cruise up Carefee Highway to Cave Creek, Arizona

If you find yourself in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area, a highly recommended day trip is up Interstate 17 to the historic town of Cave Creek, Arizona, and its modern sidekick, Carefree. You’ll find Cave Creek about 30 miles north of Scottsdale and Carefree immediately east of that along Arizona Highway 74–locally known as Carefree Highway (made famous in the 1974 Gordon Lightfoot song of the same name.)

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Hop onboard the free Foothills Trolley to explore Cave Creek and Carefree, Arizona.

To quickly familiar yourself with the highlights, I recommend jumping onboard the Foothills Trolley. We caught it at the Cave Creek Visitors Center, and it stops at 16 different places along its route. You can park your car or bike and use the free service to explore the highlights of this fascinating diversion.

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The Carefree Desert Gardens offer a pretty place to stroll through some desert plants and fountains.

Founded in the 1950’s as a planned community, Carefree is an artistic hub, with many galleries and gardens to enjoy. We happened to be there on a Sunday afternoon, so not much was open in Carefree, but we did enjoy a visit to the Carefree Desert Gardens, home to the one of the world’s largest sundials–spanning 62 feet and pointing to the North Star.

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Yep. There are still stagecoaches in Cave Creek, Arizona.

Arriving first in Cave Creek, we stopped at the Visitor Center and spoke to Community Outreach Coordinator, Patty Pollnow, who described Cave Creek as, “An equestrian town where people drive up to the DQ (Dairy Queen) drive thru on horseback.”

Cave Creek was founded in the 1870’s as a (gold) mining town and in the 1880’s grew to include a number of cattle ranches–a town that truly celebrates its western heritage.

Today, Cave Creek has a thriving real estate industry offering vacation rentals with western flair, and an escape from the hustle and bustle of the thriving metropolis of Phoenix.

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Cave Creek is horse friendly, motorcycle friendly, and dog friendly!

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Some of the custom bikes you’ll see cost as much as $150,000!

For the most part, horses have been replaced on the roadways by motorcycles. Lots of them! Bikers will be pleased to learn that Cave Creek is incredibly biker friendly and there are hundreds of custom motorcycles at the various watering holes along Highway 74.

tasty eats in cave creek arizona

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I really enjoyed the Bleu Burger at Big Earl’s made with Danish blue cheese and caramelized onions.

We were more into the food and galleries, so we enjoyed a burger at Big Earl’s Greasy Eats followed by a fabulous hot fudge sundae at The City Creamery.

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Expect line-ups at The City Creamery in Cave Creek, a small home-style ice-cream shop featuring a good range of chocolate specialties.

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It was neat watching operations manager Austin making ice-cream at The City Creamery on East Cave Creek Road.

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The hot fudge sundae at The City Creamery is a delicious work of art and flavour.

We found some great chocolate at the Cave Creek Olive Oil Company (olive oil infused chocolate) and at It’s a Divine Bakery (where we spoke to owner Susan Fiebig who specializes in European-style brownies.)

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Don’t miss a visit to the Rare Earth Gallery while in Cave Creek.

Another fabulous diversion in Cave Creek are the rock shops and galleries. My favourite is the Rare Earth Gallery, where you will find petrified wood and stone sculptures large and small, jewellery, and other various forms of art.

If all this makes you want to stay and play in Cave Creek or Carefree, Arizona, you might be interested in a stay at the Boulders Resort & Spa. The resort and golf course are set behind the protection of massive boulders that are estimated to be 1.4 billion years-old!

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These massive boulders are estimated to be 1.4 billion years-old!

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The Boulders Resort and Spa provides a wonderfully peaceful place to stay for a desert retreat and is just miles from Cave Creek, Arizona.

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There are two stunning golf courses at the Boulders Resort & Spa.

I found the natural surroundings of the Boulders Resort to be breathtakingly beautiful and surreal and I would love to stay there on a future visit to the area. Did I mention the Taste of Cave Creek foodie fest happening October 18-19, 2018? That would be an amazing time to visit this very special place on earth.

