Tortilla Flat is an easy day trip from Phoenix. Here are the best things to do there

Shanti Lerner
Arizona Republic

Tortilla Flat, a former stagecoach stop and a great day-trip destination from Phoenix,  offers visitors an escape from the city and an authentic taste of the Old West.

The town's new owners have poured $250,000 into improvements to the old buildings that line Tortilla Flat's two blocks on the Apache Trail. But don't expect anything to be shiny or modern looking. The goal of the renovations was to bring the facilities up to modern standards while maintaining the historical ambiance.

With food, live music, vintage buildings including a post office and museum, souvenirs, lots of Southwest history and of course the famous prickly pear gelato, it's easy to see why Tortilla Flat is a fun place to spend an afternoon.

Here’s how to take a day trip from Phoenix to Tortilla Flat.

What is Tortilla Flat, AZ?

Just to be clear, author John Steinbeck’s book by the same name has nothing to do with the Arizona landmark.

Paul Robinson, the head of maintenance for the town of Tortilla Flat, walks past the town's country store on Feb. 26, 2021.

About 53 miles east of central Phoenix on the southern edge of Tonto National Forest, the area that became known as Tortilla Flat has for over 1,000 years served as a way station in the rugged Superstition Mountains. With its setting nestled between mountain passes and alongside the Salt River, the shady oasis has long welcomed weary travelers looking to refresh, refuel and relax.

Tortilla Flat came to prominence when Roosevelt Dam and the road leading to it — the Apache Trail or State Route 88 — were being built in 1903. Tortilla Flat was a place of rest for dam workers and visitors on their way to the construction site, 26 miles to the north. It eventually became a stagecoach stop bringing travelers, businessmen and adventurers out West.

Arizona wildflowers:Hikes and scenic drivers where you can see the blooms

What's new at Tortilla Flat?

Owners Katie Ellering and RTDK Management, who bought the town as a 20-year lease from Tonto National Forest in September 2019, recently poured a quarter of a million dollars into improvements.

Motorcyclists ride past the Superstition Restaurant & Saloon in Tortilla Flat on Feb. 26, 2021.

Renovations include remodeled bathrooms, new electrical wiring in the kitchen, a new boardwalk and signs, a remodeled retail store and colorful murals scattered throughout the town. The new owners have been careful to preserve the town’s Western heritage. 

“So when you look around this place, it looks like nothing was done. And that's exactly the point,” said Chris Field, director of operations at Tortilla Flat. 

Tubac:Explore one of Arizona's oldest communities in a day trip

When is Tortilla Flat open?

Tortilla Flat is open year round. The summer season is June 1-Sept. 30. The winter season is Oct. 1-May 31. 

In the summer, Tortilla Flat is open 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. In winter, it's open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Weekend hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays all year.

Subscriber exclusive:5 Arizona outdoor adventures to plan for 2021

What is there to do in Tortilla Flat?

The town is just two blocks long but don’t let that fool you. There's plenty to occupy a visitor for an entire afternoon.

  • Tortilla Flat General Store and Ice Cream Shop: The general store is the last surviving original building from the 1940s. The homey little store is where you can pick up a sweet treat such as a scoop of prickly pear gelato or homemade fudge. 
  • Mercantile and Gift Shop: Everyone needs a souvenir from Tortilla Flat, right? The Mercantile has you covered with Native American jewelry and pottery, postcards, T-shirts, coffee mugs, books on history and cooking, Tortilla Flat memorabilia and Southwestern artwork.   
  • Post office: Because Tortilla Flat is a real town, it has a post office. Nestled in a corner of the Mercantile is a tiny post office where you can drop postcards, letters and packages. Buy a Tortilla Flat postcard and mail it from there so it has the town's name as the postmark.  
  • Museum: A replica of the original tiny schoolhouse that was destroyed in a 1943 flood is now the Tortilla Flat Museum. Although it's just a single room, the museum has everything you could want to know about the town’s colorful history. Learn about the improbable building of the Apache Trail, the 17 owners who have run the town over the past century, the floods and fires that have destroyed Tortilla Flat and the restoration efforts that followed each one. 
  • The Apache Trail: The scenery and recreation opportunities are a big part of the attraction. You can hike and camp in the Superstition Mountains and nearby Lost Dutchman State Park. Fishing and boating are available at Canyon Lake, about 3 miles west of Tortilla Flat. 

What’s on the menu at Tortilla Flat? 

Nancy Clark (left) discusses what to order for lunch with her husband Stew Clark (right) at the Superstition Restaurant & Saloon in Tortilla Flat on Feb. 26, 2021.
  • Superstition Restaurant & Saloon: With saddle barstools and a rustic ambiance, this saloon will take you back in time. The walls are covered with old dollar bills and other currencies left by travelers over the years. The menu offers spicy chili, burgers, sandwiches, wings and cold beverages. Brunch is offered from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 
  • BBQ Patio: Enjoy the fresh air, live music from the Tortilla Flat Band and delicious BBQ at the town’s outdoor dining area. Order the chili burger, a rack of ribs and the same sandwiches offered at the saloon. It's open 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily from Dec. 26 through Easter, weather permitting.

How far is Tortilla Flat from Phoenix? 

Tortilla Flat is about 53 miles east of central Phoenix. Take Interstate 10 east and U.S. 60 east to Idaho Road/State Route 88 (Exit 196.) Go north on Idaho Road to Apache Trail, turn east and drive 17 miles to Tortilla Flat.

SR 88 road closure: According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Apache Trail is closed beyond Tortilla Flat because of road damage from flooding in the wake of the 2019 Woodbury Fire. The closure is between mile markers 222, the Fish Creek Hill overlook, and 229, the turnoff to Apache Lake

Hit the trail:Best easy day hikes in Phoenix

Why is it called Tortilla Flat?

There isn’t one definitive explanation for how Tortilla Flat got its name.

According to the town museum, one popular story traces the name to 1867, when pioneer John Cline and his group got stuck in the flat during a torrential rainfall after coming back from fetching supplies in Phoenix.

After being stranded for a few days, the only food the group had left was flour, so they made tortillas. To commemorate their week of survival they decided to call the area Tortilla Flat.

Another theory says that the area took its name from a tortilla-shaped butte near the stagecoach location.

What is the population of Tortilla Flat?

The population of Tortilla Flat is six people. It is an unincorporated part of Maricopa County. The residents are employees who work in the tourist attraction. It is considered Arizona’s smallest official community and has its own voter precinct.  

You can connect with Arizona Republic culture and outdoors reporter Shanti Lerner through email at or you can also follow her on Twitter

Support local journalism like this story by subscribing today.