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This Must-See Ghost Town and Former Mining Camp Is Now a Good Place to Camp in Arizona

Suny Errot



Who knew a ghost town came with accommodations? Well, that’s just one of the many things you’d find when visiting Arizona. More than a hundred years ago, Kentucky Camp was known as the headquarters for the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company. But now, it is an overall good place to camp if you are looking for an interesting experience.

Enjoy the Evening Peace at Kentucky Camp

Arizona Kentucky Camp az

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If you happen to find yourself traveling to the scenic Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest, you better add Kentucky Camp to your itinerary list. The place is home to adobe buildings with cabins, headquarters, the assay office, and the remains of a barn.

The cabin and headquarters have been restored for public use. You can actually see it through their “Rooms with a View” program. Since the two old buildings are just 100 yards from each other, you will appreciate the privacy and tranquility of the visitor experience. The guests may rent the headquarters for day use and automatically access the cabin the night before and the night of the day use.

Night Camping

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Just clear your head, and enjoy a peaceful time here. Did we mention the night sky looks particularly stunning? The twinkling of the celestial bodies will surely give you a moment to remember.

If you want to indulge yourself in fun recreation opportunities, you can hike, mountain bike, or go horseback riding in their trails. There are gentle paths, as well as steep and strenuous trails that lead to the top of Mt. Wrightson and other nearby peaks. The Arizona Trail is routed through Kentucky Camp.

The Gold History of Kentucky Camp

Kentucky Camp mining old buildings

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This place used to be the headquarters for the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company. It was formed to extract some placer deposits from the Greaterville Mining District. Back in 1874, gold, in the form of placer was found. The miners had to haul their pay dirt in sacks to the few running streams in the area. As an alternative, they also had to haul bladders of water to their claims on the backs of some pack animals.

While the laborious effort seemed to be worthwhile, it eventually changed. By 1886, most of the miners moved on because the surrounding arroyos were dry. 16 years later, a California mining engineer named James Stetson moved in to solve the water problem. He turned the place into something more profitable by channeling seasonal runoff into a reservoir large enough to support operations. He thought it was possible to collect seasonal runoff into a nearby reservoir. So he created a permanent water source and made placer mining profitable again.

ghost town camp mining

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After that, he sold the idea to investors and they formed the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company. From there, a full-blown mining operation was born. By mid-1904, the company also began hydraulic mining and success seemed assured. However, as with the fate of most mining camps, it died out eventually. When Stetson passed away, his partners had no way of keeping the operation going for long. Since then, the place was used for cattle ranching before being sold to another mining company.

In 1989, the Forest Service acquired Kentucky Camp through a land exchange. While this didn’t restore the camp to its former golden glory, it helped restore the camp’s buildings as an interpretive mining camp with the help of volunteers.

The Journey Is Just as Memorable

Kentucky Camp road

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This place makes for a good destination for an afternoon drive from Tucson. The drive will give you a view of the scenic high-desert grasslands of scenic State Route 83. You’ll also pass by a winery and a historic ranch before turning off for the last 6 miles onto a gravel road.


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To get there, take Interstate 10 to State Route 83. It is a scenic road that is flanked by straw-colored grasses with prickly pears, mesquites, and yuccas. You will pass by the Charron Vineyards and the 160-acre homestead and cattle ranch, Empire Ranch.

The turnoff to Kentucky Camp is just 3 miles past the ranch. Be sure to look out the window and wait until the gravel road winds through waist-high grasses shaded by tall oaks. You will find a small parking area outside the gates that lead to the camp.

Have you been to Kentucky Camp before?

Before you go, check out other famous Arizona mining camps: 6 Reasons Why Jerome is the Absolute Best Ghost Town in Arizona and Visiting This Small Gold Mining Town in Arizona Will Literally Transport You Back to the Wild West.