Just at the edge of Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains offer a jaw-droppingly rugged landscape. It's this ruggedness that makes them so beautiful, but also what's made them so hard for travelers to navigate throughout history. During the 19th century, the main route through the mountains was a path carved by the Apaches-- later adopted by stagecoach travelers-- earning its name, Apache Trail. It's still one of the best ways through the Superstitions. Don't be fooled by its historic roots, this trail is a modern driver's dream, with hairpin turns, sweeping curves, and stunning new views around every corner. Along the way, you'll get to explore the history and natural beauty of the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. Here's our guide to conquering Apache Trail.
The Apache Trail is a 40-mile circular route right through the Superstition Mountains. In 1905, the trail was officially designated as an aid for the construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, with Apache Junction at one end, and Theodore Roosevelt Lake at the other. This trail will wind you through some amazing sights and scenes. You'll find the first half paved and the second half made of dirt roads. This being said, the narrow and rugged route requires attention while driving, and offers endlessly unique views. If you're in the mood for an adventure on the road, buckle up and get started!
At the southwest end of the foothills of the mountains, the Superstition Mountain Museum offers exhibits that educate folks about the rich history of Arizona, starting with the story of the Apaches. The area is known for lore about lost mines and ghost towns, and the museum will spark more curiosity about these mysteries. It may even inspire you to take in as much history as possible and find some answers during your trip along the trail. Is the Dutchman’s Lost Gold Mine real? What happened to the Salado people, and their rich culture that filled the mountains for centuries before they disappeared? Learn what makes these mountains so superstitious, all while enjoying some of the lighter exhibits as well. Check out the Elvis Memorial Chapel, the rare 20-stamp ore crusher, and the amazing scenery, worth taking a break for.
Live out history for yourself in Goldfield Ghost Town. Here, you have the chance to tour the authentic gold mine and the town that once boomed before it sadly died out when the mine dried up. A favorite spot in the town is Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon, known for burgers, beer, and prickly pear margaritas! Really want to amp up your trip? Goldfield offers ziplining, live gunfight reenactments, and a narrow gauge railroad you can ride. Adventure into the mountain via horseback, or join a guided tour of the history of women and their roles in the 1800s. The friendly and informative staff makes you feel as if you really are in a Wild West town, perfect for the curious traveler and families of all ages!
In the 1840s, the Peralta family of Mexico discovered gold near Apache Junction and continuously made trips to bring it back to Mexico. As the story goes, the family was ambushed by Apaches while on a gold expedition, leaving all but one or two family members left for dead. Decades later, Jacob Waltz, aka "the Dutchman," was said to have found the mine, and hid gold in the Superstitions. When he died, he took the location of the mine to his grave. Whether you're curious about the tales of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and want to see the mysterious lands for yourself, or simply just want to take in some of the most gorgeous sections of the Superstitious Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park has you covered. RV or tent camp right in the park, and wake up to killer views of those red cliffs. If you only have the afternoon, spend time hiking and biking through the rugged trails that lead to Tonto State Forest.
One of four lakes created by Salt River dams (the others are Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake and Saguaro Lake), Canyon Lake is the most strikingly beautiful of the quad. Just 15 miles up the trail from Apache Junction, the lake offers scenic red canyons surrounding bright waters, inviting you to boat, ski, fish, or just take it all in. The marina at Canyon Lake will take care of all of your boating needs, and additionally has a campground for lodging! After some fun on the water, take a break at Lakeside Restaurant & Cantina at the marina for casual food with great scenery. This stop on the Apache gives you a breath of a fresh air in a wide open and beautiful area. Keep your eyes peeled during your visit, and you may even catch sight of a picturesque bighorn sheep perched atop the canyon!
What's now known as Tortilla Flat was originally a simple freight camp, home to a small community for years. Only a small part of the town remain, but what's left is distinctly authentic Old West. Pay a visit to the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant for burgers and a brew, and then mosey on over to the country store for some prickly pear gelato. The town, population six, is Arizona's smallest "community," with a post office as well as a voter's precinct. Although much of the history of Tortilla Flat has been lost to time, tourists all along the Apache Trail find the charming little town warm and inviting for a much-deserved break to stretch their legs. Old West reenactors even make occasional appearances on weekends, weather permitting.
Surrounded by national forest, the Tonto National Monument features cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Salado culture. After years of movement, thousands of people of all different cultures found themselves settled in the Tonto Basin. This melting pot eventually grew into what archeologists now call the Salado culture. The term comes from the Spanish name Rio Salado, or the Salt River. The lower dwelling is open to the public, half a mile up a steep path, while the upper cliff can be accessed via guided tour only. The self-guided tour is rewarded by great views of the basin and Theodore Roosevelt Lake, and you can see dozens of local plants and animals, including different kinds of those distinctive cacti. Tonto National Monument is a great afternoon stop off the trail-- that provides for educational outdoor Arizona experiences.
The Arizona Museum of Natural History is the only natural history museum you'll find in the Phoenix area, which is why it is home to some amazing artifacts! Visit Dinosaur Mountain, experience a three-story waterfall, learn about the native peoples of Arizona, pan for gold, and see a live Gila monster, all in one place! The museum is great for the family or any history buff, and is even home to something that should be near and dear to your heart after driving Apache Trail-- a stagecoach that was once used on the route! From paleontology and archeology to anthropology and geology, along with plenty of activity for the kids, this museum has got you covered.
Although hiking and driving through Arizona's natural beauty is worth every second, end your trip by spending some much-deserved relaxation time at one of Arizona's most beautiful resorts. At Gold Canyon, resort packages of all kinds are available to meet any kind of needs, including plenty of golf. The spa offers everything from luxurious detox pedicures to deep tissue massages. Watch the sunset during dinner at Kokopelli’s Restaurant, or put your feet up at The Ledge at Dinosaur Mountain's outdoor bar and fire pits. You may even catch some live music during your stay! With gorgeous views and hospitable staff ready to make your day, Gold Canyon is a great getaway you won't find anywhere else.
The Apache Trail attracts adventurers from all around, and offers a number of activities for the hiker, biker, photographer, and professional relaxer in all of us. Its rich culture makes the trip that much more meaningful, and at each stop on the drive, there is something new to learn. Far from your average vacation or weekend getaway, Apache Trail may have had its travel challenges way back when, but is now a welcoming slew of fun points around every turn, ready to be discovered.
Southwest character and urban adventure meld perfectly in Phoenix, where real cowboys, rugged mountains and the kind of cactus most people only see in cartoons share a sunny landscape with up-and-coming craft breweries, desert trails, scenic roadways and colorful art districts.