Gun Smoke and Gambling – Your Complete Guide to a Great Day at Old Tucson Studios

The Stagecoach at Old Tucson in Arizona

Old Tucson, the movie set turned theme park, was once the second-most visited destination in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. Here’s everything you need to know before you visit.


The southern Arizona town of Tucson only gets an average of 11.6 inches of rain a year. And during our recent three-day visit, I’m fairly certain they’ve already received their entire annual allotment. Little did I know that the three years of Dutch weather I experienced while living in the Netherlands would prepare me for a trip to the desert!

While our visit to Old Tucson would have been much more memorable under sunny, blue skies with a smattering of clouds — and my photos would have turned out much better — we still had a lot of fun.  Here’s everything you need to know for a great day of gun smoke, gambling, and the wild, wild west at Old Tucson.

Getting to Old Tucson

On the edge of the Tucson Mountains, about 30 minutes directly west of downtown, Old Tucson is located just off West Gates Pass Road. As you drive back in time to the Old West, you’ll be treated to an amazing view of hundreds of Saguaro cacti along the twisting mountain road.

Sage Advice:  If your schedule permits, allow time for a quick hike along the Yetman, Cheops, or Rattlesnake Trails to experience the natural beauty of the area at closer range.

When to Visit Old Tucson

Old Tucson is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm through April. Because hours may change throughout the year and the park is closed for some holidays, be sure to double-check the schedule for the day of your visit on the Daily Operating Calendar.

The sheriff of Old Tucson walks down the main street of Old Tucson Studios in Tucson Arizona
There’s a new sheriff in town! An actor walks down the dusty, dirt Main Street of Old Tucson.

That’s the Ticket – Getting into Old Tucson

It’s easy to spend the whole day at Old Tucson, especially if you’re blessed with better weather than we had. Tickets are currently $19.95 for adults (12+) and $10.95 for children (4-11). There is no charge for children under the age of four.

In addition to experiencing Old Tucson’s many live performances, your ticket also includes unlimited carousel rides, antique car rides, and train rides. The only experiences that require an additional fee are Dead-Eye Dan’s Shooting Gallery, panning for gold, and the stagecoach rides. More on all of these things later…

Old Tucson is a Pet-Friendly Attraction in Tucson

If you travel with Fido, Fluffy, or Dexter the emotional support peacock, you’ll be glad to know that Old Tucson is pet-friendly. As long as your faithful, furry (or feathered) friend is friendly and kept on a leash, you are welcome to bring them along!

Sage Advice:  While the Old Tucson actors are not firing live rounds, the gunfire at the live performances may still spook your leashed traveling companion.

Step Back in Time When Visiting Old Tucson

Despite its name, and what some visitors apparently think, Old Tucson is not an original settlement from the 1830s. Rather, it’s a movie studio turned theme park.

Fun Fact:  Aided by the Papago, a native Arizona tribe, more than 50 buildings were constructed in 40 days at Old Tucson for the movie Arizona. They used the desert dirt to create more than 350,000 adobe bricks to give the sets an authentic look. After withstanding the elements for several decades, many of these original structures are still standing today.

How It All Began

Built in 1939 by Columbia Pictures for the movie Arizona (1940), Old Tucson is the filming location for more than 400 movies, television shows, commercials, and documentaries including:

  • The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman
  • The Last Round-Up (1947) featuring Gene Autry
  • Winchester ‘73 (1950) with James Stewart
  • The Last Outpost (1951) starring actor turned president Ronald Reagan
  • The High Chaparral (1967-1971) a television series with Leif Erickson and Cameron Mitchell
  • Young Billy Young (1968) featuring Robert Mitchum and Angie Dickinson
  • Little House on the Prairie the show that starred Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder during the 1970s and 1980s
  • Comedy Three Amigos (1986) starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short
  • The Why Punish the Children episode of Highway to Heaven (1987) with Michael Landon
  • Young Guns II:  Blaze of Glory (1990) featuring four heartthrobs from my teen years Emilio Estevez, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, and Kiefer Sutherland
  • Tombstone (1993) featuring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer


The Virginia Hotel at Old Tucson
The Virginia Hotel at Old Tucson

Fun Fact:  When Western movies were all the rage in the 1950s, Old Tucson was a favorite filming location and earned the nickname “Hollywood in the Desert.”

Reinventing the Wild, Wild West

Building upon his success as a land developer in Kansas City, entrepreneur Robert Shelton invested about $500,000 of his own money into Old Tucson. More than 15,000 people visited the park when it reopened in January 1960 as both a movie studio and a theme park. By 1995, Old Tucson was welcoming more visitors than any other destination in Arizona except the Grand Canyon. Additional buildings were added over time as they were needed for films and television series shot after 1960.

Up in Flames

A tragic, multiple-alarm fire in April 1995 destroyed nearly 40 buildings in the 360-acre park and caused $10 million in damage. Costumes, memorabilia, and other treasures were also lost, including the wardrobe from Little House on the Prairie.

An explosion during the Hollywood stunt demonstration at Old Tucson
These flames did NOT cause the devastating fire of 1995. Rather, it was the explosive ending to the Hollywood Stunt Demonstration at Old Tucson.

The fire that ultimately required 100 trucks and 200 firefighters before it was extinguished also took with it the only copy of a short film. Featuring rare, behind-the-scenes footage of stars like John Wayne, the short film shared the history of Old Tucson. Nearly 25 years later, the cause of the devastating fire remains unknown.

Rising from the Ashes

After nearly two years of reconstruction, Old Tucson re-opened in January 1997. The owners of Old Tucson chose not to rebuild the buildings that were destroyed in the fire, including the soundstage. However, they did add new structures to the theme park.    

