Arizona is full of small towns rich with history, but no place is quite like this little western town, Tortilla Flat. Tucked back in the mountains on the end of Canyon Lake, with a population of just 6 people, this town thrives on tourism.
Yes you read that right- 6 people! Their population may be small, but their enthusiasm and love for their home has created a one of a kind experience for locals and visitors.
Tortilla Flat holds several exciting things to do and places to explore if you’re looking to get out of Phoenix. This post covers travel information, accommodations, and things to do at Tortilla Flat. Are you ready for this fun-filled day trip?
About Tortilla Flat, Arizona
The history of this resilient Western town is quite remarkable. Before its official establishment, the area is said to have been used by the early Natives traveling between the central Arizona mountains and Salt River Valley. The trail they created was known as the Yavapai, or Tonto Trail, and is said to have been a difficult one to traverse.
Eventually the Natives, along with prospectors, cattle ranchers, etc. used it as a campsite since the terrain was flat and had fresh water supply and grass for the horses. One pioneer by the name of John Cline was said to have camped at the site while traveling through.
As the story goes, Cline and his fellow men had nothing left but flour with them one night, so they made tortillas. Thus, he came up with the name of Tortilla Flat!
In 1903 the Apache Trail was developed- a 40+ mile long dirt round that twists and turns through the Superstition Mountains, connecting to where the Roosevelt Dam was being built. The workers were building the dam by hand and needed a place to hold supplies.
Thus, in 1904 Tortilla Flat was officially established as a stagecoach stop for the workers since the Apache Trail ran right through it.
The land is technically owned by the Forest Service, yet some individuals decided to set up residency at Tortilla Flat and carry on the lease. Today, Tortilla Flat still leases the land and only owns the structures on it.
Over the course of 100+ years this small Western town has survived and re-built from several disasters like flash floods and fires. Many big name celebrities are said to have visited as well, and a movie was even filmed here.
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the Tortilla Flat history for you and ruin your fun. You’ll just have to visit it yourself to learn more!
How to get to Tortilla Flat
Tortilla Flat is located just over an hour East of Phoenix and about 30 minutes from Apache Junction, which is where the Apache Trail begins. The portion of the trail between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat is a paved, two lane road that twists and winds through the Superstition Mountains to Canyon Lake. At the end of Canyon Lake the paved road will end at Tortilla Flat! You can map your directions here.
You’ll want to remember to bring your camera and take your time on this historic road, for it has stunning views and pull-offs along the way. This portion of the road isn’t extremely treacherous, however you’ll still want to drive the speed limit and stay alert.
Where can I stay at tortilla flat?
Tortilla Flat is more of a day trip rather than an overnight getaway. There aren’t any hotels or rentals in the small town for you to stay at. In fact, there aren’t any real accommodations anywhere near Tortilla Flat.
The closest accommodations you’ll be able to find are most likely going to be in Apache Junction which is 30 minutes away.
If you’re interested in camping you can camp at the Canyon Lake Marina Campground down the road. You must make reservations online ahead of time and the nightly fees are a bit steep.
how much time do i need at tortilla flat?
The town itself is just a few hundred feet long, so you can get through all of the attractions typically within 1-2 hours. If you stop to eat or want to unwind and enjoy the live music for a bit, then of course your time may be extended.
There are several fun things to do around Tortilla Flat which can add time to your day trip. Keep reading below for some ideas to start building your itinerary!
Things to do in Tortilla Flat
Now that you have an understanding of this small western town, it is time to dive in and plan your day trip. But before we get started I want to point out that parking is limited. There is an overflow parking lot you can park in, but it is still best to begin your day early to beat the heat and crowds.
Always visit their website beforehand to double check their hours. But usually they are as follows:
- Monday- Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Saturday & Sunday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Finally, below are all the fun things to do in Tortilla Flat!
Eat at the Superstition Restaurant and Saloon
Plan on having breakfast or lunch at the Restaurant and Saloon. Walking inside will take you back in time with the real saddle bar stools and walls covered in dollar bills. One of the most-do’s while dining in is to leave your mark on the historic site by signing a dollar bill and getting it put on the wall. I’m not even joking- they are running out of room for almost every inch of that place is covered!
In 1987 the Restaurant and Saloon was almost completely burnt down by a kitchen fire that had started. Some of the dollar bills on the walls survived and you can see charred marks on them today.
The building was re-built after the fire and continues to serve its famous Chili recipe. Their recipe is from the 1940’s and has not changed since! It is extremely popular and keeps the locals coming back. You can try it alone or on their Chili Burger which just may be their best seller. If you can’t get enough of it you can purchase their chili spice packets to bring home with you!
eat & drink at the bbq patio
If you prefer the outdoors and cooler temperatures, check out the BBQ Patio. Right next to the Restaurant and Saloon is the outdoor BBQ Patio which is open for winter season only. Visit daily between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. so you can order some BBQ and drinks while you listen to the Tortilla Flat Band!
