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Ride the river or mine history in Western Arizona’s snowbird heaven

Perched on the eastern banks of the Colorado River at Arizona’s border with California, Yuma is a confluence of ancient cultures, Old West grit and modern-day comfort. Visitors are made to feel at home among historical sites of interest, frequent cultural celebrations and the surrounding rugged desert landscape.

Boasting a population of roughly 93,000, Yuma is a perennial snowbird destination, with the sun shining 90 percent of the year. The proximity of the Colorado River makes it a recreation haven, and the local agricultural scene entices foodies and wine lovers alike. But don’t let Yuma’s modern-day comforts eclipse its rough-and-tumble past. The city’s fascinating culture merits lots of attention from visitors.


Yuma Visitors Bureau

Yuma Through Time

The history of Yuma starts with the Cocopah, or River People, who lived along the lower Colorado River and delta for more than 3,000 years before European settlers reached the area. Today, roughly 1,000 tribal members live and work on or near the Cocopah Reservation, a few miles south of Yuma. The Cocopah way of life and history are documented in exhibits and presentations at the Cocopah Museum and Cultural Center in nearby Somerton.

By the end of the 19th century, Yuma had become a thriving Old West settlement, and like other towns of the era, it saw its share of legendary outlaws. Rowdy troublemakers and hardened criminals might have ended up in the Yuma Territorial Prison, which housed women and men in a sprawling, stone-walled compound. Overcrowding forced its closure in 1909 after 33 years in service. Today visitors can tour the sprawling prison grounds, following the footsteps of inmates along narrow passages and iron gates.

History on Display

Downtown Yuma boasts a rich historic legacy of its own. Yuma’s Main Street was the end of the legendary Gila Trail, used by prospectors, wagon trains and and stage coaches in the 1800s. At the height of the Gold Rush, Yuma served as the final stopping point for more than 60,000 travelers who would make their way to the rope ferry that carried them across the Colorado River to California and dreams of striking it rich.

Modern-day Main Street is populated with structures built in the 1920s after the street was paved. Earlier buildings were made of adobe and often “melted” when downtown streets would flood after heavy rains caused the Colorado River to breach its banks. The Historic Yuma Theatre, opened first as a venue for vaudeville acts, is the centerpiece for the Yuma Art Center. Art deco murals and a plaster bas-relief in the lobby are hallmarks of the building.

Views From Above

The surrounding landscape of Yuma is a vibrant mixture of desert terrain, riparian habitat and rugged mountains. Castle Dome Peak is a distinctive, blocky summit with hidden gullies and solid rock footing that allow experienced hikers a reasonably safe trek up to the top. If you’d prefer not to make the hike, you can enjoy spectacular views of the summit from afar.

Bighorn sheep make their home among the peaks and valleys of the Castle Dome Mountains. For a moderate hike, head out to Telegraph Pass Trail, a 2.2-mile round-trip trail east of the city that boasts scenic views.

Outdoor Adventures

See the Colorado River from a historic perspective during a day cruise or dinner cruise on the Colorado King Sternwheeler. The hosted tour provides guests with a history of riverboat travel on the Colorado, as well as stunning views of the river and surrounding landscape.

Paddling and canoeing tours are another popular way to enjoy life on the river, which has a steady current but no whitewater. Jet boats get adventure-seekers revved up, and daytime tours introduce guests to historical sites, including old mines and ancient petroglyphs. One of the highlights of the tour is the Watchmen’s Cabin, inhabited by a local who watched for the smoke of the approaching paddlewheel steamer, then used a mirror to signal prospectors upriver. Wildlife-watchers can keep an eye out for the bighorn sheep, deer and migratory birds that populate the banks of the river.

A warm summer afternoon invites residents and travelers to launch into the river on tubes, rafts and other vessels for some lazy floating on the current. From April through September, happy-go-lucky tubers can meander from Gateway Park and drift on the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers. Many more find themselves relaxing on the beach at West Wetlands Park.


Yuma Visitors Bureau

Wild in Yuma

Yuma’s diverse species invite licensed sportsmen to bag big game such as bighorn sheep and mule deer, as well as dove, quail and waterfowl. Cast a line at Fortuna Pond for largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, mullet and carp—seasonally, the pond is also stocked with rainbow trout.

Away from waterlogged recreation, Yuma’s untamed terrain beckons daredevils. Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area is open to riders of all-terrain vehicles, campers and hikers. The stark backdrop has served as a setting for “Star Wars,” “Jarhead” and “The Scorpion King.”

The Rush To Riches

Mining success in the 1860s led to the birth of the town of Castle Dome Landing, about one hour north of Yuma along the Colorado River. During its heyday, the population of Castle Dome exceeded the population of Yuma, but when the mines ran dry, the town was abandoned. Today, the ghost town stands as the Castle Dome Mines Museum, and visitors can tour buildings dating back to the 1800s, including a stamp mill, five saloons, a stone cabin and dozens of preserved artifacts from the town’s heyday.

Fortuna Mine was another quick boom-and-bust town near Yuma that today is marked by an interpretive trail. The 2-mile trail takes hikers past a stamp mill, a slurry pile, the Fortuna Cemetery and several mine shafts.

For More Information

Yuma Visitor Information Center




Arizona Office of Tourism