Exploring the Lower Salt River and Apache Trail in Arizona!

March 2024 – The Salt River in eastern Arizona boasts some of the finest Sonoran Desert scenery in the state, and it’s one of our favorite places for exploring, hiking, biking, photography and relaxing in the lush desert!.

The river flows westward from Arizona’s White Mountains, and as it approaches Phoenix, a portion of it known as the Lower Salt River flows through a series of dams, creating Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake. The Apache Trail parallels the river on an impossibly winding and gorgeous route.

The contrast between the dry desert and these lakes makes for a unique landscape, and in the springtime it is bursting with flowers and wildlife.

Sitting in the Lower Salt River Arizona poppies

A little wildlife amid a lot of flowers!.

We had so much fun photographing the Arizona poppies along the Bush Highway last March that we just had to return this year.

Last year the poppies exploded in a fabulous super bloom. This year the fields of gold weren’t as extensive as before. However, it was still a magical experience to see the pretty flowers and walk between the thick patches of yellow and orange.

Buddy made himself at home and promptly laid down in a thicket of poppies.

Puppy in the poppies on the Lower Salt River in Arizona

“This is nice here!”

People all around us strolled slowly in wonder, stopping now and then to get selfies amid the flowers. We were no exception!

Happy photographing the poppies along the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

Right in the thick of it…

Photography in the Lower Salt River Arizona poppies

Getting down to business!


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These joyful flowers grow in abundance all around the Phoenix area. For some people whose yards are overrun with them each spring, they can actually be something of a nuisance. But to us, their happy faces smiling up at the sun are the very essence of Spring.

Lower Salt River Arizona poppies with a lupine

Poppies herald the arrival of Spring in the Sonoran Desert.

Lower Salt River Arizona poppies on the Bush Highway in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area

Smiling faces.

Arizona Poppies blooming on the Bush Highway in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

Poppies’ eye view of the sky!

A little further down the Bush Highway, we stopped at the Water User’s Recreation Area. This is a huge parking lot and river frontage area where people launch kayaks, standup paddle boards and let their dogs and kids play in the water. There’s a fantastic view of the Salt River from the edge of the parking lot.

Water Users Recreation Area Lower Salt River on the Bush Highway

A natural river flows through the desert.

Water Users Recreation Area Lower Salt River on the Bush Highway

This is a great place to play in the water on a hot day.

Lower Salt River on the Bush Highway Water Users Recreation Area

Just love those cliffs!

Sometimes when we’ve stopped at this spot we’ve seen the wild horses that are residents of the area. They come down to the water here for a drink. None were out on this particular day. However, Buddy waded in the water and took a long drink.

Dog in the Salt River on the Bush Highway at Water Users Recreation Area

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There are a lot of recreation areas along the Bush Highway, and each is a little different. There are cliffs and beaches and even some mesquite woods at the Coon Bluff Recreation Area.

We hiked on the short trail that parallels the Salt River and wanders between the lush green grass and mesquite trees.

Coon Bluff Trail in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

We watched a wedding shoot in this grove of trees a few years back!

Down on the riverbank we suddenly heard a loud chirping coming from a pile of boulders. Buddy quickly ran over and stared into a hole between the rocks, sniffing continuously. Sure enough, there was a ground squirrel in the hole. He came out into the sunshine for a split second and chirped for us and then darted back in the hole.

Squirrel at Coon Bluff Trail in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

“Watcha doin’ ?”

Up in the sky, a pair of geese flew by. One was honking loudly. The wildlife around here had a lot to say!

Geese flying at Coon Bluff Trail in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

“Take a left!”

We drove on a short distance and stopped at the Phon D Sutton Recreation Area. This spot is at the confluence of the Salt River and the Verde River, and there’s not only wildlife all around but lots of human activity too. it’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

We hiked a short trail that goes along the river’s edge, and Buddy suddenly stopped and laid down for a brief rest while he surveyed the pretty landscape from a nice spot in the shade.

Dog relaxes at Phon D Sutton in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

Buddy takes a breather in the shade by the Salt River.

Four Peaks appeared far out on the horizon. From this vantage point we were seeing the “front” of Four Peaks while when we RV camped at Roosevelt Lake further upstream on the Salt River a few weeks ago, we were looking at the “back” of Four Peaks.

