Desert Getaway: the Arizona Trail
An epic backpacking trip is one way to see the Arizona Trail. But a chill hiking weekend in the throwback town of Superior will do just fine
The town of Superior
It’s not just that the heaping plate of tacos I’m eating costs less than $4. Or that a local walked up to our table and offered his services as a hiking guide, free, simply for fun. It’s the honest-to-God niceness of everyone in the postage-stamp town of Superior, gateway to the Arizona Trail, which stretches from the state’s Mexican border to Utah. This Mayberry-in-the-desert vibe only an hour from Phoenix is just what I need. On my previous trip to Arizona, my car was broken into in But since my check-in at Superior’s Copper Mountain Motel—including a long chat with owners Bessie and Merlin, oranges picked from a tree in front of the office, and the offer of a lift to a trailhead—my optimism is back. As small Arizona towns go, Superior’s story is a familiar one. A former mining town, it’s reinventing itself, as Bisbee and Jerome did some 15 years ago. There’s an art gallery on Main Street. A former New York food editor has opened Jade Grill, home of stick-to-your-ribs pork buns and, at there’s still some frontier ruggedness about the place. Which, if you ask me, is a good thing.
The Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail, designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009, stretches 817 miles and is now just 30 miles from completion. Superior is one of the only spots of civilization along it. While it would take months to hike the trail’s entire length (consider it the Southwest’s answer to the Appalachian Trail), its creators clearly understand modern life, and broke it into 43 sections. That means you can choose between heading south from Superior on the Alamo Canyon section, or north into the remote and burly Superstition Wilderness. Keep trekking north for weeks, and the trail would take you past cliff dwellings (at Tonto and Walnut Canyon National Monuments), eye-popping history (the Roosevelt Dam), and even the Grand Canyon. Clearly I won’t be going to the Grand Canyon today, so I set out toward Picketpost Mountain, my only company hundreds, even thousands, of towering saguaros. While I hike, the profiles shift, looking for a moment like pirates, superheroes, and, as the sky goes pink, straws sticking out of giant margaritas. I feel totally in the wilderness, utterly remote. Except that instead of pitching a tent and eating something out of a can, I know I’ll make it back to Superior before Jade Grill runs out of pork ribs. Now that’s living.
Plan your weekend
Stay: The 16 rooms at the Copper Mountain Motel (from $58; 520/689-2886) are basic but colorful and clean, and the vintage sign now advertises Wi-Fi.
Pitch a tent: Camping along the Arizona Trail (aztrail.org) is free and requires no permits. Hike south to the merging of White and Walnut Canyons for a site with an artesian well. Trek north, and you can bed down in the orchards at the abandoned Reavis Ranch.
Hike and bike: The Arizona Trail heads north and south out of town. Most backpackers go north into the Superstition Wilderness (no biking), but the best bet for day-hikers and bikers is the Alamo Canyon stretch, near Picketpost Mountain. The trailhead is 4 miles west of town on U.S. 60. A good turnaround point is just south of Picketpost, about 3 miles in. Close to town, the lovely Boyce Thompson Arboretum ($7.50; 37615 U.S. 60; arboretum.ag.arizona.edu) has walking trails too.
Grab a bite: Locals flock to Los Hermanos ($; 835 W. U.S. 60; 520/689-5465) for the best Mexican food in town. Café Piedra Roja ($; 507 W. Main St.; 520/689-0194) has a patio with a cactus garden. Lucy Wing returned from New York to her native Superior to open the delicious Jade Grill Asian BBQ ($; 639 W. U.S. 60; 520/689-2885).