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Apache Trail & White Mountains
Exploring Eastern Arizona Towns & Landscapes
Eastern Arizona is the unsung hero of an incredibly diverse state. From the Phoenix metro area to the wilderness of the New Mexico border, eastern Arizona features the Superstition Mountains, Tonto National Forest, Mogollon Rim, the Apache Stigreaves National Forest, and the White Mountains. These regions offer everything from the American West to natural history, charming small towns like Heber, Pinetop, and Alpine, plus outdoor recreation galore.
Phoenix Metro Area
The Valley of the Sun is home to lively cities like Tolleson, Tempe, Chandler, and many more. A mecca for sports, arts, music, shopping, and nightlife, Phoenix is a massive metropolis set in a scenic desert landscape.
Sports. Phoenix features the Cactus League during spring trains, and teams representing all four major sports. Check out MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes at Gila River Arena, NBA’s Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena, and NFL’s Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
College sports aren’t scarce in the Valley either. Check out the Sun Devils at Arizona State University, or the Antelopes at Grand Canyon University.
Historic downtowns areas are found throughout town. Since the Phoenix area is compromised of so many cities, so many downtown historic districts are yet to be explored by you.
Check out Old Town Scottsdale for great restaurants, nightlife, and dessert at the classic Sugar Bowl parlor. Towns like Glendale, Mesa, and Peoria feature quaint downtown areas complete with antique shops, cute eateries, and of course, antique shops.
Hiking is the name of the outdoor game in Phoenix. If you can take the heat, Phoenix features year-round hiking.
Hit the trails at Piestewa Peak, Camelback Mountain in central Phoenix, plus McDowell Mountain Regional Park in the East Valley, White Tank Mountain Regional Park near Goodyear in the West Valley, and so much more.
Take State Route 88 out of Apache Junction – set just north of Gold Canyon – and you’re on the Apache Trail Scenic Drive.
A former stagecoach trail, the 40-mile trail leads travelers through the Superstition Mountains and Tonto National Forest to Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
You’ll pass by Roosevelt Dam, Canyon Lake, and Apache Lake, plus saguaro cactus, Native American ruins like the Tonto National Monument, trailheads, and plenty of hokey Western attractions.
For a real Old West feel, head to Tortilla Flat. Grab lunch at the Superstition Restaurant & Saloon, explore the Tortilla Flat Museum, and grab a helping of the Prickly Pear Gelato at the Tortilla Flat General Store & Ice Cream Shop.
A former setting for Hollywood Westerns, Apacheland Movie Ranch is found in Apache Junction at the start of the Apache Trail. Found at the Superstition Mountain Museum, Apacheland offers Elvis Chapel, the Apacheland Barn, and the annual Apacheland Days.
A 320-acre Arizona state park in the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is both a natural and historic attraction.
Named for the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine, the park yields hiking trails, wildlife viewing, picnic spots, and star gazing nights.
Mogollon Rim Region
The Apache Trail is behind you once you reach Theodore Roosevelt Dam, but plenty of adventure is ahead. Take in the forrested, small-town charm, the stark-white Aspen trees, and a plethora of American West history.
Snake up Highway 188 about 50 miles to Payson – home to events like the Old Time Fiddlers Contest, the Beeline Cruise-In Car Show, and the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo – August Doins.
Payson offers an abundance of attractions, including the Zane Grey Museum, the Rim Country Museum, Historic Main Street, and the nearby Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. And this being high-elevation Arizona, there is plenty recreation like hiking, fishing, hunting, golf, and more star-gazing.
In Payson, switch to Highway 260, taking you into the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest and in 55 miles, Heber-Overgaard.
Heber may sound familiar from the 1970s UFO Phenomenon – when aliens supposedly abducted local woodsman Travis Walton. Maybe you’ve seen the 1993 film, “Fire in the Sky.” Aside from talk of the extraterrestrial, Heber has plenty of antique shops, great restaurants, and lots of outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing.
Arizona White Mountains
The White Mountains of eastern Arizona span across the Apache Stigreaves National Forest and Navajo Nation into western New Mexico.
Keep your camera ready for wildflowers, Aspen and pine trees, and the iconic Mount Baldy – the highest peak of the White Mountains.
Continue on AZ-260 for 36 miles to Show Low – yet another classic eastern Arizona town. Set on the Mogollon Rim in the White Mountains, Show Low features the Fool Hollow State Recreation Area, the Show Low Museum, and a main drag called the Deuce of Clubs.
Continue on Highway 260 for 10 miles to Pinetop-Lakeside, still in the White Mountain in the beautiful Apache Sitgreaves National Forest.
Culture vultures, check out the Pinetop-Lakeside Historical Society Museum, the Renee Cushman Art Museum, and the White Mountain Symphony Orchestra. If you’re looking for a party, try to catch the High Pines Bluegrass Festival, the High Mountain Music Festival, the Native American Art Festival, the Woodland Wildlife Festival, and more.
Plenty of antique shops and boutique restaurants are found along White Mountain Boulevard. Stop for a meal at Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse, Christmas Tree Restaurant, Cowboy Cookin’, and Johnny & Dees Picnic Basket.
Another 45 miles east on Highway 260 – passing north of the Sunrise Ski Resort in Greer – and you’re in Eagar. Found in what is called the Round Valley, Eagar is defined by the iconic dome of the Round Valley Ensphere. Shop through the Vintage Hideaway, or grab a burger at Buzz's Diner.
While you're there, be sure to visit the Casa Malpais Pueblo at the Casa Malpais Archaeological Park just north in Springerville.
From Eagar, head south of Highway 180 to Alpine, set near the border of New Mexico. Set in the Bush Valley of the White Mountains, Alpine is an outdoor lover’s dream.
Outdoor recreation abounds at nearby lakes like Crescent Lake, A-1 Lake, Luna Lake, and especially Big Lake. Be sure to explore the Three Forks Area, or just find any area trails for hiking, mountain biking, and ATVing (if allowed, of course).
Head down Highway 191 (known as the Devil’s Highway as it was once called Highway 666), and try horseback riding, and in the winter snowmobiling, at Hannagan’s Meadow, or steer your stallion down Escudilla National Recreation Trail and the East Baldy Trail. And be sure to check out the Blue Wilderness from the Blue Vista Scenic Overlook.
Return to the Valley
To return to Phoenix, take US 60 west through Globe from Eagar. However, to extend your eastern Arizona adventure just a bit, head south from Alpine along the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (US 191), and return to the Valley through Safford.