This historic mining town could’ve been a ghost town. But it’s survived against all odds, thanks in no small part to its stunning location in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Gone are the rough-and-tumble mining days, and in are new boutique hotels, shops, restaurants, and hiking trails. Copper and silver mining ruled until the inevitable boom and bust cycle took its toll. But instead of being reclaimed by the desert, it’s become a destination for artists, history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by sheer cliff walls, jagged peaks, and cacti for as far as the eye can see, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re somewhere near the middle of nowhere. But at just about an hour away from Phoenix and Tucson, it’s the perfect distance for a weekend getaway from the city.
This itinerary was created in partnership with Superior, Arizona.
Situated just below 3,000 feet in elevation, Superior is somewhat spared from the crippling summer heat that grips Phoenix and Tucson. You can expect summer highs to be about 10 degrees cooler than Phoenix, with nights cooling off more due to the loss of the heat island-effect. Spring, fall, and winter are cool and sunny, offering the best conditions for hiking or other outdoor activities. If you’re planning on hiking during the summer, start early and be done well before the heat of the day.
Day 1: Learn about history and life in the desert
Start the morning off at Buckboard City Cafe, where breakfast comes with a tiny surprise: it’s also home to the World’s Smallest Museum. The 134 square-foot museum may not be the Louvre, but it houses a charming collection of memorabilia and knick-knacks nonetheless. When you’ve taken it all in, make your way to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
This is not only the oldest, but it’s also the largest botanical garden in Arizona. Spread out over 340 acres and with 5 miles of walking trails, you can easily spend a day learning about desert fauna from near and far. If you plan ahead you can coordinate your visit with a walk or tour, with topics ranging from birds to medicinal plants. If you still have time or the heat is setting in, head indoors to the Superior Historical Society & Bob Jones Museum. Here you can learn about local lore and mining history, set in the house of Arizona’s 6th governor, the museum’s namesake. Before dark check into the historic Hotel Magma—a room with a balcony here is the best place in town to watch the sunset.
Day 2: Get LOST
Not actually lost—spend the day hiking the Legends of Superior Trails (LOST). Grab coffee and homemade baked goods from Mountainside Coffee, then pick where you want to start on the trail. The 11.65 mile trail system passes right through town, with each segment offering a different experience. The Pinal City Panther segment passes through the townsite of Pinal City, which was abandoned in 1891. An old mill, a few foundations, and some mine tailings piles are about all that remains, serving as a reminder that Superior could’ve suffered the same fate. For a respite from the heat, take a hike through the desert riparian forest in Queen Creek Canyon. At the eastern end of the trail you’ll hike on an old section of Highway 60 to the Claypool Tunnel, which was abandoned in 1952 when the highway was re-routed. When you’re done, treat yourself to a cold beverage and pub fare at Porter’s Cafe and Spirits. Conveniently, the LOST Trails pass right through the restaurant’s backyard.
Day 3: Historic downtown and wine tasting
Start off with a classic diner breakfast in the retro-themed Miners on Main. Walk it off with a stroll downtown to admire the architecture and historic buildings before your last stop at the Bruzzi Vineyard tasting room. The Sonoran Desert may not come to mind when you think of wine, but you’d be surprised to learn that the grapes are grown just 80 miles away from here in the small town of Young. When you’re done, make any last stops at the shops and boutiques in town before continuing on your Southwest road trip or an easy drive back the city.
Before you know it, you’ll have spent a long weekend in Superior, and it will be time to start planning your next three days in town!