A scenic day drive in the Phoenix Arizona Vicinity
The Apache Trail is a popular scenic day trip in the Phoenix Arizona area. The winding road climbs through the mountains and offers beautiful views of canyons, rock formations, and desert landscape.
The trail begins in Apache Junction at the intersection of State Highways 60 and 88 and ends less than 50 miles later at Roosevelt Dam. The road is paved except for a 22 mile gravel section at the northern end of the route.
The road was originally built between 1903 and 1905 to get building materials through the Superstition Mountains to the Roosevelt Dam, then under construction. The first time we drove the trail, several years ago, we went the full circle route, which took us past the Roosevelt Dam, then on to Globe and back to Apache Junction on Highway 60, a total distance of approximately 135 miles.
We’ve driven the Apache Trail several times since then, most recently last week, but we’ve never done the full trail again. Our routine now takes us only a few miles past Tortilla Flat. Tortilla Flat, approximately 17 miles from the start of the Trail, was once a thriving stage coach stop. Present day Tortilla Flat features old west style buildings along a wooden boardwalk, a restaurant, an ice cream parlor and country store, and a schoolhouse museum. Population 6: the owners of the establishment.
We drive to a rest stop about 5 miles past Tortilla Flat. Here the view of desert scenery is spectacular. We then turn around and go back to Tortilla Flat for lunch. The Superstition Saloon and Restaurant, with its rustic decor and walls papered with dollar bills, many signed by the donors, specializes in burgers and chili.
There are several points of interest on the trail between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat. Goldfield Ghost Town is at the start of the trail. Goldfield was a thriving mining town in the 1890s that declined when the vein of gold ore ran down. Today it has been resurrected as a tourist attraction, with old west buildings, stores, restaurants, mine tours, train rides and a reptile exhibit. Given how busy it can be with visiting families some days, the term Ghost Town seems a misnomer.
There are viewpoint stops along the trail, one of the most spectacular being Canyon Lake Vista. Canyon Lake is one of four lakes formed by the damming of the Salt River. There are picnic and camping spots along the lake, a marina, and a restaurant.
Although Apache Trail is well traveled, it is not for the faint of heart. The road is windy, has steep grades and sheer drop-offs. The section between Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt Dam is especially challenging, with the road narrow, steep, and unpaved for a large section. The rain shortly before our first Apache Trail drive added to the complexity of the drive. I questioned what we had gotten ourselves into, nervous about what lay ahead. Getting back onto the paved road a few miles before Roosevelt Dam was a huge relief. Those who brave this section of the trail will be rewarded with views at Apache Lake, the impressive Rossevelt Dam and Rossevelt Lake.
Touring the Apache Trail can take a full day if you do the circle route and make a number of stops along the way. Or it can be as short as two to three hours if you only go as far as Tortilla Flat, stopping perhaps for lunch and some picture taking along the way.
Have you driven the Apache Trail? What were the highlights of your experience?