Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Gila Bend, AZ

  • Published 2023/03/14

The best things to do in Gila Bend, Arizona, take you to a haven of history, nature, and adventure.

Established in 1872, Gila Bend is one of the first settlements in Maricopa County.

The town of Gila Bend takes its name from the river’s sharp bend, which played an essential role in the region’s early history.

Since Gila Bend is on a historic travel route, many travelers have rested there for ages.

In 1879, the town relocated four miles southwest to take advantage of the railroad’s economic opportunities.

Stout’s Hotel in Gila Bend, Arizona, which had its own ice production facility, was a popular pit stop for travelers in the 1920s and 1930s.

You may find many national and historical landmarks and some genuinely out-of-this-world accommodations here.

Here are the best things to do in Gila Bend, AZ:

See Gigantic Cacti at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Welcome sign of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument pays homage to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and its inhabitants with its designation as an International Biosphere Reserve.

It signifies the region’s long history of desert habitation.

With mountains and grasslands as the backdrop, you may take a solitary drive or trek into the countryside. Camp under a star-filled sky, or enjoy the Southwest’s warmth and natural splendor.

Once you arrive at the park, the Ajo Mountain Beautiful Loop and North Puerto Blanco Drive are two options for scenic drives.

Scenic landscape of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


You may reach the Ajo Mountains through moderate hiking on Ajo Mountain, which has a circumference of 21 miles.

A 10-mile in-and-out drive takes you to North Puerto Rico.

You’ll have plenty of chances to see Organ Pipe and Saguaro cactus along both routes.

There are picnic places and hiking paths near both courses.

Tentacle-like cactus at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Gaelyn Olmsted /

You’ll need a permit to get to Dripping Springs from North Puerto Blanco Dr. (see map attached).

At the Kris Eggle Visitor Center, you may purchase a license for your visit.

A maximum of five vehicles are permitted to enter at a time.

You may reach the park’s Visitor Center by driving south on Highway 85 from Gila Bend, Arizona.

Closeup of a tall cactus at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Jon Manjeot /

Take Snaps by the Gila Bend Welcome Sign

You’ll notice the Gila Bend Welcome Sign when you first arrive at Gila Bend.

The hand-painted sign shows how many “friendly people” and “old crabs” are currently living in the area.

If you’re lucky, an old crab may come out and tell you to leave town.

Keep on the lookout for the town’s numerous roadside sculptures and the amusing welcome sign.

Bring your camera and snap a few pictures of the road signs!

Visit the Gila Bend Visitor’s Center and Museum

This modest museum, which you can find right off the main street, includes a wealth of historical knowledge.

During World War II, the region was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans suspected of aiding the Japanese army.

The museum displays many objects and images from the area’s indigenous cultures, ceramics, and ancient artifacts.

The heart of Gila Bend has a tourist center and museum.

At the museum, you may find more than 2,000 relics from the old Papago people (now known as the Tohono O’odham).

The museum also features the Oatman Massacre location, where a family was slain, and two little girls kidnapped.

Look Back on a Tragedy at the Oatman Massacre Site

Daytime view of the Oatman Massacre Site

Marine 69-71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the 1851 Oatman Massacre, killers ambushed the Oatman family while traveling on the Gila Trail.

The attack occurred on a cliff overlooking the Gila River, located 26 miles west of Gila Bend in a lonely desert area.

Only three members of the Oatman family escaped the slaughter, but one of them eventually died.

The site of the massacre is marked with a small rock pile and a sign, which is still distant and barren.

Marker of the Oatman Massacre Site

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The bluff’s edge still has a smattering of crosses.

A cemetery mound among a clump of trees just east of the site marks the final resting place of the family.

Many farm roads leading to the graveyard are now under new ownership, making access difficult.

You can see the memorial and the surrounding desert environment only via an unpaved road.

Bring four-wheel-drive vehicles or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to the area.

Pay Respects to the Fallen at the 9/11 Memorial Park

The 9/11 Memorial Park in Gila Bend has a centerpiece comprising a steel beam salvaged from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

They found the item near Ground Zero.

The park’s original goal was a peaceful respite for people to reflect and remember.

Today, you’ll see the American, Arizonan, GB Fire Department, and POW-MIA flags at the park, which also has a tiny reflection pool with waterfalls.

Picnic tables and benches are scattered around the park, some built into the piled stone walls.

In 2016, they placed additional shaded sections and sod in the park as part of a revamping effort.

The park commemorates those killed and the men and women who gave their lives to save others during the attacks.

Cruise the Agua Caliente Loop

If you want to see the region’s core, this 128-mile loop should be on your itinerary. Starting in any direction is an excellent option because it is a loop.

