Scenic Discoveries in Mesa, Arizona

Superstition Mountains

Superstition Mountains

One of the most popular day trips for anyone visiting Mesa is up the historic Apache Trail through the mysterious Superstition Mountains and into the foothills of the Tonto National Forest – the fifth largest forest in the United States. To this day, the area continues to pay homage to its Western roots which took shape in the late 1800s. On this scenic drive guests will encounter an authentic old west stagecoach stop, a ghost town, the famous Elvis Presley Chapel, and the majesty of a mountain lake, all nestled in the beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape that captures the true essence of Arizona.

Ghosts and Gold
For more than 115 years, Goldfield Ghost Town has welcomed travelers from all over the world to discover the charm and history of this authentic gold mining town. In its heyday, Goldfield was a busy bustling little outpost perched atop a small hill between the mighty Superstition Mountains to the east and the Goldfield Mountains to the west. The first gold-strike was made in 1892, and it took just a little under a year before the town came to life. Today, visitors can walk down Main Street, explore the many shops and historic buildings and tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine. Popular attractions for kids and adults are panning for gold and hopping aboard Arizona’s only narrow gauge train. Don’t miss one of the daily gunfights presented by the Goldfield Gunfighters and the underground mine tours.

Superstition & Lore in the Sonoran Desert
As you go further along the Apache Trail, make a stop at Lost Dutchman State Park. Here one can get up close and personal with the ghostly and volcanic, Superstition Mountains which rise some 2,000 feet into the desert sky. Hidden in the depths of this forbidding range is the Lost Dutchman, one of the most storied “lost mines” of the West. Five hiking trails are offered here that range in distance and elevation. Open year-round from sunrise to 10 p.m., the U.S. Forest Service protects these beautiful mountains in the nation’s most popular designated wilderness area. Just down the road is a gem of an attraction that is not to be missed, the volunteer-led and supported Superstition Mountain Museum. Here, a visitor can learn all about the legends and sought-after lore of the famous Lost Dutchman Jacob Waltz – and even get their eyes on numerous maps promising a hidden path to riches! A tour of the grounds includes numerous stages and buildings from the historic Apacheland Studios including the chapel from an Elvis Presley western, Charro.

Just around the bend, you can stumble upon the tiny Tortilla Flat stagecoach stop settlement that once boasted a hotel, general store and saloon. Today, it boasts six full-time residents and a saloon with saddles for barstools and walls festooned with currency and business cards from around the world. Don’t miss out on the “Killer Chili,” prickly pear ice cream and other Southwestern specialties.

CAMPING TIP: The best views here are offered at Lost Dutchman State Park, offering numerous coveted campsites and RV hookups. The park may close this summer (2010), call ahead (480-982-4485)  for the latest news and park hours.

An Oasis in the Desert
Complete your tour at Canyon Lake with a “Mark Twain” voyage aboard the Dolly Steamboat, a replica of a sternwheeler paddleboat. Cruise the lake’s secluded inner waterways and photograph desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife. The 90-minute nature cruise or twilight dinner cruise is the perfect complement to the Apache Trail experience.

After a day of driving and discovery, circle back and stop at the world famous Mining Camp Restaurant for a hearty meal of good ol’ Western food. Nestled at the base of the beautiful Superstition Mountains, the restaurant’s unique concept follows the theme of the early mining camp cook shanty. Here, you can reminisce about your day back in time and dine on good food, shared in plentiful quantities.

CAMPING TIP: Check out the Canyon Lake Marina & Campground offering special summer discounts for mid-week stays. Call ahead for reservations (480-288-9233). Day use also available.

Up Close & Personal with Mother Nature
Sunrise yoga, scorpion hunts by blacklight, animal “hide and seek” walks, toddler cruises up miniature mountain tops and even edible adventures snacking on desert plants as you go are on the docket at Usery Mountain Regional Park. Operated by Maricopa County Parks, one of the largest regional park systems in the United States, Usery Park offers more than 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Inside the new Nature Center, rangers are on hand to guide guests into the wonders of the Sonoran Desert before taking in some unique programming – everything from stargazing sessions, fitness hikes and “Find the Ranger” programs are offered year-round. Guests can purchase snacks and cold beverages, souvenirs and outdoor necessities like sunscreen, hats and water bottles before hitting the trail. Camping areas are neatly laid out giving campers plenty of space for their own Sonoran Desert discoveries. The park even offers playgrounds for little ones.

CAMPING TIP: Act quick – especially around the holidays when locals flock to this park to celebrate with friends and family. Each site here has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45′ RV and is a “Developed Site,” with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table and a barbecue fire ring. Usery Mountain Regional Park provides immaculate restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. All sites in the campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Thank you to our friends at the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau for providing this article. For more on planning your camping or RV getaway to Mesa, Arizona call 480-827-4700 or go online and request a complimentary Mesa Tour Planner and Official Visit Mesa Guide at

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