With their jagged peaks, ridges, and canyons, the Superstition Mountains rise in dramatic vertical lines above the surrounding flat desert. Covered by all varieties of cacti on lower elevations, they burst with color in the spring, when wildflowers bloom. At higher elevations, the desert vegetation slowly disappears, giving way to spectacular rock formations, dotted here and there by giant saguaros that seem to grow out of sheer rock.
But this mountain range, less than an hour east of Phoenix, is famous for more than its beauty. Its very name derives from the mystery surrounding it. To this day, you’ll find people who believe that a legendary gold mine lies hidden in these mountains, waiting to be found.
Regardless of gold, the Superstition Wilderness offers a much better treasure: a stunning desert environment to explore. Here are a few ideas for making the best of a visit to the area.
Visit Lost Dutchman State Park
Opened in 1977 at the foot of Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park offers the perfect introduction to this desert wilderness. Stop at the visitor center and talk to the rangers to learn about the park and trails, then pick up a map and head outside to get on a trail and start exploring.
Hike In The Superstition Wilderness
The trails in the Superstition Mountains range from short, easy strolls in the desert to strenuous climbs of some of the most dramatic volcanic peaks and everything in between. Depending on the season, you’ll see not only gorgeous desert vegetation but also wildlife. You might encounter coyotes and roadrunners, desert mule deer, and desert cottontail.
Pro Tip: For the best chance to see wildlife, go out in the early morning hours or right after sunset. Cooler temperatures also make hikes at these times of day more pleasant.
The Native Plant Trail
The shortest of the area trails at just a quarter-mile long, the Native Plant Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park is paved and wheelchair accessible. Featuring desert plants with interpretive signs along the way, this trail acts as an introduction to the area.
The Treasure Loop Trail
This 2.5-mile-long trail is relatively flat and well developed. It takes you on a walk at the foot of Superstition Mountain, the namesake of the mountain range. This trail is especially beautiful in spring, when you are surrounded by some of the most colorful desert wildflowers.
The Siphon Draw Trail
More experienced hikers should try the Siphon Draw Trail, the most scenic in the area. At four miles round trip, it takes you into the heart of the Superstitions, through vertical canyons and wildflower-filled meadows, and you might even see a waterfall, something you might not expect in the desert. Rocky terrain and a change in elevation make this trail hard for most people.
Learn About The Legend Of The Lost Gold Mine
While hiking, you might meet people who are still searching for the gold mine supposedly discovered by Dutchman Jacob Waltz. If you’re intrigued and want to learn more about his story, visit the Superstition Mountain Museum. While the highlight of the museum is the Jacob Waltz exhibit, you’ll also find a Native American exhibit, a geological exhibit, and one dedicated to the gold seekers. Outside the main building, visit a gold mill, the Apacheland Barn, and old Western storefronts.
After you learn a thing or two about the gold rush in Arizona, the Apache tribes, and the lost Dutchman, you might want to experience a gold-mining ghost town.
Explore Goldfield Ghost Town
One of the few ghost towns in the Southwest, Goldfield showcases a gold mine and authentic-looking historic buildings on the main street, along with gorgeous views of the Superstition Mountains. Take a guided tour of the gold mine, the reason the town once existed. The underground tours last about 25 minutes. Skip this activity if you are claustrophobic.
An even better introduction to the town is a ride on the narrow-track train that follows its outskirts. Listen to the conductor narrating its history and pointing out spots of interest. Pan for gold at Prospector’s Palace, visit the historical museum and a reptile museum, stop at one of the curio shops, and visit the Bordello and the church on top of the hill. The saloon offers Western-style food and drinks, and if you visit on a weekend, you can even see a gunfight.
Take A Guided Horseback Ride
A Wild West experience would not be complete without a horseback ride. You can take one from O.K. Corral Stables in Goldfield. They offer rides ranging from an hour to half a day long and will take you into the wilderness in and around the Superstition Mountains.
Camp At The Foot Of Superstition Mountain
You don’t have to rush to experience all that the Superstitions have to offer in one day. You can stay overnight at the foot of Superstition Mountain, at the state park’s campground. Besides the campsites for both RVs and tents, you can also rent a cabin for a more comfortable but still rustic experience.