Ultimate Guide | Apache Trail Scenic Drive
The 42 mile journey down the historic Apache Trail is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in Arizona. Along the way you will pass ghost towns, goldmines, numerous one-lane bridges, three desert lakes, and an impressive concrete wall that created modern day Phoenix.
This guide will give you all the information you need to plan a safe, enjoyable, and a memorable experience of our unique Sonoran desert. So relax, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!
The Apache Trail Scenic Drive
42 miles long one way
Can be taken as a circle route through Globe (120 miles round trip)
Depending on how many times you stop, plan on about 6-8 hours to complete the journey
The route begins in Apache Junction and ends at the Roosevelt Dam
Half the route is an unpaved, bumpy dirt road
“The Apache Trail 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 most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Goldfield Ghost Town
The town of Goldfield is your first stop on your journey. This tourist destination is a recreation of the 1890's town of Goldfield. This once mining town showcased 3 saloons, a general store, markets, and a schoolhouse. The town eventually withered away as the mine faulted.
Goldfield Ghost Town now boasts unique Arizona shops, gun fights, panning for gold, and other attractions. Learn more here at Goldfieldghosttown.com
Lost Dutchman State Park
This state park is home to the western portion of the mighty Superstition Mountain Range and is quite a sight to see. Named after the German gold seeker, Jacob Waltz the Lost Dutchman Sate Park is full of mystery and lore. The park is a great place to park an R.V. if you are coming from out of town or to stop off for a hike on the popular Siphon Draw or Treasure Loop trails. If you go, here are a few tips;
- The park fee is $7 per vehicle (as of 12/7/2015)
- There are restrooms, a gift shop, camp sites, R.V. hookups, showers, and other conveniences
- If you are looking to explore some Sonoran desert trails but don't want to enter the often crowded park, head up to First Water Trailhead just 1/4 mile up the road and try out Massacre Falls or Second Water trail.
- For more information visit the Lost Dutchman State Park Homepage.
Canyon Lake is the first of three man-made desert lakes that you will pass on the Apache Trail. Personally, I think Canyon Lake is the most picturesque of the lakes and has several marinas, recreational beach areas, and R.V. parks. This is a great place to pull over, stretch the legs, and take in the lakeside views.
Just a bit further from the lake you will come across Tortilla Flat at milepost 213. This old 1904 stagecoach stop is now a great place to eat lunch and pick up some fun souvenirs at their quirky gift shop. Also, from what I hear they serve "world famous" Prickly Pear gelato! Check out their website for hours and info.
This is my favorite part of the drive. Soon after filling up your bellies at Tortilla Flat, you will start on a gradual ascent into higher Sonoran desert. This is also where the paved road ends (milepost 220) and the winding dirt road begins. I have driven this road in a passenger car several times with no issues. After plateauing, the now one-lane dirt road leads you down Fish Creek Hill. This white-knuckling, hair-pinning turning road plunges 1,500 ft. in 3 miles making for some of the most beautiful and terrifying views on the trip. *Side note: RV's and large trailers are not recommended to travel this road.
At the canyon floor stands large Cottonwoods, Maple, and Sycamore being nourished by the nearly year-round Fish Creek.
At milepost 228 you will see the skinny yet striking Apache Lake. The scenic overlook is worth stopping and walking down the dirt path to get a better view. This 17 mile long lake is the most reclusive of the trio mostly due to the hardships of getting there. Because of it's remote location, it is home to some of the best fishing and lakeside camping areas in Arizona. Apache Lake does have a marina, restaurant, and shop but are far less developed than those of Canyon or Roosevelt.
This stretch of the road will drop you down right to the water's edge and looks almost as if you are following a winding river rather than a lake. The lake and road will lead you straight toward the massive concrete structure known as Theodore Roosevelt Dam.
- Apache Lake
Theodore Roosevelt Dam
After a series of flooding and drought, Arizona decided to take on the massive and dangerous undertaking of damming the Salt River. The project took 6 years to build and claimed 42 lives. It was at one time the largest masonry dam in the world. The lake it created held it's own records being the largest artificial lake in 1911. In 1989, the dam was raised 77 feet (23 m) to 357 feet (107 m) and the Roosevelt Bridge was also added.
This historic dam is the end of the 42 mile journey. From here you have essentially two options; you can head back the way you came or turn the trip into a larger circle route by driving southeast towards Globe. I really suggest this route as it is my favorite way to experience the scenic drive. If you decide to do a loop make sure to follow my tips below for added exploring and fun!
Circle Route Tips
If you decide to complete the 120 mile loop, here is what I personally recommend;
After enjoying the Apache Trail ending at Roosevelt Lake, turn east (right) toward Globe. I highly recommend the following two stops along the route back to Apache Junction.
Go to Tonto National Monument: This alone is worth the trip and a longer explanation. To find out more about the prehistoric people that inhabited the Tonto Basin visit the National Park Service website HERE.
Eat a second lunch/early dinner at La Cocina de Casillas (a.k.a. Burger House): This also, in my opinion, is worth the trip! The family restaurant has been a no-brainer stop for me since I discovered it 15 years ago. Located in Miami, AZ, La Cocina de Casillas is better known to locals as The Burger House. The name is a bit misleading, however, as this place serves the best green chili in the state. Every time I stop for a burro there is a line nearly out the door waiting to get their fix. Check out the Arizona Highways Write Up: The Burger House.
This rugged desert trail has been a pathway and a way of life for many before us. Here are my final tips for a safe trip:
- Start early, but not too early. If you start too early (before the sunrise) you miss much of the surrounding desert beauty and will be driving into the sunrise which can be hard to see
- The winter season is the most popular time for this route
- Large R.V.'s are not recommended
- The road get very narrow and winding; some people may get car sick
- Bring a camera
- Pull off to the shoulder and allow others to pass if you are slowing down to enjoy some scenery
- Please help keep this area clean by picking up after yourselves and pets when you stop to enjoy this wild country