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Exploring Oatman, Arizona and Historic Route 66

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

A few weeks ago, we embarked on a back road adventure in Arizona, a state we had never explored before. We hiked, camped, and explored Grand Canyon National Park, swam in the icy waters of Lake Havasu, and meandered along historic route 66. One of our favorite discoveries along route 66 was the kitschy little town of Oatman, Arizona. Have you heard of it?

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

My dad, who lives in Arizona, has been mentioning Oatman for years, and what always stuck in my head was the fact that feral burros roam the streets, begging the tourists for food. The burros of Oatman are descendants of the original beasts of burden that worked the gold mines during Oatman’s heyday, more than 100 years ago. 

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

I’m a huge animal lover, so when we planned our Arizona trip over the winter, I put Oatman right at the top of my list.

A Brief History of Oatman, Arizona

Oatman was sparsely settled starting in 1863, when a small bit of gold was discovered in the surrounding Black Mountains. Not much came of the discovery until two lucky prospectors struck it rich in 1915, with a 10 million dollar claim. The town grew rapidly after that, and in the course of a single year the tiny tent village became a town of 3,500 people. The town prospered during a decade-long gold rush, but when the mines dried up, so did everything else. The town’s biggest mine closed in 1924, and by the early 1960s, the whole area was all but abandoned. 

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

An revitalized interest in historic route 66 saved the town from demise, and while it may not be thriving, it’s got a lot to offer visitors looking for that kitschy slice of Americana.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

Visiting Oatman, Arizona

Take a tour of an iconic Arizona ghost town that refuses to die... Oatman Click To Tweet

The Oatman of today is home to just 128 people and a handful of burros, but tourists have fallen in love with this Arizona ghost town. It’s quite inconveniently located on historic route 66, but the road is a destination in its own right, and perfect for back road ramblers like us. Main Street through Oatman is tiny, with just a handful of junk stores, restaurants, and gift shops that are entirely dependent on tourist dollars. An afternoon is all you’ll need to explore thoroughly, but if you have time, I recommend meandering along the back roads, which will give you a glimpse of the hardscrabble life that existed here in years past.

But first, park your car on the street, and take a tour of an iconic Arizona ghost town that refuses to die. Here’s the plan for a perfect day in Oatman, Arizona:

  • Feed the burros. You can bring carrots or buy “burro chow” at just about any shop. The burros know the drill and will happily beg for food. Some are a bit too bold, though, so be careful. They’ll chase you down if they know you’ve got carrots in your pocket.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

  • Eat at the Oatman Hotel. Or at least go in and have a look around. Inside the restaurant every square inch of wall and ceiling space is covered with dollar bills. I didn’t get a good picture, but it’s really incredible. You can also visit the honeymoon suite of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard while you’re there. They married in 1939, and their suite of rooms is still a major attraction.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

  • Indulge in Ice Cream at the Olive Oatman Ice Cream Parlor. Just make sure you keep your cones away from the four-legged scavengers.
  • Watch the gunslingers at noon. Traffic is stopped every day for this grand event — a wild west shootout, just like in the movies.
  • Buy some prickly pear gummy candy at the Oatman Candy Shoppe. It’s pricey, but it makes a great gift for your house sitter back home.
  • Fry eggs on the sidewalk. But only if you visit on the 4th of July.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

More Fun on Historic Route 66

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

Oatman is just one of the fun places to explore on historic route 66 in Arizona. If you just can’t stop back road adventuring, here are some more places to check out:

  • The Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona
  • Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s an awesome college town with a lot going on — good restaurants, shopping, and lodging. More on Flagstaff in a later post…
  • Rock Art Ranch. Located in Joseph City, this is a privately owned canyon and ranch with one of the most extensive petroglyph collections in the whole world.

Have you explored Oatman, Arizona or historic route 66? It’s definitely one of our favorite back road adventures.

This post is part of a few Friday link-ups. If you’re looking for some weekend inspiration, check out Photo Friday and Weekend Travel Inspiration to fuel your wanderlust.

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Traveling on historic route 66? Oatman, Arizona is a ghost town that refuses to die. It embraces the wild west with wild burros and kitschy style.

 

34 Comments

  1. We are planning to drive Route 66 this fall with our new minivan turned camper. Thanks for the tip! We love animals too so will definitely put this on our list of stops.

    • I think you will find Oatman delightfully quirky! It’s fun to stay for the shoot out in the middle of the day.

  2. m

    We were here in February 2016. Many of the burros had computer-type labels stuck on their foreheads saying “do not feed me” which was both funny and sad. If you go, don’t give them your chips, cookies, carrots, etc! It’s unhealthy for them, they are still wild animals. Much fun to be had in there, be sure to get an ice cream cone at Olive Oatman’s! Plus, it’s on Historic Route 66!

  3. Oatman looks like a fascinating town, I love the old saloon signs. Think you should return to fry eggs on the sidewalk in July!
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  4. A road trip through the US is high on my list!
    beatravelling recently posted…Channel of LoveMy Profile

  5. I am going there this year and I am really excited! I have no image of how Arizona is but this is a good reference. Thanks for sharing!