Have you been to Cave Creek and Carefree? Please share your experiences with us here. And join me next week for more Arizona gems.

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Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

84 Responses

  1. Laverne says:

    Its worth a day trip to Cave Creek. The burger at Big Earl’s was just what I was looking for in a burger – big and juicy. Lots of eye candy between the horses, shops, bikes, and galleries. It was great to see the massive boulders up close at The Boulders Resort too.

  2. Jo Castro
    Twitter:
    says:

    What some wonderful chocolate adventures you’re having in Arizona. I’d love to visit Cave Creek … and more. Ahh, one of these days maybe I hope.

  3. Catarina says:

    Your chocolate trips are really interesting. Arizona looks like a beutiful place to visit with good food.

  4. Phoenicia
    Twitter:
    says:

    Given the snow we have had in the UK I could do with some time in the sunshine. Your photographs are rather enticing.

    I would not mind having a ride on the foothills trolley though I imagine it is slow enough to take in the scenery.

    Did the hot fudge sundae taste as nice as it looked? Very well presented too.

    Beautiful setting for a retreat – time out from everyday life. No cooking or household chores- bliss!

  5. Kemkem
    Twitter:
    says:

    OMG, I would love to have a go at that sundae. It looks amazing. Cave Creek sounds like a place l would enjoy very, very much. It looks idyllic.

  6. Jackie Smith
    Twitter:
    says:

    When ‘in residence’ at our timeshare in Scottsdale we make regular trips to Cave Creek and its quirky shops and eateries. We’ve not completely ruled it out as a possible US base should we get serous about moving our belongings out of the storage unit in Washington State. You brought back some great memories.

  7. Sherryl Perry
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love Arizona! We’ve been a few times and have always flown into Phoenix. Sedona is my absolute favorite. Other highlights include the Grand Canyon Railway trip to the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. We haven’t made it to Scottsdale yet. We were headed there and my husband (unfortunately) let me read the map. We ended up horseback riding in the Tonto National Park instead! LOL

  8. Bola
    Twitter:
    says:

    The Sundae looks so apetising and those boulders are breathtaking!

  9. Rosalind
    Twitter:
    says:

    Oh my goodness a 62ft sundial, I am trying to imagine how one reads it!
    It looks like a great town to visit, I am especially a fan of desert spaces.

  10. noel says:

    Those boulders look amazing and when you add those food venues, wow what a fun visit this looks like!

  11. Cave Creek looks to be filled with tons of things to see and do. I’m really interested in those stagecoach rides, and wonder how much it would jostle my innards. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Judy Lawless
    Twitter:
    says:

    When we get back in the fall, I’ll have to pry Jim away from ukulele a little more to explore all these new ideas you’ve given me! We did take some friends on a trip to Scottsdale yesterday and really enjoyed it. But we were disappointed to find that Zak’s Chocolate isn’t open on Sundays! πŸ™‚

  13. Carol Colborn
    Twitter:
    says:

    I live here in Mesa, Arizona and you have gone to Cave Creek earlier than I have! Too bad I won’t be here October or that would have been the time to go! I will venture out sooner then.

  14. Ernie Bunch says:

    You’ve just got to love our great little Town!
    Ernie Bunch

  15. Phoenix
    Twitter:
    says:

    Glorious scenery and amazing food! Thanks for sharing another grand adventure with all your readers!

  16. Carefree definitely sounds worth a visit. I love sundials, so Desert Gardens attracts my attention and I’d love to stay at that Boulders Resort. Sounds like it could be a real carefree travel day!

  17. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    I have spent a lot of time in the Great Phoenix area, but have not yet made it to Cave Creek. Maybe I can fix that when I’m there this April.

  18. Denny George says:

    As a non american, I find reading your blog interesting since you bring alive all the smaller places in US, which the rest of the world has probably never heard about. Cave creek sounds like a place best suited for a relaxed holiday. The old style ice cream making looks and sounds really interesting.

  19. Beverly says:

    I really enjoyed seeing all the spectacular photographs displayed throughout your article about Cave Creek. The photographs along with your written description really make me want to visit the location.