If you’re coming from Gila Bend, head north on I-8 to Rocky Point Road (also known as Painted Rock Road).

There are plenty of picture opportunities in and around the area, including mineral-rich hot springs, lava rock fields, and adobe structures.

The property also has a disused mine and shaft.

Agua Caliente Road is also the northern boundary for the Woolsey Peak Wilderness Area, so watch out for the wildlife!

Become an Astronaut at the Best Western Space Age Lodge

Signage of the Best Western Space Age Lodge

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This hotel has a space motif, decorated in a retro-space age style.

However, the rooms have been modernized to meet today’s standards of comfort.

Exterior of the Best Western Space Age Lodge

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The Space Age Lodge on East Pima Road in Gila Bend, Arizona, is one of a kind since it’s in the middle of the Arizona desert.

Spend the night here after a long day of driving.

It also has a futuristic restaurant noted for its earthy American and Mexican cuisine.

Two queen bed hotel room in Best Western Space Age Lodge

melissamn /

Cool Down at Burleson Park

Burleson Park presents ample green space in town, with a swimming pool and various recreational activities.

The park has the area’s biggest public swimming pool if you’re looking for a place to cool down.

An excellent baseball field is also available for your family or friends.

In addition, this park features picnic tables and a grilling area, so you and your family may have a pleasant picnic here.

The park also hosts mud bog races and other fun activities.

It’s a terrific opportunity to meet people from the area and a low-cost, fun getaway for the whole family.

Do Fun Activities at the Gila Bend Rodeo Grounds

This family-friendly rodeo in Gila Bend, Arizona, takes place over two days.

Join the locals in commemorating one of the most storied stages in American history.

In addition to barrel racing and roping, watch steer riding during the rodeo.

The second day of Butterfield Stage Days features a community potluck, races and contests, and bouncy houses.

Go Camping at the Sonoran Desert RV Park

A parked RV at Sonoran Desert RV Park

Pi-Lens /

After a day of exploring the Sonoran Desert’s stunning and diverse landscape, you may wheel your rig into this desert paradise.

Both I-8 and AZ 85 provide simple on/off access, making it a very accessible location.

Big-rig-friendly pull-thru sites are spread around the campsite, and they’re all spacious, 100-foot full-hookups.

Relax in the heated pool or take in the awe-inspiring views of the desert and the night sky from your campsite.

The 4,000-square-foot Canine Corral features three separate corrals for Fido’s enjoyment (two with grassy areas).

Even though you’re only an hour away from Phoenix, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you take in the stunning sunset.

The Sonoran Desert RV Park takes pride in providing a peaceful environment for its guests by requiring them to retire to their RVs by 10:00 p.m.

Bring Home a Piece of the Town from Gila Bend Cactus & Stuff

Visiting Cactus N Stuff is like visiting an art museum, except that everything is for sale.

There are a lot of one-of-a-kind goods here.

Among the goods for sale are antiques from Arizona and handcrafted metal Western artwork.

Everything from blankets to blown glass, pottery, wood carvings, and pots is available.

It also features an ice cream shop and a cafe with shaded seating.

Plus, the staff are friendly and accommodating.

If you’re ever passing through or stopping in Gila Bend, don’t forget to check out Cactus N Stuff.

Buy gifts for your loved ones to cherish forever.

Join the Fun at the Gila Bend 4th of July Celebration

Celebrating American independence, the town puts on a huge annual show during the Gila Bend 4th of July Celebration, which has been going on for decades.

The full-day celebration features lots of fun and prizes, contests, live entertainment, swimming, and more.

A huge fireworks display highlights the celebration, which has drawn the attention of locals and tourists alike to celebrate the 4th in Gila Bend.

Kids can enjoy the water slides and many other kid-friendly activities.

Contests include its traditional Mud-Bog races, watermelon-eating contests, and more.

The Gila Bend 4th of July Celebration also offers free hotdogs and drinks for everyone!

Go on Off-Road Driving at the Big Horn Trail

Assuming that you have the right vehicle for off-road driving, you can have fun while exploring this side of the desert at the Big Horn Trail.

The 33.6-mile loop trail features mostly sandy washes throughout the drive with lots of wildlife to see.

Although most of the turns at the Big Horn Trail have no clear markings, you just have to pause a little and check the map or GPS closely.

The drive takes about 4 to 5 hours to finish as most turns are challenging, but the entire drive is a whole lot memorable with your friends and loved ones.

Its trailhead is just a little off Interstate 8.

Have a Tasty Pizza at Little Italy Pizza Italian Restaurant

Pizza, anyone?

Whether you want it for lunch, snacks, or dinner, Little Italy Pizza Italian Restaurant serves the best pizza in town!