Salt River at Phon D Sutton in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Arizona

View of Four Peaks from Phon D Sutton Recreation Area.

In the opposite direction, Red Mountain cast a reflection in the glassy water.

Red Mountain Lower Salt River Arizona

Red Mountain checks its reflection in the water.

As I mentioned, Phon D Sutton (along with all the other Recreation Areas on the Salt River) is a popular place for all kinds of outdoor activities. While we were there, a group of people began bringing inflatable kayaks down to the water’s edge. First it was two yellow kayaks. Then two yellows and a red. Then two yellows, a red and a green. In no time the shoreline was filled with a rainbow of kayaks.

Rafting in the Lower Salt River Arizona

A group of kayakers brought a kaleidescope of kayaks to the shores of the Salt River.

A fly fisherman stood in the water casting his line, and a photographer grinned happily between shots.

Fishing in the Lower Salt River Arizona

The Lower Salt River recreation areas along the Bush Highway are all about having fun in and near the water.



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Photography in the Lower Salt River Arizona at Phon D Sutton

This is a great area to bring a camera.

The Bush Highway, Coon Bluff and Phon D Sutton are all near the city of Mesa. Further upstream on the Salt River, on the northeastern edge of the city of Apache Junction, lies one of Arizona’s most spectacular scenic drives: the Apache Trail (State Route 88).

This incredible winding road goes through some of the finest Sonoran Desert scenery in the state on a road that began as a trail used by the Apache Indians before the settlers arrived.

In 1903 road construction began to link the city of Mesa with the construction site for the Roosevelt Dam. In just a year, the first 64 miles of the road from Mesa to the Roosevelt Dam (which created Roosevelt Lake) was completed for a cost of $200,000. Two years later, in 1905, the entire 112 mile long road through this very treacherous terrain was completed for a total cost of $500,000.

The road builders were predominantly Apache Indians, and they built the road using pick axes and shovels along with dynamite. What an impressive feat!

Apache Indian road building crew on the Apache Trail, courtesy Bureau of Reclamation

These guys built 112 miles of road through perilous terrain in 3 short years!

Today, the 37 miles of road through the most treacherous part of the original 112 mile long Apache Trail goes from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake and takes dozens of sweeping turns on a hilly run out towards the dam.

Only the first 15 miles are paved, however. And the 22 mile long dirt portion, which used to make for a very exciting ride, is currently washed out in a few places due to flooding in 2019, so it’s closed.

As we drove this beloved road, we reminisced about racing our bicycles on the paved portion after work on hot summer Wednesday evenings back in the day! It was a crazy race, but so much fun. It was typically 115 degrees, and we’d both put in a full work day already, but all our cares slipped away as we rode at top speed on this scenic route.

The Apache Trail in Arizona is a winding road

One of dozens of tight turns on the Apache Trail.

On our drive last week, we were alarmed when we saw a sheriff’s car and an ambulance parked by the side of a particularly tight turn, lights flashing.

People routinely drive this road way too fast, and a surprising number go over the edge. Seeing the car at the bottom of the cliff was a great reminder to take our time and drive slowly. After all, why rush on such a beautiful drive?!

Saguaro cacti in the Lower Salt River area in Arizona

The Apache Trail is one of the best places to see gorgeous saguaro cactus stands.

721 Saguaro Cactus on the Apache Trail in Arizona

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Along the way, two trestle bridges cross tributary streams that flow into the river.

Bridge on the Apache Trail in Arizona

There are two trestle bridges on the Apache Trail.

The Apache Trail follows a portion of the Salt River that is dammed to form a series of lakes: Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake. As we turned a corner, we could see Canyon Lake in the distance.

View of Canyon Lake on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Canyon Lake appears in the distance.

A delightful way to see Canyon Lake is to take a ride on the Dolly Steamboat. We enjoyed that wonderful boat ride a few years ago when a crew from Camping World was filming us for a promotional video. It was a lot of fun to float through a Sonoran Desert canyon!

We’ve also taken the boat ride on Saguaro Lake aboard the Desert Belle. If you have a chance, either boat ride (or both) is well worth doing. Drifting through spectacular Sonoran Desert scenery is a captivating way to spend a few hours.

