couple once stayed.
While you can’t stay overnight, you can visit the suite and gift shop on the second floor and head to the lower-level Ice Cream Parlor for a sweet treat and to cool off during those warm summer months. The tradition of stapling one-dollar bills to the walls adds a whimsical touch and creates a quirky ambiance that captures the spirit of this historic landmark.
Witness a Wild West Gunfight
What is better than a thrilling spectacle that transports you back to the days of the Wild West? The Oatman Ghost Rider Gunfighters reenactment showcases a lively performance set against the backdrop of Oatman’s historic streets, featuring skilled actors donned in period attire, bringing the Old West to life.
The air is charged with excitement as gunfights, saloon brawls, and dramatic showdowns unfold with precision and flare in the middle of the street. The actors skillfully recreate the lawless spirit of the past, engaging the audience in an immersive experience filled with suspense and humor.
The shootouts happen on weekdays around noon and 2:00 pm and four shows a day on the weekends starting at noon. You’ll need to find parking and make your way to the main street before the shootout, as the main drag shuts down to cars during the performances. The town can get pretty crowded during these times so arrive early to claim a spot. The Oatman Ghost Rider Gunfighters are the oldest gunfighter group in Arizona, providing a fun and quirky attraction that is not to be missed on a day trip to Oatman.
Visit the Main Street Shops
You’ll find some souvenirs and antique shops along Main Street filled with trinkets, tee shirts, and one of a kind gems, as well as Native American crafts, jewelry, and novelty items. Unique shops like the Route 66 Leather & Gifts, offer leather belts made in North Dakota, along with bags, purses and moccasins. A visit to the Gold Rush Candy Shop is in order if you like homemade chocolates and taffy or want to take a look at all the vintage candies. They are known for their gracious customer service, variety of offerings, and tourist prices- but don’t let that stop you; Oatman is a tourist town, after all!
Explore the Oatman Mine Museum
This free museum is a must-visit site on the edge of town dating back to 1945. Its main street entrance has been well-preserved since its abandonment. The area offers a glimpse into what it was like as a miner in the 1900s, with tools, artifacts, and replica shops arranged in the miner’s village. Walking through the miner’s village and into the mine shaft won’t take long as they both are small but provide great photo ops and a brief look into the town’s past.
Drive Route 66
If coming from Kingman (another must-see Arizona Route 66 town), you’ll get a fantastic road trip experience along one of the earliest alignments of Route 66, now called “the Sidewinder” because of all its twists and turns. This scenic route is a part of the appeal of spending a day in Oatman. Numerous overlooks along Sitegraves pass allow you to stop and see the beauty that unfolds where any sign of civilization is sparse.
The main attraction (other than the Black Hills) along this route to Kingman is Cool Springs Station, a once thriving gas station turned restored gift shop and history museum. It captures the nostalgia of Route 66 in its heyday with original stone walls, memorabilia, and an owner passionate about revitalizing the once dilapidated station.
Oatman Attractions That Are Now Permanently Closed
Due to the town’s remoteness and limited visitor traffic, some businesses find it difficult to stay afloat. These attractions are still advertised on some online media outlets, but as of this post’s publication date, they are no longer operating. Please leave a comment if you learn otherwise!
Oatman Jailbreak Escape Room
An adventure at the Oatman Escape room is a perfect activity for the whole family and makes a great addition to a day in Oatman. This photogenic room is furnished with rustic wood panels and lifelike jail-scapes. You can even dress the part with complimentary costumes, making it even easier to imagine it’s the real thing. The authentic interior and rustic western theme puzzles are meant to make you think and keep you entertained. Anticipate a thrilling challenge set in the heart of this Old West town, where your wits and teamwork are essential to unraveling the mysteries and securing your freedom.
Oatman Stables offer a quintessential Old West experience while enjoying the beauty of the Arizona Desert. Visitors can embark on guided horseback rides through the breathtaking desert landscapes, immersing themselves in the scenic beauty that surrounds this historic town. From leisurely trail rides to more adventurous journeys, like the Chuckwagon ride or Sunset Steak Dinner Ride, the stables cater to riders of all levels.
This popular spot seems to be closed per some internet reviews stating the doors were locked numerous times during operating hours. It is one of the only restaurants in town and was widely known for its Navajo Tacos and friendly service.
A journey to Oatman is more than just a destination – it’s a living, breathing time capsule waiting to be explored. Although small, the quirky town of Oatman guarantees a day filled with unique encounters and lasting memories that will make you yearn for more!
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