Family Vacation at Goldfield Ghost Town in Arizona

Visiting the southwest corner of the United States, you should be expecting to experience a little bit of the wild west and a visit to the Goldfield Ghost Town in Phoenix (technically, Apache Junction) Arizona will fulfill that expectation and more. On our recent trip to Phoenix we were looking for an outing that would offer a little variety to the normal haunts of a big city. While perusing the magazine left in our hotel room, I found an advertisement for a ghost town called Goldfield and I knew I had found our outing!
Goldfield sells itself as a ghost town with multiple attractions, restaurants, shops, a bakery, and museums all set in the back drop of an 1800’s mining town.  It sits at the base of a beautiful mountain range surrounded by tons of giant saguaro cacti.

The ghost town was about 45 minutes from our hotel in Tempe and located east of Apache Junction on the very outskirts of the Phoenix area. We arrived early in the day so parking was plentiful, but by the time we were leaving it was beginning to fill up fast.  As a recommendation for family travelers, the best time to visit any attraction is right when it opens which typically gives my family 1-2 hours of crowd-free enjoyment.

Entering Goldfield is like walking onto a Hollywood set and I was dying to get into a pair of cowboy boots.  It took us longer than I would have liked to get oriented and wished there would have been clear signage about each attraction.

When we finally found the Gold Mine tour box office (okay, it took all of five minutes) we purchased the cash only tickets and waited roughly 15 minutes for the tour to begin. This is when I figured out that the town was really laid out as a main street with several of the attractions located behind the west side of the main street.

There was plenty of little things to look at including a staged outhouse that I saw a million people take pictures with! The Gold  Mine Tour was what sold me on visiting Goldfield because I am a huge nerd and love to learn so I had pretty high hopes for the tour and IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT!  Once again, I am a huge nerd, but our tour guide was delightful, clear, and insightful, included the kids, tolerated my toddler with a kind spirit and was incredibly knowledgeable about mining in the southwest.  I am not an easy critic either, but he really lived up to my standard.

The mine that we toured was actually a recreation that the Goldfield owner built with accumulated materials from all over the southwest to reconstruct and was built to look like the mine that was a little further up on the mountain.  There were stories that interested the kids and a few hands-on explanations.  The only bad part, for me, was the tour lasted only 25 minutes and I would have preferred the more comprehensive 4 hour version (Note: there is no 4 hour tour option.) The 25 minutes was about perfect for my 6, 4 and 1 year old who seemed genuinely interested themselves.

After we finished the mine tour, it was nearly 12:00 pm and we saw a large crowd gathering for an ol’ fashioned gun fight in the square, which are performed every hour on the weekends at no charge.

We trotted over, found a place and enjoyed the ten-minute show.  The actors didn’t have microphones so a lot of what was said got muddled. My husband and I had no trouble following the story, but my 6 year old kept asking me what they were saying.  As soon as the shooting started it was loud and lasted about 10 seconds until all the actors lay on the ground and the Sheriff had the crowd help wake them up.  I was concerned my girls might be a little confused or shocked by all the bodies, but once they all got up smiling the kids applauded and laughed.

We were going to the reptile museum next but by the time we got there a huge line had already formed so I took my girls to the mystery shack instead, while the boys explored the town more.  The shack was built on a 30 degree angle which really messes with your equilibrium and makes impossible looking things happen. This tour was roughly 15 minutes and as interactive as you wanted it to be.  Most of the adults seemed hesitant to participate but I was totally on board for helping in any way possible, which led to a really fun experience for my kids and me.  The tour guide also seemed to appreciate my willingness as he would often ask me to try something first when no one jumped forward.  It ended with a look at what a 1,000 foot mine shaft looks like from above which might have been worth the price of admission itself.

The other attraction we enjoyed was panning for gold and jewels.  We have probably panned for gold at every single place that has ever offered it and my kids are still most excited for it.   There were several different options of crystals you can pan for ranging from $10.00 all the way to a mega bag for $30.  My kids shared a $13 bag and enjoyed twenty minutes of picking through the dirt, water and gems to both gather a bag of treasures.

Conveniently, we were able to experience another shoot out as we were passing main street the next hour.  I was delighted to see that it was different show than our previous experience. It was fun seeing a second because my girls actually understood what to expect.  After the second shoot out we were able to walk through the shops, around the church and into the brothel.  The brothel offered a tour that explained how women lived in the western days, but we didn’t want to take our kids through it.  We also looked at the town museum, but the tour guide thoughtfully advised us it wouldn’t be the most interesting for the kids.  We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the shops.  Each shop was similar, but offered a large enough variety it was fun to visit each one.

We ended up eating lunch at the saloon, which was the low point of the day.  By lunch time the Ghost Town was packed with visitors and although there was generous seating, every table was full. Luckily, we found a family who was willing to split their large picnic table with us.  Our waitress told us this was the busiest day they have had in months, but we still saw her infrequently, the food was slow and overpriced, and it just wasn’t good.  I ordered the pulled pork and found a bay leaf in the meat which hadn’t been removed.  Although I know those are commonly used in cooking, it still made me gag a little when I pulled it out of my mouth. All in all, it kind of felt like we waiting an hour and paid a bunch to eat cafeteria food.

There was another lunch establishment which offered more generic hot dogs and hamburgers, but it only offered outdoor seating which didn’t make sense in the cold weather. Overall, I wish we would have packed a lunch and when we visit again I will, unless the weather is good enough to eat outside. Apart from the restaurant, the only other frustration was the lack of bathrooms throughout the town.  The Saloon offered three stalls and there was another restaurant with only one stall which lead to fifteen minute wait times.

Although we experienced a few frustrations, Goldfield had so much to offer.  Attractions we didn’t participate in were the history and brothel museums, ATV rides as well as the reptile museum, which all looked really fun, but not a great fit for our kids, but would be amazing for future visits throughout the years.

I would highly recommend Goldfield for anyone who is in Phoenix for any length of time.  It is a tourist location for sure, but it has been organized and executed so well, any family will have an enjoyable day taking in the sights and experiencing a little wild west fun for themselves.

More photos from our trip to Goldfield:

3 thoughts on “Family Vacation at Goldfield Ghost Town in Arizona

  1. I enjoyed reading about this experience, the gold mining, and seeing all your pictures. I’ve been subscribed with RSS to your blog since 2019. Keep writing well. I’ve shared this with a few friends.

  2. Pingback: How to Day Trip to Goldfield Ghost Town in Nevada – Photography & Travel

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