This State Park In Southwestern America Has Spacious Campsites And Unbeatable Hiking Trails

Arizona has so much natural beauty, it's hard to keep track of it all. While treasured wild places like the Grand Canyon are located in remote parts of the state, others are fairly close to urban centers such as Phoenix and Tucson. This makes it easy for city dwellers to escape into nature without having to drive for hours. One gem of a wilderness area that's only 41 miles from Phoenix is the Lost Dutchman State Park. The park lies at the western edge of the Superstition Mountains, which are part of the 160,000-acre Superstition Wilderness, an untamed swathe of rugged and scenic desert, home to quite a few cacti and coyotes and maybe even a few ghosts.

In addition to being the second-most photographed place in Arizona — second only to the Grand Canyon — the Superstition Mountains have spawned numerous legends. One of these concerns the "Dutchman" Jacob Waltz (who was actually German), after whom the park was named. Supposedly, Waltz knew the location of a lost gold mine in the mountains, but since he died in 1891, no one has been able to find it. While you probably won't strike gold at the Lost Dutchman State Park, you'll find plenty of other opportunities for enrichment. The park is open year-round,  has a well-maintained campground, and offers access to some amazing hiking trails. There are also a variety of special events in the park that make it well worth visiting, even if you're not the camping type.

Camping and hiking in the park

For those looking for a wilderness immersion that comes with a few creature comforts, camping at the Lost Dutchman State Park is a dream. Overnight visitors can play on the park's trails by day and stargaze by night, away from any major sources of light pollution. The campground's 135 spacious individual campsites and three group campsites are dispersed along several paved loops, with lovely views of the desert landscape and mountains. All sites come with a picnic table and fire pit, and 68 sites have water and electric for RV hook-ups. Don't feel like cookin'? Five miles down the road from the park, you'll find Apache Junction, which has a decent selection of restaurants and watering holes. In addition to Old-West saloons and classic diners, you can even find Mexican, Chinese, and Italian eats in this quirky desert town.

Hikers can access six different trails from the park, which range in length and difficulty. On the easy end, there's the .2-mile Native Plant Trail. While ambling along this path, visitors can refer to the park's printed native plant guide to identify different desert plants, such as the cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear cactus, and iconic saguaro. On the opposite end of the spectrum there's the 5.8 mile Siphon Draw Trail, which ascends the formidable rock formation known as the Flatiron. This is one of the steepest hikes in Arizona outside of the Grand Canyon and should only be attempted by experienced hikers in cooler weather.

Events offer new experiences in the desert

However, there's a lot more to do in this park than just hiking and camping. The park offers a year-round program of special events, including educational presentations and campfire talks for people of all ages on a wide variety of topics related to desert wildlife and ecology. Attendees of the park's nighttime Star Parties, have the chance to view the moon, stars, star clusters, and galaxies through a series of telescopes set up by the Superstition Mountain Telescopic League. The park also makes a stunning backdrop for live musical performances, which are offered for park visitors several times throughout the year.

Located on the doorstep of the vast Superstition Wilderness, Lost Dutchman State Park also serves as an excellent launching point for other adventures in the area. The Superstition Wilderness is overflowing with additional hiking and long-distance backpacking opportunities, starting with some incredible trails 2.4 miles from Lost Dutchman State Park at the First Water Trailhead. The Goldfield Ghost Town, a historic gold-mining town located only one mile from the park, provides a fascinating glimpse into the colorful history of the area. Another adventure not to be missed in these parts is the scenic drive that begins on Route 88, known as the Apache Trail. This 120-mile loop winds east through the Superstition Mountains, with breathtaking views of deep canyons and the Sonoran desert landscape.