With the unofficial end of summer officially here and the kids back in school, the next vacation for most is on the distant horizon.
And with triple-digit temperatures not going away anytime soon, so are any weekend camping or hiking trips in the region.
That means now is a perfect time to start planning future getaways, and we here at PinalCentral have a few suggestions for holidays heavy on fun and light on travel time.
Pinal County can’t boast the Grand Canyon, world-renown red rocks or major metropolitan attractions, but it is home to a variety of thrilling, unique and historic adventure and relaxation spots. Here are some of our favorites.
A golden opportunity
For those who love life in the outdoors, a hiking/camping trip in the Superstition Mountains provides plenty of fresh air, stunning vistas and some legendary lore. The mountains are one of the region’s most iconic natural wonders and can be accessed through Lost Dutchman State Park, located off State Route 88 northeast of Apache Junction. The park features more than 100 sites for either tent or RV camping and five cabins with doorstep views of the Superstitions.
There are six hiking trails ranging in length from a quarter mile to 5.8 miles, spanning all range of difficulties, 4 miles of trails for mountain biking and opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.
Stop in at the Superstition Mountain Museum to brush up on the history of the area and maybe pick up a few clues as to where Jacob Waltz’s gold is hidden. As a bonus, the museum also includes movie memorabilia from the dozens of westerns filmed on the site.
The old is new again
With a new copper mine planned in the area, Superior is enjoying a mini renaissance, and Hotel Magma in downtown is leading the way. First opened in 1912 and also used as a boarding house for miners, the Magma re-opened earlier this year as a boutique hotel after years of disrepair. Restoration of the buildings, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, took eight years, but it was done right. Those who have stayed so far are posting rave reviews.
Hotel Magma features 21 rooms, a restaurant, a tea room and bar, and scenes from the 1997 move “U Turn,” staring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Bob Thornton, Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes, were filmed there.
While in the area, don’t miss Boyce Thompson Arboretum, less than 5 miles to the west. The state’s oldest and largest botanical garden is home to 3,900 plant species from around the world as well as a plethora of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects spread out over 392 acres. Weekends are busy with group activities, and the arboretum is one of the best places in the county to take in the fall colors.
Inclusive in Maricopa
For the traditional one-stop resort stay, check into Harrah’s Ak-Chin Resort and Casino in Maricopa. In addition to the typical casino options, the property includes a spa and a pool for relaxation, a lounge for nightlife, an amphitheater for concerts and the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center for family fun. The latter offers a 12-screen movie theater, bowling, laser tag, an arcade, a restaurant, sports bar and sweet shop.
Those who pack their clubs can use them at the nearby 18-hole Southern Dunes Golf Club, designed by PGA professional Fred Couples, a former world No. 1 and the 1992 Masters champion.
Spectacular views can be found looking down or up in Oracle. If you’re interested in the former as well as an extra shot of adrenaline, book an experience at Arizona Zipline Adventures. Located southeast of the population center and on a road that leads to the top of Mount Lemmon, the park has five ziplines that range in length from 400 to 1,500 feet and soar as high as 80 feet above the Sonoran Desert floor. Arizona Zipline Adventures is open Tuesday to Sunday and also offers sunset and moonlight runs.
Once back on the ground, head about 6 miles north to Oracle State Park after the sun has gone down to gaze at one of the most dazzling views of the stars in the state. The area was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2014, and while the park closes at 4 p.m., its American Avenue trailhead parking lot is open to visitors 24 hours.
Looking for a distinctive home base while in Oracle? Try the Triangle L Ranch, a bed and breakfast that dates to the 1880s and celebrates history, art and nature. The property features four cottages, 10 acres of illuminated desert trails to explore, including a 6-acre sculpture park, and counts “Buffalo Bill” Cody as one of its early frequent visitors. Its annual Glow Festival, which is billed as a “nighttime art experience” that “celebrates light, creativity and community,” runs over four Saturdays this month and next (Sept. 14 and 21 and Oct. 5 and 12). Tickets are required.