Located about 35 minutes east of Phoenix in the remote Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction is close to many of the area’s most popular attractions.
As an old mining town, it’s full of hard-luck stories and local legends, many of which include murders, missing persons, and hordes of gold that have eluded discovery for more than a hundred years.
It’s also set amidst an area of largely unchanged national forest and some of the most dramatic scenery in the state, or even the western United States as a whole.
Below are 15 of the most amazing things to do while in Apache Junction.
1. Lost Dutchman State Park
If you’ve ever wondered about the famous Dutchman who got lost in Arizona, and why they named a park after him, then a trip to Lost Dutchman State Park should be on your Apache Junction itinerary.
Rumor has it that in the late 19th century a Dutch prospector struck a vein of gold worth millions in the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction, but died before he was able to cash in on his newfound wealth.
Since then, brave fortune hunters have been trying to find the mythical mine, and many have died in the process.
At nearly 300 acres, the park is large and covered with trails. Be warned, it’s very easy to get lost in these mountains, and each year a few poor souls need to be rescued, while some don’t make it out alive.
2. Visit the Goldfield Ghost Town
Located on North Mammoth Mine Road in Apache Junction, the Goldfield Ghost Town is full of history, character and cool things to do.
There’s a museum that highlights the town’s past, which went from boom to bust like nearly all of Arizona’s towns that depended on the ore locked in the nearby rock.
The town is home to the state’s only remaining narrow gauge railroad, which is still operational.
Many of the buildings have been renovated, and there’s even a great gift shop full of knick-knacks and wild west memorabilia, but the highlight will probably the gunfight performance for which the town is most famous.
3. Superstition Mountain Museum
Primarily focused on old, western movie relics and archives, the Superstition Mountain Museum on North Apache Trail in Apache Junction is like a walk down memory lane.
Located near Lost Dutchman State Park and the majestic Superstition Mountains, the museum is home to movie sets, carriages, full-size mannequins, and a collection of native animals that have been stuffed and preserved.
There’s also a little white chapel that was moved to the museum and was used in the filming of an Elvis Presley movie in 1969.
Don’t forget to pick up a few things at the gift shop before you head off to your next adventure.
4. Tube the Salt River
In hot and dry Apache Junction and nearby Phoenix, water sports and water-related recreation have an almost mythical allure.
At nearly 200 miles long, Arizona’s Salt River meanders its way through some of the most rugged and breathtaking country to be found, before emptying into the Gila River south of Phoenix.
Floating this portion of the river between Mesa and Phoenix is a must-do item for those looking to escape the heat and see some wonderful sights.
The water is surprisingly clear and cool, and though it’s safe for most ages, there can be large groups of inebriated teenagers and young adults who can get a bit loud.
5. Tonto National Forest
Even by Arizona standards, 3 million acres is a lot of land, and in fact, the Tonto National Forest is the largest in the state and the 5th largest in the United States.
The area spreads from the Sonoran Desert in the south, through the ponderosa pines of central Arizona to the Mogollon Rim in the north, near Flagstaff.
It’s home to two lakes, countless creeks and streams, and many amazing plants and animals including javelinas, elk, and even mountain lions.
There are a few access points near Apache Junction, the most popular of which is near the scenic Apache Lake.
6. The Siphon Draw Trail
If a challenging hike through an awe-inspiring park, followed by a picnic or relaxing snack sounds like a great way to spend a few hours, then Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park is where you need to be.
The trail can be tricky in areas, but if you tough it out, it will take you to a waterfall that depending on the season, may or may not be flowing.
The end of the hike will lead you to the Flatiron, an appropriately named massive slab of rock from which you’ll have amazing panoramic views of the surrounding country, and even Phoenix which is nearly 30 miles away.
7. Go Ziplining
For those brave souls who aren’t afraid of heights, ziplining is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding landscape.
Located on North Mammoth Mine Road in Goldfield Ghost Town, Superstition Zipline will take you hundreds of feet above the town, giving you amazing views of the state park, town and nearby lake.
Who knows, with a little luck you may even be able to see the poor, lost Dutchman’s bleached bones in the state park and put the whole myth to rest once and for all.
You can book online, and their website has excellent pictures of what you’ll see, so check it out.