  6. This is a great post. I love the part anecdote, part guide style! When I hiked Havasu Canyon a few years ago, I stopped in Seligman, AZ (off Route 66 as well) and had a blast doing some of the silly, kitschy things there too. However, it looks like you had a lot more fun and got to see a lot more! I LOVE the burros in the street! This just got added to my must-visit when I head back to the SW next fall! Cheers!

  7. As someone who grew up in Arizona, my first thought was, “Somebody’s been to Oatman?” Let alone writing about it! When I was younger, the town seemed on death’s doorstep, so it’s great to see that it survives. It’s a fun slice of yesterday! #wkendtravelinspiration

  8. Sky

    Route 66 is definitely a huge bucket-list item for me. I haven’t researched it too much yet so I’d never heard of Oatman but I’ll add it to my list. I love the “Wild West” vibe I’m getting from the photos.

  9. I know I would love Oatman, it is so fascinating, being a lover of the Wild West and who as a boy devoured books about Cowboys(The Sudden series), I am fascinated by this place.
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  10. I’d never heard of Oatman, but it sounds like a cool place to visit. Route 66 in itself is pretty cool, as you said. I was able to travel a bit on it during a road trip for my 30th birthday. It’s so iconic and a great place to spend a weekend.

  11. All sounds good but the swim in the icy water 😉 Great place, Arizona! We want definitively visit the Grand Canyon National Park, too #wkendtravelinspiration

  12. I have never heard of this place! This cute little town looks like a western movie set. I love animals too, so I would have been so excited to feed the burros. If I ever do a road trip in this area, I’ll definitely stop by.

  13. I’ve never heard of Oatman, but I would love to make it a stop on a roadtrip and feed the donkeys!

  14. Route 66 would be such a cool road trip. I hope to get the chance to do it one day. Oatman will definitely be a stop if I get the chance! And ice cream!!! I haven’t bee to Arizona, but I hear such great things about it.
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  15. I love the way you described this place – “kitschy slice of Americana” and “a ghost town that refuses to die.” The gunslinger at noon sounds so cool! My dad lives in AZ and I’ve never been on route 66 before so many next visit I will go here!

  16. What a fun town! It reminds me of a small village in the French Alps where goats roam the streets pestering visitors for food. I think I would prefer to see the burros though!

  17. There are so many interesting towns on Route 66! Oatman definitely looks like one of those towns. Plus, you get to meet burros!

  18. Wow, you had me at feral burros! I love a good ghost town and if there are donkeys wandering around, all the better!
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  19. I had never heard of Oatman until this time – but I would love to go and meet a burro in the street!
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  20. No, I have never heard of Oatman until now but I love the fact that the burros just hang out and you can enjoy them. 😉 How fun!
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  21. I haven’t been to the States but travelling along part of Route 66 is something that I have always wanted to do. Oatman looks, to me, like it could have been a film set for a cowboy town in a studio somewhere, beautiful in its own way and just waiting to be discovered.
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  22. Oatman sounds like a pretty cool place! I have been to a few of those small ghost towns in Arizona, but none where you should feed the donkeys carrots! That sounds like a lot of fun! I’ll have to keep this town in mind the next time I visit my grandparents in Arizona 🙂

  23. We enjoyed Oatman as well and we were greeted by a group of burros about a mile from Oatman on the road so had to slow down and stop to make sure we didn’t hit them. We did the full Route 66 route and this is definitely the most popular (and crowded) stretch of it. Oatman is definitely a town kept alive by tourism and the fact it is on Route 66 (tour buses stop daily over this stretch of the AZ Route 66) which also meant it was quite crowded and we found the Wild West show very loud. We ended up staying longer than planned because the gunfight started and the road was closed. The road heading east climbing up into the mountains is quite scenic although twisty!
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    • Thanks for stopping in, Jessica. We also got stuck in town during the gunfight! It was a bit of a zoo, but the quirkiness of it all made it kind of fun. We loved heading into the mountains on either side of the town. The cars and crowds seem to disappear into the air.

  24. It makes me so sad to know that Route 66 is just a shadow of its illustrious beginnings. But knowing that little places like this still exist make me smile. I love wandering around such places.
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  25. Must say that you have convinced me to add this to our list. Love the photos.
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  26. I love this post. It’s my dream to one day travel this country on the open road and see all these amazing sights this nation has to see. All I lack currently is the money to do so but I’m working on getting out of debt and making this a reality. I’m glad I came across this because now I can add yet another awesome town to my itinerary 😉 thanks so much for sharing

  27. I’ve never visited Arizona before!! Would love to go sometime. I love the visual of what it’s like!

  28. I have to say I loved Oatman. I stopped there in my route to Flagstaff once. The burros are so sweet. We watched the gunfight they do every day and while I cringe at the loud, fake gunshots, the burros stood there calmly. I guess they are used to all the craziness.
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  29. What a neat place!!! I need to put this on my “places to visit” list.

  30. It’s kind of comical to see burros on the streets of the town., isn’t it? But so much fun!!
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  31. Jim

    Cool article! We’ve got a few ghost towns up this way too. Montana is full of abandoned gold mining towns. We don’t have the burros though, that would be neat to see.
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