The four-year closure of Apache Trail between Tortilla Flat and Apache Lake has been a major headache for recreationists and tourists who love the historic route.
But the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) now has a plan to reopen the rugged old trail, even if money and timeline are still unclear.
Apache Trail, also known as State Route 88, suffered massive damage during a major storm event in 2019. Six inches of rain produced heavy flooding from the Woodbury Fire burn scar, leading to landslides, erosion, and other destruction across a 7-mile stretch from Milepost 222 to 229. ADOT closed the roadway indefinitely after assessing the severe damage.
While the situation has been immensely frustrating for those eager to access the trail, progress is being made. The easternmost 1.7 miles reopened last year, and ADOT is spending $18 million to upgrade the 11 miles between Apache Lake and State Route 188 near Roosevelt Dam.
Most significantly, ADOT recently released a design concept report that provides a detailed plan for fully reopening Apache Trail. The goals are to get the road functioning again while protecting it from the type of storm damage that caused the lengthy closure.
ADOT developed the plan based on input from experts and over 1,700 public comments. The agency hosted an open house in August in Apache Junction and accepted feedback until September 15.
The report lays out a spectrum of options, from simply reopening as-is to a major rebuild using asphalt pavement. ADOT settled on a middle option that improves safety and storm resilience while maintaining the trail’s historic character.
Under the plan, the roadway will be regraded and repaired using a chip-seal surface over crushed aggregate. Three century-old bridges will be rehabilitated rather than fully rebuilt. The concept aims to strike a balance between practicality and preservation.
While ADOT now has a strategy, major hurdles remain. There is currently no funding available to complete the full project. And with no money, ADOT also has no clear timeline for reopening the beloved trail. But the release of the design report represents significant progress toward restoring public access.
Recreationists eagerly await the day when they can once again travel the full length of Apache Trail. But ADOT’s report provides hope that the rugged roadway they know and love will reopen once again.
Cover photo courtesy of: Bernard Gagnon