Dolly Steamboat ride on Canyon Lake Arizona

Dolly Steamboat cruises down Canyon Lake.

There are also several recreation areas near the Dolly Steamboat dock, and we stopped at Acacia Recreation Area to explore. This is a gorgeous spot with a beach, picnic tables, shade trees and stunning views of the canyon walls across the water.

A young family was enjoying a picnic on a blanket while a little girl and her dad fished at the water’s edge.

Acacia Recreation Area on the Apache Trail Arizona

What a beautiful place to bring the family on a hot day.


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Canyon Lake on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Far in the distance, the Dolly Steamboat is dwarfed by the canyon walls.

The paved portion of the Apache Trail ends just beyond Tortilla Flat, a small complex of historic buildings with a restaurant. This place is a magnet for convertible drivers and motorcyclists who love to ride the sweeping turns of the Apache Trail and then stop for lunch.

On our way back we saw an opening for a small trail that went down to a stream. Buddy cooled his paws in the water and Mark did too when he accidentally stepped into deep water that came in over the tops of his boots!

Fun in the water on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Buddy and Mark cool their paws in the water.

The whole Lower Salt River area from Roosevelt Lake to the Apache Trail to the river access points on the Bush Highway is a rich playground for outdoor lovers, and we keep going back and back again!

Camping in Arizona

RV camping in the Sonoran Desert – fun fun fun!

Arizona poppies blooming on the Bush Highway in the Lower Salt River Canyon Recreation Area

Poppies, poppies, poppies!

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14 thoughts on “Exploring the Lower Salt River and Apache Trail in Arizona!

  1. Great subject matter and composition in your photographs, even without the inherent drama of dawn or dusk lighting!

  2. We are so fortunate to call this section of Arizona home! You did a wonderful job of describing the beauty of it!! 😊

  3. Happy Easter & Spring! Always enjoy reading your story to Rich. We are heading out Friday to Lost Dutchman State Park for our fourth Vintage Cruiser Rally. Colorado plans for June/July. Safe travels…take care❗️Hugs & love…Mary & Rich

    • Oh man, we just missed you! That’s where we stayed last week!! We would have loved to see you and all those vintage rigs!! Have a blast and enjoy that wonderful campground and state park. Hugs to Rich — thanks for reading my various posts aloud to him!!

  4. Always fun when you refer to past adventures as you tool along memorable scenery….such beauty deserves repeats !

    My neighbors in Paris mentioned enjoying this post…Love, Mom

    • We love discovering new places, but there’s something very special about returning to beloved old haunts…! Please tell your neighbors that I really appreciate their feedback. It’s heartwarming to know that our travel tales are enjoyed both here and abroad! xoxo

  5. Seems we just missed you! We’ve been at Lost Dutchman for a week. I had wanted to camp on the other side but with Steve’s recent eye surgeries we can’t go up in elevation that far yet. We’re bummed with all the cold rainy weather this spring. The flowers are just starting to bloom. We had high hopes for peak season:

    • I’m sorry we missed you, Debbie! It sure has been a wet spring, and it was quite chilly AND wet for our last 3 days at Lost Dutchman. Oh well. Mother Nature has her own agenda and it’s impossible to know ahead of time when the flowers will bloom. The daffodils at our house bloomed on March 25th this year but on February 25th last year! Happy Trails and wildflower hunting to you and Steve, and stay warm!

  6. We spent some time last spring at Lost Dutchman SP, and traveled the Apache trail as far as Tortilla Flat. Your posts remind me of what a glorious place it is!
    No complaining about missing it now as we are currently at Zion NP, and going to Bryce next week.
    Thanks for your amazing photos, as it inspires me to get smarter with my Canon 7D. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I’m so glad you had a chance to drive the Apache Trail and stay at Lost Dutchman. But I’m envious of you being at Zion and Bryce right now! What an ideal time to visit those places. They’ll be so much quieter than at high season in mid-summer. Have fun with your Canon 7D. You can’t get a bad shot at those glorious National Parks!!

  7. I finally got a chance to read this edition and look at the beautiful pictures. I’m glancing out at the remnants of 6 inches of snow we got 2 days ago, so your pictures really cheered me up!

    Beautiful, now hopefully Spring will make its way East.

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