To Pave Or Not To Pave: The Apache Trail’s Gradual Reopening

The iconic Apache Trail, a historic roadway cherished for its scenic beauty, has been largely inaccessible due to severe flood damage since 2019. 

Recent developments, however, bring hope as restoration efforts are set to begin, aiming to revive this important Arizona route.

Credit: Instagram: lizz_schulzee

But many Arizona residents and even non-residents who have enjoyed this beautiful, rough stretch of road for decades are not thrilled with the potential to fully pave it.

A Long-Awaited Plan

On January 12, the State Transportation Board approved a significant step forward with a $4 million plan to reopen a 5-mile stretch of the Apache Trail (State Route 88). 

Credit: Instagram: anthonyprieto83

This section, known for its rugged terrain, was closed after devastating floods made it impassable, affecting local tourism and community life in Apache Junction significantly.

Impact of the Closure

The closure of the Apache Trail has had a profound economic impact on the surrounding areas, particularly in terms of lost tourism revenue. 

Known for its stunning vistas along the Salt River and Roosevelt Dam, the road was frequented by adventurers and nature lovers, but only averaged 232 vehicles daily before its closure.

Community Feedback and Challenges

The decision to restore the road has been met with mixed reactions from the local community. 

Many residents and visitors have shared their experiences and opinions, highlighting the road’s challenging yet rewarding nature. 

Credit: Instagram: bransen.lou

Some locals have expressed a desire for the road to retain its rugged, minimalistic character, while others have criticized the state’s slow response and have called for more decisive action to make the road safely passable again.

Restoration Efforts and Future Plans

The approved project will focus on making critical repairs to the most damaged sections of the road, including boulder removal, rockfall mitigation, and retaining wall fixes. 

This will initially allow access only for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Looking ahead, there is a broader plan involving an $18 million federal project to improve an 11-mile stretch from Apache Lake to State Route 188, aimed at making the road more durable and accessible to all types of vehicles (paving).

The Debate Over Paving

One of the most significant ongoing debates is whether the entire Apache Trail should be paved as part of its restoration. 

Last year, the state proposed a comprehensive plan to fully restore and pave the road, with an estimated cost of $33.7 million. 

Credit: Instagram: anthonyprieto83

However, financial constraints and budget shortfalls have stalled these plans, leaving the future of a fully paved SR88 uncertain. 

Many community members are torn between improving safety and accessibility and preserving the road’s historic and rustic charm.

What Happens Next

But for now, due to a lack of funding, the Apache Trail will not be fully paved.

Funding has been secured to begin to fix the closed portion of the Apache Trail (between Fish Creek Hill and Reavis Trailhead).

Fixing the closed portion will come with some upgrades, but the surface of the road will remain similar to what it has always been and will not be full pavement.

Credit: Instagram: cameracruzer

This means that only high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles will be able to traverse this rough stretch of road, which is what many in and around the community want.

The project will kick off this summer, meaning much of the Apache Trail will likely remain closed as the work is being done.

But until the state secures the funding it desires for a fully paved Apache Trail, this stretch of it will remain similar to what it has always been.

Must-Visit Spots Along The Apache Trail

While the ride along the Apache Trail offers plenty of incredible views from the comfort of your vehicle, there are some must-visit locations along it where you may want to stop and spend some time.

Lost Dutchman State Park:

Located at the beginning of the Apache Trail, this state park is famous for the Superstition Mountains and the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The park offers breathtaking views of the rugged mountain terrain and is a popular spot for hiking, camping, and photography.

Canyon Lake:

This is the first of three lakes formed by dams along the Salt River. The lake is surrounded by steep canyon walls, making for dramatic landscapes. Visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, and picnicking, or take a scenic cruise on the Dolly Steamboat to explore the secluded waterways.

Tortilla Flat:

Historically a stagecoach stop, Tortilla Flat is the smallest town in Arizona and retains much of its early 20th-century charm. It offers a quaint restaurant, a gift shop, and a small museum. The town is a fun stop to stretch your legs and soak up some local history.

Fish Creek Hill:

This spot provides a steep, narrow, and winding segment of the road that offers dramatic overlooks. The views are stunning, but the drive can be challenging, so it’s recommended for more experienced drivers. The area is excellent for taking panoramic photos of the surrounding landscape.

Apache Lake:

Slightly off the beaten path and less crowded than nearby Canyon Lake, Apache Lake offers serene beauty with its long, narrow stretch of water flanked by steep hillsides. It’s a favorite spot for fishing, water sports, and camping.

Roosevelt Dam:

At the trail’s northeastern end, the Roosevelt Dam is an impressive early 20th-century engineering feat. The area around the dam offers fantastic views of the lake and surrounding desert. It’s also a good spot to learn about the history and impact of water management in the Southwest.

Tonto National Monument:

Located just a few miles from Roosevelt Lake, this national monument features well-preserved cliff dwellings inhabited by the Salado people during the 13th to 15th centuries. Hiking up to the dwellings offers both a touch of history and spectacular views of the surrounding desert and lake.

Superstition Wilderness:

For those willing to venture off the main road, the Superstition Wilderness Area offers extensive hiking trails, remarkable geology, and the chance to encounter wildlife. This area is shrouded in legends and offers a true taste of the Arizona wilderness.

Final Thought

As restoration efforts for the Apache Trail begin, the balance between accessibility and preserving its natural beauty remains a central concern. 

While the road to full recovery and reopening is fraught with financial and logistical challenges, the community’s strong connection to this historic route fosters hope that it will once again be a bustling pathway for Arizona’s residents and visitors alike. 

The ongoing dialogue and planned improvements signify a commitment to reviving the Apache Trail, ensuring it remains a treasured part of the state’s heritage.