The Superstition Mountains are a craggy, volcanic mountain range just east of Mesa. Towering nearly 6,000 feet above the Sonoran desert, they are among the most photographed sites in Arizona, second only to the Grand Canyon.
Location & Legends
The Superstition Mountains lie east of Phoenix in the federally designated Superstition Wilderness Area, which encompasses approximately 160,000 acres of rugged desert. Jutting up suddenly from the desert floor, the mountains cast eerie shadows, making quite an impression on those who see them.
Mysteries and legends have swirled around the Superstition Mountains for as long as humans have inhabited the area, dating back to the time of the Pima Indians. Perhaps the most famous legend concerns the Lost Dutchman Mine, which lies hidden somewhere in the Superstition Wilderness and is rumored to be full of gold. Many fortune seekers have combed the mountains searching for the mysterious mine, but so far, they have all come back empty handed.
You probably won't find gold in the Superstition Mountains, but if you are lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of some of the area's more exotic inhabitants. Quite a few animals make their home in this harsh environment, from desert cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, coyotes, desert mule deer, bighorn sheep to the more elusive black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. There are energetic roadrunners, regal birds of prey such as red-tailed hawks, dazzlingly colored hummingbirds, and countless other bird species. And of course, many reptiles happily reside here, from common tree lizards to the venomous Gila monster and the – be careful where you step – classic western rattlesnake.
Describing all the plants in this area would require a large textbook. Suffice it to say that the Sonoran desert plants that blanket the Superstition Wilderness come in many varieties, shapes, and sizes and go way beyond the iconic Saguaro. Take care though, the thornier desert residents are best viewed from a distance, from the safety of a vehicle or an established hiking trail. Anyone who has ever been the victim of a "jumping cholla" cactus – they seem to jump out at you and stick to your clothes and unfortunately, your fingers too – will tell you that in the Superstition Mountains, as in the rest of the Sonoran desert, it's best not to wander off trail! For more on desert safety, please check out our blog.
Top Things to Do & See in the Superstition Mountains
There's no gold on the list, but don't worry. Many other treasures await you in the "Supes," as they are fondly called by the locals.
1. Follow the Apache Trail
Take an epic road trip you won't soon forget. Follow this scenic route, which was used by the Apache Indians, from the town of Apache Junction through the Superstition Wilderness to the historic stagecoach stop of Tortilla Flat. Fasten your seatbelts, because the road is steep and winding, but in exchange for any queasiness, you'll discover vistas so spectacular they're on par with the Grand Canyon. After you've worked up an appetite, stop for lunch or dinner at the Superstition Restaurant & Saloon in Tortilla Flat. We hear they have the hottest chili and the coldest drinks for miles...and miles. (Lone coyote howls in the distance...)
2. Visit the Superstition Mountain Museum
The Superstition Mountain Museum, set at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, is a fascinating little museum that is well worth a visit. The museum's aim is to collect and preserve the history and legends of the Superstition Mountain region and its cultures. It features interesting exhibits on Jacob Waltz (aka the "Lost Dutchman"), Native American history, and geology as well as curious attractions like a reconstructed miner's shack and a barn, a chapel, and other props from classic western movie sets.
4. Hike an Epic Trail
The Superstition Mountains are criss-crossed with dozens of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails. Hikes in the Supes range from flat and easy hiking trails for families and casual walkers all the way to some of the most strenuous hikes this side of the Grand Canyon. A few of our favorite Superstition hikes are listed here:
- Peralta Canyon: This classic Superstition Mountains hike leads you up through a deep canyon with sculpted walls to the Fremont Saddle and an incredible vista overlooking the rock formation known as Weaver's Needle. This is a moderate, half-day hike.
- Hieroglyphic Canyon Trail: This is a 1.5 mile gently sloping and rocky trail through a small, scenic canyon with intricate petroglyphs from the Hohokam Indians, who inhabited the area up to 1,500 years ago.
- Siphon Draw Trail: If you are looking for a serious workout, this is the hike for you. The trail starts in the Lost Dutchman State Park, meanders through a boulder field, and then relentlessly climbs upward. If you make it to the top of the flatiron, you will be rewarded with unparalleled views. Allow about 5 to 6 hours round trip if you are planning to summit the flatiron.
For more on hiking in the Superstitions and in the Phoenix metro area, check out our hiking page.
**Please remember to be prepared when hiking in the desert. Bring plenty of water and sun protection and DO NOT wander off established trails. For more on desert safety, please click here.
5. Catch the Spring Bloom
If you happen to be visiting the area between late March and early April, head out to the Superstition Mountains to try to catch the spring bloom. Pure white, deep gold, luminescent purple, and fiery orange wildflowers make an appearance in the Sonoran desert almost every year, depending on rainfall, with really good shows happening every three to four years. About once a decade, the conditions are just right for a massive bloom, and the desert literally explodes with color in every direction – a miraculous display of nature. There are some great places in the Supes to catch the spring bloom, given the timing and conditions. Check out Lost Dutchman State Park and Boyce Thompson Arboretum, to name a few.