Try its best-selling and popular pizza in all flavors, which are award-winning throughout the years since the restaurant started in 2003.

Also, the restaurant’s pasta and salads are to be had.

It’s also worth noting that Prince Harry came here to eat in 2011 during his

Little Italy Pizza Italian Restaurant was founded by Nino and Marie Buccellato, who were both natives of Italy.

Grab Your Quick Coffee Fix at Love’s Travel Stop

Although Love’s Travel Stop isn’t a typical coffee house, it’s the best spot in town to grab your favorite cup of coffee, especially when you’re doing a pit stop.

There’s also a big creamer machine at the store, as well as a variety of snacks to choose from to pair with your coffee.

Apart from coffee and snacks, it’s also a good stop for fuel, bathroom breaks, parking, and more.

So if you’re making a quick stop for coffee, Love’s Travel Stop is your place to be!

It’s located off West Pima Street.

Check Out the Shawmut Trainspotting Loop

If you’re a lover of trains, Gila Bend’s Shawmut Trainspotting Loop is a perfect sight to admire.

It follows the Southern Pacific Railroad, which is considered an American historic icon.

The railroad has been hauling freight since its establishment in the 1870s.

Although the new locomotives have stopped using steam and coal like before, they still carry the iconic emblem of the sun setting over a railroad track.

The Shawmut Trainspotting Loop may not be well-marked, but it’s a great spot for railroad and train aficionados.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See Ancient Markings at the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

Exhibit of Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

Marine 69-71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While in this old archaeological site, you can’t help but fantasize about extraterrestrial life.

The Painted Rock Petroglyph is in Dateland, Arizona, 30 minutes from Gila Bend.

The ancient site features hundreds of petroglyphs engraved onto rocks.

The faces of these massive boulders are covered in etchings and inscriptions from indigenous peoples and other historical visitors.

Etchings on boulders at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

Marine 69-71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native American tribes in southern Arizona revere this location as vital and sacred land.

Refrain from climbing or marking the rocks because it is an archaeological site.

A brief interpretive route circles the petroglyph site at the campground’s day-use area, which features two shaded picnic spots and educational displays.

This location offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, bird viewing, and stargazing.

Inscriptions on rocks at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

Shereth, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore the Sonoran Desert National Monument

Daytime view of Sonoran Desert National Monument /

See the spectacular Sonoran Desert scenery at the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

It’s in Maricopa, Arizona, 23 minutes from Gila Bend.

The monument preserves a substantial chunk of one of North America’s most ecologically diverse deserts, the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.

A giant saguaro cactus forest is among its many plant species.

Located in the Maricopa Mountains, the Sand Tank Mountains, Table Top Mountains, and the Booth and White Hills are three unique mountain ranges separated by vast valleys.

You may find many major archaeological and historical sites and relics of numerous key ancient pathways at the monument.

Go Fishing at Gillespie Dam

Structure of the Gillespie Dam

Gaelyn Olmsted /

You may find a collapsed dam spanning the Gila River.

This is Gillespie Dam, found in Arlington, Arizona, 26 minutes from Gila Bend.

On the Gila River’s lower reaches, a famous bridge immediately below the dam spans the highway.

When Gillespie Dam was still operational, they used the river’s water for agriculture.

At present, Gillespie Dam acts as a tourist attraction for locals and interested travelers alike.

You might go fishing for bass and crappies, or you could even kayak.

On the dam’s both sides, the sheer volume of water has formed a wetland.

With a little pullout, visitors may get a good look at the bridge and the fallen dam.

Admire Gila Bend from the Gillespie Dam Bridge

The trail of Gillespie Dam Bridge

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The old US 80 Highway passes across the Gila River at the Gillespie Dam Bridge, spanning the distance between Arlington and Gila Bend.

This bridge is in Arlington, 26 minutes from Gila Bend.

Established in 1927 as a Federal Aid Project, the bridge is a distinctive and magnificent reflection of Arizona’s rich heritage and America’s transportation history.

The bridge is a noteworthy technological achievement in twentieth-century engineering design and construction.

Welcome sign of Gillespie Dam Bridge

Marine 69-71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Maricopa County Department of Transportation rehabilitated the bridge in the winter of 2011.

The development of this interpretative plaza was part of the project’s designation as an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project in 2012.

The bridge’s magnificent vistas draw many tourists.

Side view of Gillespie Dam Bridge

Marine 69-71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

Are you looking for a unique day trip or weekend getaway?

With its extensive history, deserts, cactus, and hiking paths, Gila Bend is a great place for a day of outdoor enjoyment.

Book your Gila Bend trip today!

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