  20. Cave Creek and Carefree Highway are the stuff of fun, light English novels! How I’d love to visit this place at least once – it sounds so quirky and lovely! Great read! πŸ™‚

  21. I haven’t yet made it to Arizona, other than a brief overnight in Phoenix when my flight was delayed! The more I read about Arizona and places like Cave Creek, the more I want to go! The Boulders Resort and Spa looks amazing! I’d love to stay there.

  22. Doreen, It was such a pleasure to meet you while you were in Cave Creek. The article you wrote of our favorite little western Town is fantastic!! We are very proud of our Town and keeping it “western” is very important to us. Please come back to see us again.

  23. Been there and enjoyed that! My husband’s best friend–from Pittsburgh–has lived in Cave Creek for a long time. Harold’s Bar is a must when we visit because of all things Steeler that exist there. Yes, that black & gold can be found worldwide. I, too, enjoyed the dining options!

  24. Claire says:

    Sounds like a lovely place to visit and oh the ice-cream looks good! Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  25. Cave Creek looks like a great place to visit with a bit of history and some wonderful scenery. It would be amazing to be there for the food festival.

  26. Jeri
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for highlighting Cave Creek and surrounding areas. It looks ripe for adventures.

  27. We were delighted to meet you and your friend Doreen! We thank you so much for your patience as we were pretty busy that day, but so happy you enjoyed our homemade hot fudge sundae as much as we do!
    Cheers!

  28. jane
    Twitter:
    says:

    Even the name Carefree would make a good excuse for a road trip. And those custom motorcycles were pretty cool to see, too.

  29. It’s always fun to leave the big city and explore. Looks like you hit the jackpot in Arizona with Cave Creek and Carefree. I agree with taking the hop-on/hop-off trolley or bus when you arrive in a new location for ease of exploring and to hear the narrative. The natural beauty there is amazing too!!

  30. This sounds like a great place for a vacation. I’ve been to Scottsdale but haven’t ventured too much beyond the area. That ice cream looks really good! Great pics.

  31. Lord says:

    Olive oil infused chocolate sounds yummy!!!

  32. Umang
    Twitter:
    says:

    $150,000 for a bike? Wow! That’s unbelievable. Anyways, good compilation of your experience and pics.

  33. Wow, I love everything about Cave Creek. The old style dΓ©cor of the restaurant, the geography nearby. I know right now in March, I would enjoy the temperature too. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Cave Creek really is a great destination for all ages. What a fun outing!

  35. What fun, it looks like an awesome place to visit. You find some amazing spots in your travels.

  36. Michele
    Twitter:
    says:

    Boulders Resort sounds like an ideal spot to spend a week soaking up the history of this fascinating region. I love the horse-friendly attractions

  37. You certainly have a knack for finding charming spots off the beaten path. how can you not love a place with the name of Care Free? I bet there’s some picturesque hiking in the area as well. Great find.

  38. I haven’t been to that part of Arizona, but Cave Creek looks really fun. I’d love to see the petrified wood and stone sculptures at the Rare Earth Gallery.

  39. Jerome Shaw
    Twitter:
    says:

    It must be great fun to travel in search of great chocolate. The chocolate infused olive oil sounds intriguing. What did you think of it?

  40. Sandy N Vyjay
    Twitter:
    says:

    The Cave Creek looks like a fascinating place for a day trip. The stagecoach and the horses bring alive the romance of the Wild West to which I was addicted through books and Hollywood blockbusters. The desert garden sounds like an intriguing place to explore. The trolley too looks like a great way to explore the area. Finally the Fudge Sundae looks so inviting!

  41. I love Cave Creek! It’s a great excursion from Scottsdale. Thanks for bringing back good memories.

  42. Jessica Steffens says:

    What a beautiful place of Cave Creek Arizona. This place is perfect place to having a day trip. Hope to visit it someday to look the breathtakingly natural beauty of the place.

  43. mukesh
    Twitter:
    says:

    nice blog about travels.
    i like your blog photo and contents.

  44. Rhia Gurney says:

    Good info, great site. Nice article about Carefree and area. Keep it up! Many thanks for sharing.

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