There are lots of cool things to do in Kingman Arizona, and driving through during a Route 66 Road Trip is just the beginning. The town has a rich history, and is located not far from the western end of the Grand Canyon. Whether you’re a family with a minivan full of kids who need some distraction, some outdoorsy types looking for some desert exploring, or are just plain curious, Kingman offers plenty to see and do.
Kingman: Intriguing Layers of History
Although the town now known as “Kingman” was first established in the 1880s as a stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, the region has deeper roots. Native American peoples, including the Hualapai, Havasupai and Mojave have occupied these lands for centuries. Later, Spaniards in search of gold passed through these parts.
Fun Fact: Kingman was originally a settlement on “Beale’s Wagon Road,” an 1857 precursor to Route 66!
Beale’s Wagon Road & the Camel Corps
In 1857, surveyor Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale passed through this area with a unique crew: camels! His objective: to develop a wagon route west on or near the 35th parallel. Because of the desert terrain, Beale had the creative idea to use camels instead of horses–and it worked!
Ultimately the road ran from Arkansas to California and became the first federally funded highway in the Southwest. It was a big hit with cattle drovers, sheepherders and anyone looking to bring goods westward.
The Railroad Years: Kingman is Born
Another surveyor, Louis Kingman, used Beale’s Wagon Road as a guide when assessing the area in 1880. This time the job was for Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (which would later become the Santa Fe Railroad). The town is named for Kingman. (Beale needed a better PR firm!). The first train pulled up to “Kingman” in 1883, with about 100 passengers on board. Kingman quickly became an important hub for ranchers and miners in the area.
On the road again . . . Route 66 and beyond
Once again using prior routes as a guide, the federal government established US Highway 66 in 1926. For the decades that followed, Kingman became an important stopping point for the more than 200,000 people who traveled Route 66 in search of a new beginning in the wake of the Great Depression. By mid-century, this town, with its roots in Native American peoples and, of all things, camels, had found its place in Road Trip history.
Things to do in Kingman Arizona
Knowing the town’s history helps put things into perspective, and also explains some of the unique things to do in Kingman Arizona. Activities and attractions range from sights related to the town’s history to ziplining over the Grand Canyon.
1. & 2. Historic Powerhouse/Visitors Center: Start Here!
This historic Powerhouse building should be FIRST on your list of things to do in Kingman Arizona. As the name implies, it was at one time the source of electrical power for the town, as well as the construction of Hoover Dam. After being mothballed for decades it was renovated in 1997 and repurposed as a multi-purpose facility that caters to visitors (like you and me!)
In addition to housing the Kingman Visitor Center (where you can get advice and brochures on all the local attractions), the Powerhouse is also home to Arizona Route 66 Museum & Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum (see below). On top of that, there’s an awesome gift shop (a terrific collection of Route 66 memorabilia), and there are two model trains on tracks that circle the inside of the building.
3. Arizona Route 66 Museum
Located in the Historic Powerhouse visitors complex, this museum tells the story of depicts travel along the 35th parallel–the route that began with Native American trade routes and ultimately became Route 66. If, like most of us, you are traveling along Route 66, this museum is a must among things to do in Kingman Arizona.
Through a series of murals, photos and life-size dioramas, visitors journey through history with Native Americans and US Army-led survey expeditions (remember the “Camel Corps”?). A particularly poignant exhibit depicts the anguish of dust bowl refugees as they traversed the “Mother Road” west in search of a better life. But things end on an upbeat note as you stroll through a Main Street America display, complete with a Studebaker–(a version similar to the quirky model that was used in The Muppet Movie), heralding the joy of road tripping on Route 66.
4. Historic Downtown Kingman Walking Trail
If a drive along Route 66 has you itching to stretch your legs a bit, take a walk through Historic Downtown Kingman. The town has more than 40 sights and buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places. In addition to locations open to the public (which are listed in this post), there are several other points of interest to see, including the Mojave County Courthouse, the former Masonic Temple, and a little red schoolhouse.
Walking tour guides are available at the Powerhouse Visitors Center.
5. Mohave Museum of History & Arts
For a break from all the Route 66 and railroad history, stop in to the Mohave Museum. This museum is dedicated to preserving all aspects of the heritage of Northwestern Arizona in a format accessible to the public. There are exhibits illustrating prehistoric times, mining and ranching, with a LOT of memorabilia hanging on walls and stacked on shelves.