If you have a sweet ride consider attending “Silent Biker Day”. This is a New Years day tradition! Bikers ride the windy roads and gather here on New Years Day. The event is called “silent” since it is not advertised but is just something bikers have been doing for years.
Grab Gelato from the Country Store
It is always sunny in Arizona, so what could be better than cooling down with some Gelato? The Country Store is home to the famous Prickly Pear Gelato and is a must-try when visiting. The bright pink color means it is 100% natural so it is a healthier option.
The General Store also makes their own homemade fudge and sell a variety of other unique treats and drinks to sweeten up your day.
Shop at the mercantile store
Grab your souvenir or gift for a friend at the Mercantile Store! This gift shop has a large variety of unique items to choose from. They sell anything from T-shirts to books and handmade items from local artists in Arizona.
If you’re into authentic native jewelry, locally made pottery, and handmade soaps you’ll love browsing around the Mercantile Store during your visit.
View the Tortilla Flat Museum
In the late 1920’s Tortilla Flat actually had enough kids to have a school! The original schoolhouse isn’t standing today, but a replica has been built and is used as the museum.
This small structure has a wooden ramp leading up to it and is full of historical documents and facts that might surprise you. Just about every inch inside is covered! This is my favorite part of Tortilla Flat. When I visited in June of 2021 the museum was being renovated, so by the time you make your trip you’ll get to experience the new and improved museum.
Take a cruise with Dolly Steamboat Cruises
One of the best ways to experience Canyon Lake’s beauty is to get out on the water with Dolly Steamboat Cruise. This 1.5 hour scenic cruise takes you around the lake allowing you to see sights only available from the water.
Big horn sheep are common to spot during the cruise and you’ll gain a wealth of knowledge from the captain as he gives historical facts along the way! The steamboat has a snack bar onboard plus alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to enhance your experience.
They are located near the Canyon Lake Marina, just about 2 miles from Tortilla Flat. You’ll drive past them before you reach Tortilla Flat, so you can plan to take a cruise before or after you visit the western town.
Visit Dolly Steamboat Cruise- the best way to experience Canyon Lake for more!
Go for a hike via tortilla trailhead
If you continue past Tortilla Flat on the now dirt portion of the Apache Trail, you can possibly reach the Tortilla Trailhead. This trail is more like a dry creek bed for 4×4 vehicles, but still, people hike 6.4 miles out and back.
Overall the views are the typical flat, open desert and you won’t get any shade from the sun. There is no official “end destination” so feel free to get out and walk or hike around for as far as you want. Since this trail is off a rough road and so far out, you may have the trail to yourself!
CAUTION: The road condition can drastically change depending on weather. The 2019 Wildfire has greatly damaged the Apache Trail, closing it not far beyond this trailhead. Travel down the road with caution and be prepared for the fact your vehicle may not be equipped for it. 4×4 may be required.
visit fish creek hill viewpoint
A little further down the Apache Trail, on the left side, is the Fish Creek Hill viewpoint. This viewpoint has parking space and a paved path to the viewpoint area.
If you’re wondering about the Fish Creek Hill viewpoint being worth it…I’d say it is! You get beautiful desert vista views at this point plus a little more isolation from the crowds. Not many people are willing to drive down a dirt road, let alone even know about this!
CAUTION: I have not traveled this far since the 2019 Wildfire. I cannot personally attest to how far down the Apache Trail you can get, so you may not be able to reach this pull-off until the road is opened back up. I will update this post in a couple weeks once I get out there myself!
can i continue my scenic drive along the apache trail?
Unfortunately due to a 2019 wildfire, the entire Apache Trail can no longer be driven from Apache Junction all the way to the Roosevelt Dam. Fire damage has wiped out parts of the already treacherous road, making it impassable at parts.
From Tortilla Flat you can continue down the scenic drive which at this point turns to a dirt road. It is open for a couple miles then becomes closed off. You may be able to travel far enough to reach the viewpoint and trailhead listed above. But after that you’ll have to turn around and head back the way you came.
Final thoughts on Tortilla Flat, Arizona
My first trip to Tortilla Flat was with my mother almost ten years ago! She took me to visit the small town when I was visiting her over high school spring break. The experience stayed with me and is the reason I’ve returned 3 more times since!
It is probably because visiting Tortilla Flat never gets old. The drive is beautiful and a great way to get out of the big city. I always suggest it for family or friends visiting because it truly is a unique western town unlike any other.
There are a handful of things to do while visiting Tortilla Flat. My favorite have always been the Dolly Steamboat Tours, eating Gelato from the General Store, and visiting the Museum.
If you end up visiting Tortilla Flat I hope you have the best experience. Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have when planning your trip, and as always, I’d love to hear how it goes!
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