Labor Day Road Trips Within 100 Miles of Phoenix

One of the most scenic drives you can take within 100 miles of Phoenix is the Apache Trail, Road 88 from Phoenix to Roosevelt Lake and 188 from Roosevelt to Globe. Named after the tribe that had once used it, the Apache Trail winds through the Superstition Mountains, as well as through Tonto National Forest, and through some ancient ruins. From Globe take I-60 back to Phoenix, going through old Western mining towns, more ancient ruins and an arboretum, making it all a great roundtrip for this holiday weekend.

Goldfield Ghost Town


Your first stop on the drive, just outside of Phoenix, Goldfield Ghost Town, has been a ghost town once, now rebuilt as a tourist attraction. Walk through the town and get a feel for old style buildings, watch a gun fight in the middle of Main Street, take the narrow-gauge train, and listen to the conductor's story about the town, take the mine tour and even go on a zip line. Have lunch here on the patio of the Miner's Grill, enjoying a great view of the Superstition Mountains.

Lost Dutchman State Park


Soon after you leave Goldfield, just about across the road, you reach the Lost Dutchman State Park, where you can hike into the Superstitions on a number of trails. Learn about the flora and fauna of the area as you walk the short paved trail around the Visitor Center, then head up to one of the trails into the Superstitions that run anywhere between 0.7 and 4 miles roundtrip. Enjoy an authentic Western barbecue dinner at the Mining Camp Restaurant, then set up camp in one of the camping sites at the foot of the Superstitions and enjoy the wilderness around you, or drive into Apache Junction and stay at the Best Western Apache Junction Inn or another hotel.

Canyon Lake

View of Canyon Lake, Wikimedia

Continuing on the Apache Trail, the road gets steeper and bends sharply, then continues on the shores of Canyon Lake. Enjoy the beach by the RV site, the water, and the surroundings. You can hike on several trails around the lake, through desert vegetation, some of them leading to remote springs and canyons, like trail #103 which passes La Barge Creek and takes you along Boulder Canyon. The full trail is 7miles long, still too hot to hike it all, though it is fun to walk up to the view of the lake.

Tortilla Flat

Shortly after passing Canyon Lake, the next place worth stopping is the tiny settlement of Tortilla Flat. With a population of 6 (it is not a joke), Tortilla Flat is a remnant of an old Western town, originating in 1904 as a stagecoach stop. This is a great place to have lunch at the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant, where bar stools are real saddles and the wallpaper consists of $1 bills from visitors from all over the world over time. After lunch, make sure you try their famous prickly pear gelato from their country store.

Scenic Dirt Road


Past Tortilla Flat, the Apache Trail turns into a dirt road for the next 22 miles. Although this part is one of the most spectacular, and it is safe even for cars (as long as they are not too low), the road gets steep and narrow at times. If you'd rather avoid it, turn around and go back to Apache Junction, take Highway 60 to Florence Junction, Superior, Miami, Globe and Roosevelt Lake. You would only miss 22 miles of beautiful scenery, and dirt road, but you can see most of the same sites. If you are driving an SUV or a Jeep, don't worry about it, keep going farther towards Roosevelt Lake.

Fish Creek Canyon

Fish Creek crosses the Apache Trail just two miles after the road turns into dirt, past Tortilla Flat, as the road descends into a deep ravine, crossing it on a high bridge. Though there is no sign post, the place is easily recognizable. From the bridge, a path runs along the south side of the gorge and gets to water level. It is worth getting out of the car and hiking in the area, although it is a bit strenuous. The canyon extends about 10 miles and meets up with a few backcountry trails, you can hike a bit along it if you'd like.

Apache Lake


The road continues, above Apache Lake, much bigger than Canyon Lake, but with limited access to it. The marina is a good stop, enjoy a short hike in the area and even fishing if you bought your gear. Have a cold drink at the restaurant, and rent a boat if you'd like to enjoy some time on the lake.

Roosevelt Dam and Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Dam Bridge, Flickr

At the end of Route 88, you will reach Lake Roosevelt Dam, 300 feet tall and built of bricks in 1911. The lake is one of the biggest in Arizona, and it a favorite water recreation spot for Phoenicians, with activities like water-skiing, jet-skiing, boating, fishing, swimming.

Tonto National Monument


While you are in Roosevelt, visit Tonto National Monument. A lesser known National Park, it preserves two cliff dwellings, and it also has a museum where you can learn about the people who built the place some 700 years ago. This weekend you can only visit the lower Cliff Dwellings, about one-mile roundtrip since the Upper ones only open in November, but it is still worth it. Stop at the museum, then head over to the dwellings.

Globe and Besh-Ba-Gowah

By the time you explore the area, you might want to stay here overnight. Accommodations are limited, though, and only about 28 miles away, Globe has a great selection of hotels, like a Holiday Inn, Best Western, Day's Inn, among others.

Between Roosevelt and Globe, the Apache Trail, now called Route 188, is paved, so the distance will seem short. The site worth visiting in this mining town is Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park, one of the largest ancient Salado pueblos. Walk through its rooms, and visit the museum where you can marvel at the impressive collection of pottery and other artifacts from the same time period as Tonto National Monument.

Miami and Superior

From Globe, take Highway 60 back towards Phoenix, through the town of Miami. A true copper mining town, Miami is called Gostlish Tu in Apache. The old mines are an interesting sight, although they are not in use any longer.

Farther along I-60, you pass through Superior, a typical Western small town, where you might recognize landmarks from movies that had scenes filmed here over time (How the West Was Won, Skinwalkers, The Gauntlet, and others).

Boyce Thompson Arboretum


Just past Superior, you can't pass the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park without stopping. Arizona's oldest and largest botanical garden, it was founded in the 1920s by William Boyce Thompson. The 323 acres large park is home to desert plants from all over the world, tall cacti and trees, mountain cliffs and desert vistas, a hidden canyon, natural habitats teaming with wildlife, a stream with a forest around it, a desert lake, a few specialty gardens. Enjoy the walk through the park, especially the forested and the shaded areas.

When you get to Florence Junction you have a choice to keep going back to Phoenix on 60, or take 79 to Florence, then 287 to Coolidge, for another stop to visit Casa Grande National Monument.

Casa Gande National Monument


If you still have time left, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is definitely worth a stop. The park was set aside in 1892 to preserve the remains of an ancient community of the Sonoran Desert people, and an irrigation system. Spend some time in the museum and visitor center, then head outside to see the ruins, the biggest of which, the "Big House" or Casa Grande, lent the site its name. A ball court, as well as other smaller ruins, are also worth a short stop.

From here, you can get on I-10 that will take you back to Phoenix in the shortest time.

Emese Fromm is a freelance writer and translator, who has been calling Phoenix her home for over 20 years. Member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, her work has appeared in online and hard-copy publications, like Travel thru History, Travellady, Skipping Stones, InTravel Magazine, Knitcircus, Stories for Children, among others.