To nature lovers and U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt, “The Apache Trail Drive combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have.
To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.” Today the Apache Trail remains one of Arizona’s most scenic drives. Twisting over jagged ridges and plunging into sheer-walled canyons, it steers its wild course along the northern flanks of the Superstition Mountains, linking the Valley of the Sun and Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
Native Americans walked the trail for hundreds of years until the 1800s, when workers upgraded it to a horse trail. The decision to build Theodore Roosevelt Dam required engineers to carve out a road to bring in construction equipment. That task took nearly two years, and the road opened in 1905.
Travel Back in Time on the Apache Trail Drive
Apache Junction is a convenient starting point and a good place to stock up on gas and supplies. Head northeast 3.5 miles on Ariz. 88 to Superstition Mountain Museum for regional history exhibits.
Continue 1 mile to Goldfield, which sprang into existence when prospectors discovered gold in the mid-1890s.
Attractions include a tour in a replica of the nearby Mammoth Mine, photo exhibits in the Goldfield Superstition Museum, the educational Bordello Museum, a narrated ride on the 1.5 mile Superstition Scenic Railway around the site, horseback riding, hiking/back-road tours, and the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon.
Though designated a state highway (Ariz. 88), much of the road is still unpaved, demanding cautious driving.
It is normally fine for cars and smaller RVs, but large trailers are not recommended. By combining Ariz. 88, Ariz. 188, and US 60 via Globe-Miami, travellers can follow a 200-mile loop around the Superstition Mountains.
The loop can be driven in a long day, but two or more days allow for a more leisurely journey, with stops to see the sights and tackle some hikes.
There are many campgrounds on the way, and Apache Junction and Globe-Miami offer a large selection of motels and restaurants.
The drive lies with three districts of Tonto National Forest; The Supervisor’s Office has maps and general information.
In Lost Dutchman State Park you can hike, picnic, and camp at the base of the Superstition Mountains; during the cooler months, campers will have to arrive early to find a spot, here are some tips on How and When to Make National Park Camping Reservations.
Needle Vista Viewpoint affords a view of the 4,535-foot-high pinnacle that figures in so many lost-mine legends. Canyon Lake Vista takes in this large reservoir on the Salt River.
Canyon Lake has a marina with boat rentals, a restaurant, and a campground. Budget around 90 minutes for a narrated lake tour aboard the Dolly Steamboat.
Tortilla Flat looks like an Old West movie set; step inside for the restaurant, curio shop, and country store.
Across the highway, Tortilla Campground is popular with Rivers. The pavement runs out 23 miles from Apache Junction, after which it’s another 2 miles to Fish Creek Hill Scenic Vista – a good place to get a feel for the rugged beauty of this land.
The descent of Fish Creek Hill, a 1,500-foot drop over 3 miles, is the most challenging section to drive.
You can take in a panorama of the second largest reservoir on this drive at Apache Lake Vista.
A road here leads down to Apache Lake Marina and Resort, where you will find a motel, and RV park, tent areas, a restaurant, boat rentals, and a store.
Facilities at Burnt Corral Recreation Site on Apache Lake include camping, a picnic site, boat ramp, and beach. The road climbs Apache Lake Gorge to Theodore Roosevelt Dam and two overlooks.
Engineers had doubts about the masonry dam’s ability to survive a moderate earthquake or major flood, so they encased it in concrete and raised the level to increase the storage capacity.
Theodore Roosevelt Lake covers about 19,199 acres when full and is the largest of the four Salt River reservoirs.
The very helpful Tonto Basin Ranger District Office houses exhibits and an information desk and sells relevant books and maps.
Tonto National Monument protects two cliff dwellings constructed by the Native American tribe known as the Salado in the hills overlooking the Salt River nearly 700 years ago.
A video and exhibits in the visitor center shows how the tribe lived. You’ll also see examples of their pottery, tools, and cotton textiles.
A self-guided paved trail behind the visitor centre climbs 350 feet to the 19 room Lower Cliff Dwelling allow an hour for the 1-mile round-trip.
You can visit the Upper Cliff Dwelling only on ranger-led tours that run on certain days from November through to April. If your travel plans allow you to make a reservation, the 3-mile hike (with a 600-foot climb) pays off with a visit to a large and very well preserved 40-room pueblo.
Continue on Ariz. 188 to Globe-Miami at the road’s end. Turn left to detour to Globe with its well preserved early 20th century downtown, extensive visitor facilities, and forest roads leading up into the Pinal Mountains.
On the way into town, on the right, you’ll pass the Globe-Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Gila County Historical Museum next door. Downtown, the Cobre Valley Centre for the Arts displays a large collection of local art.
The Salado lived in the 200-room pueblo of Besh Ba Gowah between 1225 and 1450. A good museum introduces the Salado and the partially reconstructed site.
To reach it, head downtown, go south on Broad Street, turn right across the bridge onto Jesse Hayes Street and continue 1 mile, then turn right up the hill and follow the road around the site to the entrance.
The Globe Miami area’s long history of copper mining is evident as you drive through the town and continue west on U.S. 60 to complete the Apache Trail loop. After some rugged hill and canyon country, the road drops into the old mining town of Superior. A sign on the highway indicates ‘The World’s Smallest Museum,’ while the Bob Jones Museum, in the former home of Arizona’s sixth governor, stands downtown; both display historical exhibits.
Continue 3 miles west from Superior to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Here, the largest (323 acres) and oldest (1920s) arboretum in Arizona displays collections of plants from the Southwest and around the world. Spring heralds a floral explosion of colours.
Birds and other wildlife come to the desert oases at Ayer Lake and Queen Creek. The visitor centre sells books, seeds, and plants. An easy drive on US 60 leads back to Apache Junction, or you can turn south to visit the historic town of Florence and Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, a Hohokam great house.