Outdoor and Active

Day Trips from Tempe: Apache Trail Loop

It’s a Tuesday morning, which would normally be a work day. But not today; today we’re on vacation! Since we have two little ones under the age of three, we wanted to go somewhere close enough to Tempe that it wouldn’t be too exhausting for them, but also something far enough away that we got to get out and see the beautiful Sonoran Desert. We decided to go on a day trip from Tempe along the Apache Trail Loop out to the funky, tiny town of Tortilla Flat. It’s a quick jaunt outside the Phoenix Metro area, with fun places to stop in between. View our road trip on Google maps to get a glimpse of which roads we took, and how long our drive was from destination to destination.

Our first stop for the day was, of course, for breakfast! P. Croissant is a fabulous little local bakery and cafe in Tempe. My daughter loves croissants, so we figured this was a good choice (she’s a notoriously picky eater). P. Croissant has an abundant variety of croissants and baked goods to choose from, great coffee and excellent service. Once we all had our fill of flaky goodness, we hopped in the car to begin our journey. Our first stop would be to Goldfield Ghost Town, about a 40 minute drive from Tempe.

We’re greeted at Goldfield Ghost Town with a loud train horn blowing and my kids squealing with delight. There’s ample parking which is always a bonus. This little town got its start in 1892 and was bustling with miners until the gold fell away just five years later. It was revitalized again in the 1920’s but quickly went back to a ghost town again. In the late 60’s the town rejuvenated as a ghost town. It has grown over the years and now features a narrow gauge train ride, gold-mine tours, Old West gunfights, a history museum and much more – plenty to entertain kids and adults for a few hours. To one side is the small hilltop town and to other is the train ride. We head for the train first. About a 20 minute ride, it runs the circumference of the town and is narrated by the conductor with fun stories and anecdotes. Both my kids love anything to do with trains, so this was the end all be all of train rides. Afterwards we went on the mine tour. Down, down, down we go for this 20 minute tour. The tour guide was entertaining and only lost my kids’ interest a few times, which is pretty amazing. Strolling around the town’s main path afterwards, we pop our heads into the saloon and general store. My three year old decides popcorn is the perfect snack, and since we’re on vacation, her wish is granted. Tummies happy, we’re ready to hop back in the car and head for Tortilla Flat, a town of population 6!

The drive from Goldfield Ghost Town to Torilla Flat is absolutely lovely. Hills, mountains, valleys and lots and lots of saguaro cactus. It’s amazing that just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Phoenix you can find yourself surrounded the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Up and around and through the Tonto National Forest, Canyon Lake comes into view. We didn’t have time to explore the lake, but if you you do have time, it would be fun to add this to your trip. The Dolly Steamboat offers several excursions daily.

Within 30 minutes, we arrived at the Old West town known as Tortilla Flat. Originally a stagecoach stop in 1904, this little stop on the Apache Trail has lived on through the years and is a popular attraction today. A main boardwalk connects the town, which includes a saloon and restaurant, gift shop, country store and museum. We find a parking spot and decide to head straight to the restaurant for lunch. The kiddos can’t wait to eat, and I was getting hungry too.

When you walk in to the restaurant the first thing you’ll notice is that every inch of the walls are covered with dollar bills. Upon closer inspection I see that each and every dollar is marked with a name, year, city or country and often times a short message. I was fascinated to see how many international visitors this little town sees each year. The noisy restaurant is family-friendly with an affordable menu, and can handle groups easily. It’s really casual and the bar stools are made from real saddles – very cool. Once seated the service is friendly and quick. The menu features a little bit of everything including traditional American dishes such as hamburgers, chili, salads, etc. The kid’s menu is great and has all the favorites. After lunch, we walk next door for a scoop of prickly pear gelato – something you’ll only find in Tortilla Flat! The kids at this point are completely pooped, so my husband gets them ready to start heading back to Tempe while I pop my head into what has to be the tiniest museum I’ve ever been to. It’s in a tiny building, maybe 10′ x 10′. It tells the history of the town and the area. For such a small museum, it packs a lot of fun facts that makes you want to linger for a few minutes.

The kids, now completely passed out, sleep the whole way back to town. Pretty awesome for mom and dad to get a chance to relax and chat about our fun day. We even make a quick pit stop at to take in some scenic views of Canyon lake. Back home, we take a few hours to rest up before heading out to Tempe Marketplace to grab dinner. Several restaurants choices, lots of shops, a movie theater and a splash pad make this ideal for families. Always tried and true, we head to Paradise Bakery. They have good food and good prices and our kids love it. With blues skies and warm temps, we pick a table outside. This way the kids can stretch their legs and move around without disturbing anyone else. After dinner we walked around to check out the water features, cozy seating areas with fireplaces and of course the splash pad.

This was the perfect day trip distance with toddlers. We all had fun and were able to relax in the afternoon too. And as most parents would agree, that afternoon rest time is essential with little ones. This is just one of many fun day trips from Tempe to explore the state of Arizona. Make Tempe your home base to explore this lovely state!

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