Under the leadership of Gene Rudolf, the set designer for The Great Gatsby and Young Guns II, 12 new buildings were added to Old Tucson in 2011 including a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a dressmaker shop. Today these buildings are used in “living history” presentations that help provide a glimpse into life in the Old West back in the 1800s.


The Reno starred in Joe Kidd with Clint Eastwood.
Throughout Old Tucson, watch for brown framed images that show how the structure (or train in this case) was used in Hollywood.

Chugging Right Along – The Trains at Old Tucson

Used to transport people, mail, supplies, and most everything else across the country in the 1800s, trains were essential to the Old West. So it’s no surprise that trains are a big part of the Old Tucson experience.

Sage Advice: Looking for more ways to enjoy the great outdoors in this Arizona city? This list is the best of Tucson!

C.P. Huntington Train

The C.P. Huntington Train encircles Old Tucson and is a recommended first stop. You’ll not only get a glimpse of all that Old Tucson has to offer, but you’ll also get a great overview of the history of the park.

The Reno

An 1870s steam engine from the Virginia and Truckee Railroad was acquired by Old Tucson in September 1970. Nicknamed the Reno, the locomotive engine appeared as Union Pacific 119 in Wild Wild West as the final spike was driven into the first transcontinental railroad.

The Reno is on display at Old Tucson
The Reno train engine is on static display at Old Tucson.

The engine was badly damaged in the fire at Old Tucson in 1995, but it was cosmetically restored and is on static display in the northern edge of the park.

Southern Pacific Railroad Depot

Originally built about 35 miles away from Tucson in Amado, Arizona in 1880, the historic depot at Old Tucson was donated to the park in 1959 by the Southern Pacific. When it was in use, the line it serviced ran all the way from New Orleans, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California. As a movie star, the Southern Pacific railroad depot appeared in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Red River (1988).

Inside the train depot at Old Tucson
Inside the Southern Pacific railroad depot, visitors can send a telegram via Morse code.

Train Car from The Gambler

Based on one of Kenny Rogers’ most iconic songs, The Gambler featured Rogers as a seasoned gambler. Once the 1980s movie wrapped, the train car from the film was parked on the edge of Old Tucson where the hot, desert sun baked it into its current dilapidated condition. It is only visible from the C.P. Huntington Train ride around the park.


The Gambler's train car at Old Tucson.
The train car from The Gambler, starring Kenny Rogers, after the Arizona sun has baked it for a few decades.

You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em When Visiting Old Tucson

Speaking of Kenny Rogers

As an escape to the constant drizzle, we stepped into a building with a big Wells Fargo sign out front. Despite the misleading signage, the structure was actually a gambling hall and bar. Here we learned how to play a game called Faro or Bucking Tiger. The fast-paced game originated in France in the 1700s and rose to prominence in the US during the Gold Rush Era.

The Faro table at Old Tucson
The Faro table is all set up and ready for players.

Faro is played with a single deck of cards and can accommodate any number of players. Although only two cards are dealt per turn, it usually takes less than 15 minutes to play a hand of Faro. Due to the ease with which both the dealer and players can cheat, Faro was outlawed in Europe many decades ago. But in Las Vegas, the game was quite common up until the mid-1980s.

Fun Fact:  The building where we learned how to play Faro was the hotel in the 1980s movie Three Amigos.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Like the menu at a really fresh seafood restaurant, the performance schedule at Old Tucson is printed daily. I’m not a show person, and I thought some of the shows were awfully cheesy. (Yes, I’m looking at you Lady Vivian and your dancehall can-can girls!)

Actors during the Hollywood Stunt Demonstration at Old Tucson

The actors and stuntmen of Old Tucson sure make those punches look real!

I highly recommend taking one of the 30 minute guided walking tours offered a few times throughout the day. Via a guide dressed the part,  you’ll learn a great deal about the history of Old Tucson and the movies and television shows filmed there. I also recommend the Hollywood stunt demonstration that shares secrets about gunfights and falling from high buildings.

A stuntman at Old Tucson
An Old Tucson stuntman falling backward off of the mission.

Fun Fact:  Even though the actors of Old Tucson are shooting guns using blanks, they still always point slightly askew from any human targets just in case a few grains of sand, a pebble, or some other piece of debris is unintentionally lodged inside.

Rounding Out Your Day at Old Tucson

In addition to everything detailed above, there are several other rides and attractions to experience at Old Tucson. Some activities are included with your admission; others require a small, additional fee.  For your convenience, I’ve broken them into those two categories for you here.

Included with Admission

In addition to the C.P. Huntington Train, visitors can enjoy several other rides and attractions for no additional fee including the antique cars, the carousel, and Louise’s favorite, the Iron Door Haunted Mine.


The stagecoach at Old Tucson
You can tour Old Tucson by stagecoach for an additional fee.

For an Additional Fee

Take a shot shooting a rifle at Dead-Eye Dan’s Shooting Gallery, ride the stagecoach, or pan for gold for a small additional fee. Because we recently visited the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop here in the Kansas City area, we skipped the stagecoach at Old Tucson. Louise really wanted to pan for gold, but that attraction was closed the day we visited. I’m not sure if it was the rain or the fact we visited on a Wednesday, but either way, we were bummed that we our chance to strike it rich!

Have You Visited Old Tucson?

What did you enjoy most about your experience?  Anything I’ve overlooked in this guide? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A Complete Guide to a Day at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson Arizona

Thank you for sharing!

9 thoughts on “Gun Smoke and Gambling – Your Complete Guide to a Great Day at Old Tucson Studios”

  1. This sounds so fun! I can’t believe that they had such a big fire. How devastating to lose all of those structures!

  2. This winter was so rainy for all the places that are usually dry! Anyway, Old Tucson sounds so interesting. Had no idea that it was built for those movie sets, they did a good job making it really look old time-y!

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