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 was originally built between 1903 and 1905 to get building materials through the Superstition Mountains to the Roosevelt Dam, then under construction.
The road is paved except for a 22 mile gravel section at the northern end of the route.
The first time we drove the trail 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, but we’ve never done the full trail again. The section between Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt Dam includes 22 miles of gravel road. We found that part of the drive both lonely and harrowing. The rain shortly before our first Apache Trail drive added to the complexity of the drive. Like many others, our route now takes us only as far as Tortilla Flat, approximately 17 miles from the start of the trail. Sometimes we venture 5 miles beyond Tortilla Flat to a rest stop at Fish Creek Hill, where the view of desert scenery is spectacular. We then turn around, stop in Tortilla Flat for lunch, head back the way we came.
The road climbs through the Superstition Mountains and offers views of canyons, rock formations, saguaros and other desert plant life. There are a few places to pull over and enjoy the scenic vistas.
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, a restaurant and a steamboat offering cruises around the lake.
Tortilla Flat 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.
The rustic decor of the restaurant. which serves Sonoran-style Mexican food, burgers, chili and sandwiches, includes walls papered with dollar bills. The outdoor BBQ patio features live bands each afternoon from December 26 to Easter. A small schoolhouse replica is a museum. There is also a collection of old, rusted tools and equipment.
Goldfield Ghost Town
Goldfield Ghost Town is at the start of the trail. We usually stop here on a way back into the city. 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, a narrow gauge railway, and a reptile exhibit. Staged gunfight presentations are scheduled on weekends. Given how busy the place can be with visiting families some days, the term Ghost Town seems a misnomer.
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. hose who brave this section of the trail will be rewarded with views at Apache Lake, the impressive Roosevelt Dam and Roosevelt 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.