Tortilla Flat: A Place Nestled in History, Natural Beauty, and Splendor

Tortilla Flat: A Place Nestled in History, Natural Beauty, and Splendor

On this latest Adventure of Backpack Pat, we will go on a small journey that is the perfect day trip on the Apache Trail for folks in the Phoenix metro area. Tortilla Flat is not a far hike from Apache Junction and is a place that can truly be a claim of “where it all began for modern-day Arizona”. 

Today, Tortilla Flat is a very worthwhile trip on the Apache Trail to escape the hustle and bustle of the Phoenix metro area and to experience the road of early settlers. Be sure to keep an eye out for a future blog on things to do on the historic Apache Trail which is also known as SR 88.


What exactly is Tortilla Flat?

Tortilla Flat is a one-of-a-kind destination that is both living historical town and wild west destination. Tortilla Flat was once a stagecoach stop on the historic Apache Trail where miners, settlers, and travelers would resupply and let their animals rest as they continued on their journey west.


A rusty stagecoach sits outside in Tortilla Flat, a ghost town near Apache Junction.


This stagecoach stop also became a destination for local settlers moving into the valley as it was a natural low spot and passthrough within the Superstition Mountains.  Due to its unique location, Tortilla Flat is a great respite spot for those experiencing Superstition Mountains.


How Many People Live in Tortilla Flat, AZ?

Tortilla Flat is a recognized town with a population of six and an official United States Post Office, but in its heyday, the town boasted nearly 100 people. This community was never truly abandoned, so Tortilla Flat is not really a ghost town. However, it still offers a lot of history and should be a stop while visiting Canyon Lake.  While the stagecoach days are over, what is left is a settlement that has transitioned into the perfect getaway destination for food, fun, history, and a reprieve from daily life. 


Where is Tortilla Flat Located?

Tortilla Flat is located on the eastern edge of Canyon Lake which draws from the campers, bikers, hikers, swimmers, boaters and folks who want to explore all of the outdoor offerings of the East Valley.  Visitors can reach Tortilla Flat by staying on SR 88 as it winds past Canyon Lake.


A map at Tortilla Flat for hikers arriving from the Superstition Mountains.


What is Tortilla Flat Known For Today?

Today’s Tortilla Flat has transformed from a material supply stop to a destination for families to listen to live music (check their website for dates as the live music is seasonal), shop for local art and memorabilia and fuel back up on tasty cuisine.


Musicians play outside near the Tortilla Flat Saloon in Arizona.


Additionally, the new owners of Tortilla Flat recently restored the iconic settlement community which includes recent upgrades to the restaurant, general store, boardwalk and the one-room school that now serves as the Tortilla Flat Museum.


A red barn with a sign for the Museum at Tortilla Flat, an old Arizona ghost town.


The Best Things to Do at Tortilla Flat

If you are visiting the majestic Canyon Lake for a day (which will be it’s own future blog post), then be sure to make a stop at Tortilla Flat since they are both located right off SR 88, the original Apache Trail thoroughfare. And there is so much to do at Tortilla Flat that it can truly be it’s own one day getaway, or a recurring destination. 


Discover and Enjoy Local Art and Memorabilia

One of my favorite things to do at any destination is to see all of the local art and memorabilia that is adorned on the walls. Tortilla Flat delivers on this aspect with admiration from this blogger. 

From funny quotes such as, “Just Another Pretty Face” found on hanging toilet seats to dollar bills with handwritten messages by guests and stapled to literally EVERY inch of the Restaurant & Saloon and the Mercantile Shop, all the little details found at every corner of this destination adds to the ongoing history that is Tortilla Flat.

Dollar bills with doodles cover a wall in the Tortilla Restaurant and Saloon.


Stroll Along the Boardwalk of the Wild West

Visitors clamor in front of old western buildings in Tortilla Flat, AZ.


When experiencing Tortilla Flat, one has to remind oneself that this jewel is literally only 30 minutes away from Apache Junction and the East Valley as you feel transformed back in time with the wooden-clad buildings and the nostalgic boardwalk that we all remember seeing in western films. 