The museum also celebrates Andy Devine, a local boy turned 1930s movie star. This museum may not be everyone’s idea of things to do in Kingman Arizona, but if the “good old days” is your cup of tea, you’ll find it entertaining.
6. & 7. Visit (& Hike) Camp Beale Spring
Although named after Lt. Edward Beale, the springs here had been used by Native Americans for centuries. Camp Beale Springs was established in 1871 by U.S. Infantry to provide protection along the nearby toll road, as well as supply station for the local Hualapai Indians.
The site is located just west of town. A parking permit is required, but is free and available at the Powerhouse Visitors Center.
8. Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum
If you thought Kingman had its head fully in the past, think again. Despite gasoline-focused Route 66 and coal-fired locomotives this museum, the brainchild of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation, is on a mission to show us how we can look back while still thinking of the future.
Tucked into the ground floor of the Powerhouse Visitor complex, the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum showcases the history of electric vehicles (which goes back a lot further than you might think). Move over, Tesla, the first example here dates from 1909! Pride of place goes to the Buckeye Bullet, a battery-powered rocketship-esque beauty that reached 320 mph 😱 on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2011. If you’re looking to get a charge (see what I did there?) out of things to do in Kingman Arizona, then head over to this unique museum.
9. Bonelli House Museum
The Bonelli House, which was built in 1915, provides an excellent example of Anglo-territorial architecture at the turn of the 20th century. The house was unique at the time because it was built to be both fire-proof and safe for the family (their original home had burned down.
The house is constructed of fire-resistant plaster and Tufa stone that was quarried locally. To ensure both ventilation (and potentially a quick exit, every room had an exit door (both upstairs and downstairs) to the veranda. The house also had a (very) early version of “air-conditioning”: The cupola on the roof drafted the hot air upward and out the roof. (We once rented a house in the Caribbean with the same type of structure–it really works to cool things off!)
10. Kingman Locomotive Park
Climb up into the cab of an old steam engine! Locomotive Park is home to famed Steam Engine #3759. This coal-burning locomotive was built in 1928 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works (in our hometown of Philadelphia 😊) and served on a passenger run for the Santa Fe Railway between Kansas City and Los Angeles.
PRO TIP: A visit to the Locomotive Park is one of the free things to do in Kingman, Arizona
In 1957, the Railway presented number 3759 to City of Kingman as a historical monument. (Just a few years earlier the coal burning trains were replaced by diesel power. In 1987 Kingman added a colorful caboose to the park, which is located just across the road from the Powerhouse Visitors Center. If your idea (or your kids’ idea) of fun things to do in Kingman Arizona involves choo choos, this is definitely for you. 😊🚂
9. & 10. Kingman Railroad Station & Museum
All Aboard, Trainspotters! More railroad-y things to do in Kingman Arizona . . . This historic train station was built in 1907 and renovated in 2011. The white stucco structure trimmed in bright orange paint is a landmark that occupies pride of place, wedged between Route 66 and the tracks. Inside is a museum of model trains, which is ever-evolving.
PRO TIP: Check out the Kingman Station live trainspotting cam for a preview of what you’ll see when you visit!
Outside, you can stand on the platform and do some real-life trainspotting, where freight trains from BNSF pass by regularly. If you time your visit just right, you might get to see Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which runs twice a day from Chicago to LA (does that line sound familiar???😉) and back. It’s the same train that passes by La Posada in Winslow.
11.Hike the White Cliffs Wagon Trail–Ruts n’ all!
Just north of town is an old wagon route that was once used to bring ore from one of the nearby mines down to the railroad for transport. At the base of the White Cliffs the wagon route of the same name dates to the late 1800s. Over time the heavily-laden wagons cut trails into the stone road–so much so that the ruts are still very much in evidence 125 years later!
There are currently two trails (both loops) for hiking: a roughly 1-mile beginner trail and a 2.4-mile intermediate trail. Both begin and end along the rutted wagon road. A small parking lot with water fountain is located at the trailhead. If you are looking for outdoor activities in Kingman, Az, this is a good option.