Jerome AZ: Things to Do in This Wicked Good Ghost Town

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Kaleidoscope selfie from Jerome AZ - SheBuysTravel

Roadtripping to the Grand Canyon? You’ll pass through Arizona’s Verde Valley near Sedona. If you’re looking for something unique and weird, yet still Instagram-worthy, veer off to the historic town of Jerome. It’s a quirky ghost town with a shady past and a bright future. Wind your way up a tightly twisting mountain road to find ghost tours, mining history, bustling restaurants in buildings from the 1800s and jaw-dropping views of Arizona’s Verde Valley. Here are the top things to do in this out of the way, but worth the trip, destination.

Where in the World is Jerome AZ?

Located at the base of Mingus Mountain, Jerome is a once-bustling mining town also interestingly home to the world’s largest kaleidoscope store. Whether you’re into ghost stories, gold mines, or good food, you’ll find all of the above plus a sliding jail in our list of the top things to do in Jerome, AZ, a wicked good town to visit.

The night sky in the Sedona/Verde Valley region is stunning. Because of limited light pollution, you can see thousands of stars on a clear evening. What I didn’t expect to see in the distance, as I was driving back to Cottonwood from Sedona along Highway 89A, was a band of lights floating mid-way between the ground and the sky.

The next morning I quizzed my fellow guests in the lodge at the Verde Valley Thousand Trails campground. “Oh, that’s Jerome,” said a gentleman from Oregon. “It’s a ghost town.”

That’s all I needed to hear. I thanked them for the tip and headed out to explore Jerome, AZ – a former mining camp that became a boom town that went bust. Thanks to some passionate residents, volunteers and business owners, it’s not dead yet. And it’s worth a detour if you’re exploring the area between Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, especially if you’re into history and ghost towns. Join the Haunted tour or a Ghost Walk!

Read More: The Best Arizona Resorts for Families

 Audrey Headframe and mine shaft in Jerome AZ - SheBuysTravel
The Little Daisy Hotel is the building in the center. The iron scaffold is the Audrey Headframe. You stand on glass above a mine shaft that’s 650 feet taller than the Empire State Building! Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

1. Tour Jerome State Historic Park

I recommend stopping first at the Jerome State Historic Park. It was once the home of James S. Douglas, who developed the Little Daisy Mine in 1912. The mine operated successfully until 1938. Douglas also constructed the nearby Little Daisy Hotel as a dormitory for miners. Today, it’s a private home.

There’s a mother lode of historical mining information in the mansion as well as facts about the Douglas family. The real draw for me was the museum’s video; it’s an entertaining overview of the history of Jerome, from a ghost’s perspective. Every time I come out west, I think about the early settlers and how brave they were to face the weather, the terrain and in the case of Jerome, Apache Indian attacks! I would have quit heading west about 5 miles from my house!

The Mining History of Jerome AZ

The initial mining claims in Jerome were staked in 1876 and the United Verde Copper Company was formed in 1883, but did not enjoy success until William Clark became the owner in 1888. He constructed a railroad line and turned Jerome into a boomtown. The company was later sold to Phelps Dodge who ran the mine until operations ended in the 1950’s. It is estimated that through the years millions of tons of copper, gold, silver and other heavy metal ore was mined in Jerome, giving the town one of its nicknames: Jerome, the Billion Dollar Copper Camp.

Another must see while at the Jerome State Historic Park is the view of San Francisco peak in Flagstaff, over 70 miles away, if the weather’s clear.


paper Map of the US at ghost town Jerome AZ Visitors Center covered in pins showing where visitors are coming from
When you stop at the Jerome AZ Visitors’ Center to pick up a map of the town, stick a pin in your hometown – if you can find room! Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

2. Pick up a Map at the Jerome AZ Visitor’s Center

Continue winding your way up the face of Cleopatra Hill to the center of Jerome; like Denver Colorado, it’s located a mile above sea level, perched precipitously in Arizona’s Black Hills. There are several free public parking lots along the streets. If there’s room in the lot across from the Visitor’s Center on Hull Avenue, snag a spot there, then stop in and get a map of the town. The map has an index listing the current and historical owners of the buildings. If you’d like any information about tours, the friendly staff will provide assistance.

Sliding Jail in Jerome AZ - this ghost town jail is falling apart. The walls are leaning precariously.
Usually the prisoners are the ones who make a jailbreak, not the jail itself! Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

3. Photograph Jerome’s Sliding Jail 

Walk below the Visitor’s Center to Jerome’s Sliding Jail Park. One of this ghost town’s curiosities, the town jail began relocating itself during the 1930’s, sliding slowly downhill and resting at various locations until it landed in its current spot, 225 feet from where it started. Jerome is located on the Verde Valley fault. That, combined with the fact that over 88 miles of excavated tunnels lie beneath the one square mile of town, make it an unstable location at best. Find out more during the Ghost Adventure.

antique washing machine in the mine museum in Jerome AZ - SheBuysTravel
Take a guess…It’s a washing machine! I’ll never complain about doing laundry ever again. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

4. Visit the Mine Museum

The Jerome Historical Society formed in 1953, and became a crusading force determined to keep Jerome from becoming another Old West ghost town. Not an easy feat, considering the population had dwindled from a peak of 15,000 to 50 residents. The Society operates the Mine Museum, located at the corner of Jerome Avenue and Main Street. The building was formerly the Fountain, one of many saloons that operated in the town.