8. Mesa Market Place Swap Meet
Whatever you do, don’t call the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet a flea market. Though it’s kind of similar, it’s decidedly more upscale and offers live entertainment too.
The market has been open since 1996, and sports over a thousand vendors selling everything you could ever want.
Parking and admission are free, and there’s a food court too. The market’s hours vary depending on the season, so check online before you go.
There’s also a cool place on their website to print coupons if you’d like to save a few bucks, and you can even sign up to be a vendor.
9. Big League Dreams
If swinging for the fences on a baseball field that’s a replica of some of the major league’s most famous sounds like a dream come true, then a short drive to Big League Dreams in Gilbert should be on your Apache Junction itinerary.
The park is open to all ages of big-league dreamers and holds regular leagues, tournaments and events throughout the year.
It’s also possible to rent parts of the park for private parties, family reunions and corporate outings.
Of course, if you’d rather just swing by to watch a game or two without getting into the action, that’s OK too. The park is full of amenities, including a restaurant.
10. Commemorative Air Force Museum
If war-birds from bygone eras get your blood pumping like they do mine, then make the short drive to the Commemorative Air Force Museum on North Greenfield Road in Mesa.
Included in the collection is one of my personal favorites, the P-51 Mustang which acted as a long-range bomber escort for American and English bombers over Germany, and helped turn the tide of the air war over Europe.
In addition to the planes, there is archival footage, newspaper stories, weapons and personal accounts from airmen and soldiers.
Their website has the museum’s hours of operation and prices.
11. Usery Mountain Regional Park
With nearly 30 miles of trails which are open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders, Usery Mountain Regional Park in nearby Mesa is a great place to burn some calories and see some of the area’s spectacular geology, plants and animals.
With flat and mountain trails, short and long ones, there’s something for everyone.
Merkle Trail, Wind Cave Trail and Mountain trail are among the most popular, so be sure to check them out on the trail maps located near the nature center before you head out.
Bring decent shoes, plenty of water and some sunblock too.
12. Lu Lu’s Bordello Museum & Gift Shop
If answering the question: “Mommy, what’s a bordello?” is one you’ve been just itching to answer, then pack the little ones up and head to Lu Lu’s Bordello Museum and Gift Shop in the Goldfield Ghost Town.
Located in a historic and renovated building that was once a real-life brothel, the museum is like a glimpse into the seedy but real past of a rough and tumble prospector’s town.
Guided tours are available and last 20 minutes or so, and don’t worry about it being too raunchy for the little ones, because the guides tailor the tours to the age of the guests, so too much won’t be revealed.
Even, better, leave the kids in the gift shop with your prudish Aunt Margaret.
13. Superstition Farm
Located a few minutes from Apache Junction on South Hawes Road in Mesa, Superstition Farm is a working dairy farm that’s open to tours.
Touring the farm is a great way to teach children that food doesn’t originate in a box in the grocery store.
There’s also a petting zoo on site, and many of the animals have been rescued after mishaps with cars and other similar things that have injured them.
There’s also a farmer’s market and the farm is available for private parties and even weddings.
Check out their website for upcoming events, hours of operation and pricing.
14. The B&B Mesa Gateway 12
There are few better ways to beat the Arizona sun than inside a darkened and air-conditioned movie theater.
If you agree, then the B&B Mesa Gateway 12 is a great choice for killing a few hours in the heat of the afternoon.
Located on South Signal Butte Road in Mesa, the theater also sports IMAX and RD films, which are really cool, especially if you haven’t tried them before.
This probably isn’t the place for you if you don’t like lots of rambunctious kids, flashing lights and loud noises, as the arcade area can be crowded and chaotic at times. Check online to see what’s playing.
15. Saguaro Lake
Located in the Tonto National Forest, not far from Apache Junction, Saguaro Lake is full of activities like swimming, fishing, boating and water skiing.
Originally part of the aforementioned Salt River, the lake was formed in the ‘30s when the construction of Steward Mountain Dam was completed.
The lake has nearly 23 miles of shoreline and includes a marina, multiple picnic and designated swimming areas, and overnight camping sites with restrooms.
There’s a fee to enter the park, and there’s even a restaurant with tasty food and amazing views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Check out their website for directions, maps and weather conditions.