Hike around Tortilla Flat & Canyon Lake nature trails

A road winds through rocky outcrops along the way to Tortilla Flat.


And, to get here, you experience one of the most iconic routes as your vehicle winds up the Superstition Mountain range from Apache Junction to eventually see the beautiful Canyon Lake.


Visitors admire Canyon Lake, a popular hike near Tortilla Flat.


Browse and Shop the Country and Mercantile Stores

Another thing to do while experiencing Tortilla Flat is to browse and shop at the Country Store and the Mercantile Store. Both storefronts match the setting that early settlers would experience such as having handmade signs, glass pane windows and old-fashioned wooden doors.

The Tortilla Flat Country Store, a fun destination for families, displays old western knick knacks.


However, instead of buying flour and potatoes, one can now buy gelato, hats, t-shirts, pottery, mugs, jewelry crafted by Arizona artists, and the seasoning for their famous chili.


Gifts on display at the Tortilla Flat Restaurant and Saloon.

Shopping and sightseeing are two things to experience at Tortilla Flat, but one of the main reasons to set foot in this town is to eat at the Tortilla Flat Saloon and Restaurant. 


What to Eat at Tortilla Flat Saloon and Restaurant

A sign for the Family Dining and Saloon at Tortilla Flat, AZ.


After walking up and down the boardwalk for a bit, I sat down at the Tortilla Flat Saloon and Restaurant to enjoy a true daytrip food fest, a burger and french fries. Particularly, I had the Dutchman Burger which was an excellent pairing of beef and bbq elements in-between two buns.  

Also on the menu is their famous chili which contains a blend of savory, salty and spicy notes topped off with a generous helping of cheese. Other hearty items on the menu include a shareable-sized pretzel, grilled cheese (with bacon, yum), nachos, soups, and salads.


Historical photos and objects hang on the walls of the Tortilla Flat Restaurant and Saloon.


All of the items on the menu help to rejuvenate Tortilla Flat guests from their earlier activities of hiking, biking, canoeing, swimming, boating and sightseeing.  You will not be disappointed on any of the menu items you select as anyone can tell a lot of thought and dedication has gone into this food, which was prepared fresh and delivered by a customer-focused staff. 


Save Room for Dessert

Dessert in the desert, what a novel idea! After refueling in the restaurant, everyone is encouraged to save room for gelato and fudge sold in the Mercantile Store. Their homemade fudge is spectacular. There are so many flavors to select such as maple pecan, caramel vanilla, mint chocolate and more.


Visitors shop inside the Tortilla Flat Restaurant and Saloon.


I had to buy multiple flavors as it was hard to just select one, and the fudge is reasonably priced.   Benches are adorned up and down the boardwalk to encourage guests to have their gelato, sit back, and enjoy taking in the views of the towering mountains and the gleaming lake down below. It is a spectacular way to end a memorable meal.


Visitors walking outside the Country Store at Tortilla Flat before leaving for hikes and fun activities.


What Makes Tortilla Flat So Memorable

You will be able to feel and experience the true history of Arizona when visiting Tortilla Flat. There are many tourist destinations to choose from in Arizona, but Tortilla Flat is extra unique since it is truly close to Apache Junction and its direct contribution to modern Phoenix.  Pair the nostalgia and history of this stagecoach stop with breathtaking views of Canyon Lake and the Superstition Mountain range and one’s spirit will feel the power of this area. 

And for those history enthusiasts, Tortilla Flat is absolutely filled with artifacts noting the significance of this area, especially when it comes to the creation of the area dams, the building block of modern-day Phoenix. Not a bad spot in history for a stagecoach stop.

Historical posters and flyers showing the past of the Tortilla Flat ghost town.

Whether you are looking for a scenic drive and a mouthwatering burger, taking a brief reprieve from local hiking trails or you are desirous to explore the roots of the Phoenix metro area, Tortilla Flat is a living embodiment of all of these notions. 

Go visit Tortilla Flat, you will not be disappointed!

  • April 26, 2023
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  • Travel
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