The Mine Museum gives visitors a sense of what the Jerome community was like, with exhibits dedicated to the schools and emergency services as well as the town’s seedy underbelly. Proclaimed the “Wickedest Town in the West” in 1905, Jerome earned its notorious reputation because of bordellos, saloons, gambling and gunfights. The museum is open 7 days a week from 9a-5pm. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for seniors, and kids 12 and under are free.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Many of Jerome’s notorious characters, including the wealthiest madam, Jennie Bauters, did not meet pleasant ends. Wall displays at the Mine Museum include grim statistics about prostitution. Your child may or may not be ready to digest this type of info.

5. Take a Ghost or History Tour

I didn’t have time to take a guided tour of Jerome during my visit but I did check on available options. The Visitor’s Center recommended two companies:  Tours of Jerome and Ghost Town Tours. Both offer a variety of tours; detailed information is available on the company websites. I would definitely recommend calling in advance of your trip to discuss the options. Depending on the ages of your children, you’ll want to find out whether the material on the tour is G-rated or not, considering that Jerome’s history is fairly racy. Tours of Jerome advertises custom tours as an option, so it might be worthwhile to hire a guide to tailor the content for your family.

Read More: 12 Haunted Hotels in the US for a Spooky Stay!

6. Where to Eat in Jerome AZ

Lunch at Bobby D’s (The English Kitchen)

There are a number of restaurants in Jerome Arizona; I chose Bobby D’s, an excellent BBQ restaurant. It’s located in The English Kitchen building. The English Kitchen was a restaurant from 1899 until owner Charley Hong passed away in one of the booths where he regularly napped. Despite its name, The English Kitchen served chop suey and noodles back in the day.

You can smell the yummy from Bobby D’s as you’re walking along Main Street. I had a pulled pork sandwich with pasta salad. My waitress brought over a number of different sauces to dress the sandwich. She recommended a combo of mustard and jalapeno molasses. It was perfect. Always listen to the waitress.

Pulled pork sandwich and pasta salad at the English Kitchen in Jerome AZ - SheBuysTravel
You can’t go wrong with pulled pork at the Bobby D’s in Jerome, Arizona. Where’s the restaurant? Just follow your nose. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Jerome draws crowds and there are limited places to eat in town. Plan your meal before the lunch or evening rush. Or be prepared to wait. Other options in town include:

  • The Haunted Hamburger – I’ve been to Jerome twice and the wait to get into the restaurant was 45 minutes plus on both occasions. So I can’t tell you if the food’s good. But lines don’t lie. The signature Haunted Burger features green chilies and guac.
  • Grapes – operated by the same folks who run The Haunted Hamburger, Grapes is slightly more upscale. It’s undergoing renovations in 2022. Check out Clinkscale, a new restaurant/inn from the same folks.
  • The Asylum Restaurant – Too chicken to stay at the haunted Grand Hotel but want to check it out? Try the hotel’s Asylum Restaurant. They accept reservations and are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s fine dining with no published kids’ menu.

7. Check out the Cars and Bikes

By the time I got out of the restaurant, Jerome was humming with crowds and live music spilled out of the Connor Hotel. Jerome is popular with bikers and car enthusiasts. Crowds gathered to take selfies with two vehicles –  a motorcycle trimmed to resemble something out of the Mad Max movies and a classic Corvette Stingray. Apparently the affection between cars and Jerome goes back to the early history of the town. An annual event was a Monte Carlo-style road rally through the winding city streets – there are clips of it in the video at the Jerome State Historic Park.

Chesnik kaleidoscope at Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes in Jerome AZ - SheBuysTravel
Chesnik Scopes are famous wheeled kaleidoscopes and are featured at Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes. Photo credit: Lori Riley

8. Visit the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope Store

No trip to Jerome is complete until you visit Nellie Bly Scopes, billed as the world’s largest kaleidoscope store. Open since 1988, the shop is located on Main Street in the former brothel operated by the notorious town madam, Jennie Bauters. Co-owner Mary Wills is a passionate collector of kaleidoscopes. She and partner Sally Dryer (fun fact – as a child, Sally was the voice of Lucy in the Peanuts cartoons!) feature the work of 90 talented kaleidoscope artists.

kaleidoscopes on display in Nelly Bly scopes, a fun thing to do in Jerome AZ
Some of the totally groovy kaleidoscopes you can play with at Nelly Bly Scopes. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

I spoke with one of the artists, Lori Riley, who crafts charming kaleidoscope necklaces. Lori was born into a kaleidoscope family; her mother Janice founded famous Chesnik Scopes. I asked Lori why Mary chose quirky Jerome instead of nearby and very popular Sedona. Lori said Mary lives in Jerome and believes the community is a “very large dysfunctional family” in the sense that you might not always get along, but when you need anything, everyone’s there to help. Support like that is hard to find.

Nelly Bly Scopes is a “please touch the merchandise” store. The friendly clerks are happy to show you how to operate the different styles of kaleidoscopes. And don’t leave without having someone take your kaleidoscope selfie!

junked truck and ghost town house at Gold King Mine in Jerome AZ - SheBuysTravel
Although the Gold King Mine resembles a junkyard, every item was chosen for a unique property, detailed on signs – just like in a museum! Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

9. Visit Gold King Mine

Just above Jerome is the curious Gold King Mine. Known as Haynes, it was home to about 300 miners during the boom years. The current attraction was developed over the course of 30 years by owner Don Robertson. He acquired a lot of stuff: trucks, cars, buildings – even a sawmill. Robertson passed away in 2016 and the Gold King Mine is now operated by his daughter and son-in-law. They’re continuing the family tradition. This year, they’ll be heading cross country to retrieve a pre-World War II, 35,000 pound hammer called Neil’s Belmont Pond – Thor would be jelly!

I enjoyed wandering around, taking photographs of the old, rusty vehicles and the buildings that looked like a strong wind would blow them down. At the Gold King Mine, kids can pan for gold, feed animals in the petting zoo and hop on dad’s shoulders for a peek down the original gold mine shaft. And there’s a gift shop with silly souvenirs begging to be bought with allowance money. It deserves a spot on your list of things to do in Jerome AZ.

If you think you have hoarding tendencies, one trip to the Gold King Mine will cure you.

Hotels Near Jerome

You can stay in Jerome at the historic (and allegedly haunted) Grand Hotel, if you dare. Because I was exploring the Verde Valley and nearby Sedona and I didn’t want to deal with going up and down the winding mile every day, I stayed in Cottonwood, Arizona, at the Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, a Thousand Trails property.

I never considered staying at a campground because I don’t camp and I don’t own an RV (although renting an RV seems like fun.)

But I encourage you to investigate, particularly if you’re traveling with small children. The Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort has several small cabins and tiny houses available to rent. And average nightly rates are a very budget-friendly $150. Plus you get the convenience of an equipped kitchen, living room, covered outdoor space with fire pit and access to the campground’s clubhouse, pool, hot tub, playground and mini golf course.

Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort cabin, a Thousand Trails property - SheBuysTravel
My cozy and comfy cabin. I didn’t know that campgrounds have cabin rentals available. It was a very pleasant surprise! Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Benefits of a Campground Cabin Rental

I was traveling solo, so I appreciated the fact that the campground was secured with a staffed guardhouse. My cabin was very clean and comfortable as were the public grounds and facilities. Every morning, I’d head over to the clubhouse to have a cup of coffee and take advantage of the free WiFi. I enjoyed eavesdropping on the groups of RVers who gathered to swap their road warrior stories. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotel lobbies, and I’ve never heard animated discussions about the pros and cons of visiting the San Juan Islands or horror stories about RV septic systems!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Thousand Trails has a membership program to access discounted rates. If you’re planning a long summer road trip and will stay at a number of campgrounds along the way, you’ll definitely want to check out the potential savings.

Cathy Bennett Kopf serves as the Daily Editor of SheBuysTravel, reporting to Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards. She began travel writing after serving as the unofficial (and unpaid) vacation coordinator for hundreds of family and friend trips. She launched her blog, The Open Suitcase, in 2012 and joined the SBT (formerly TravelingMom) team in 2016. A lifelong resident of New York, Cathy currently resides in the scenic Hudson River Valley. She’s a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the International Travel Writers Alliance and TravMedia.
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12 responses

  1. This was an unexpected surprise when when we driving from Phoenix to Flagstaff. My wife and 2 daughters enjoyed visiting and sight seeing for a while before heading out, and we wanted to come back again sometime to see more of the “attractions”. I could only imagine what it must have been “back in the day” and I can only imagine what one could learn with a longer visit… some probably true and some probably “tall tale” but am pretty sure it would all be interesting.

    1. We’re glad it was a memorable stop!

  2. How do you take a kaleidoscope selfie.

    1. Definitely try this…you will need assistance. Pose, while your assistant puts the eyepiece of the kaleidoscope up to the lens of the camera shoots the photo!

  3. We have family in Phoenix and stumbled on Jerome about 10 years ago, we still go back when we can. The review by you hit the nail on the head, we enjoy staying at the Connor Hotel and visiting the local businesses, worth the trip

  4. 5

  5. how did you snap the kaleidoscope photo?

    1. Place your subject at the wide end of the kaleidoscope, then hold your cell phone camera lens up to the part you’d normally hold against your eye! It’s a fun selfie!

  6. I need to just book a trip to Arizona. There are so many sites I hadn’t even considered! Thanks for sharing.

  7. I actually rode my Harley from Phoenix to this area — and so beautiful (and such a relief from the unbearable heat of June in the city). And I love any story that includes ghosts. 🙂

  8. Did the BBQ place have veggie options?

    1. Indeed. Salads and a veggie burger. Or you could make a meal out of the onion rings!