Lost Dutchman State Park is a state park of Arizona, United States. Located in northwestern Pinal County near Apache Junction, the park preserves an area of Sonoran Desert that was the site of one of the nation’s most difficult and famous puzzles, known as the “Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine”, which stumped miners for years. The mine itself is no longer extant; only its foundations remain, along with those of two adobe houses built by prospectors who were living there when it was active. The park was established in 1971 to protect this remote area from development. It became a National Natural Landmark (designated as such on September 12, 1976) because of its significance as a natural preserve. In 1970, three-time world champion miner Mike Hernstein discovered what he thought might be gold at the bottom of a small canyon outside Apache Junction, but his crew quickly grew bored with mining rock and left the area undisturbed except for removing some surface ore deposits.
Twenty years later, Hernstein’s son Eric found what appeared to be his father’s lost claim while hiking through the region. Believing the discovery to be significant, the family contacted Bill Jameson, superintendent of the nearby Superstition Mountains National Monument, who encouraged them to file a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service under the Wilderness Act, which would have allowed the government to grant them exclusive mineral rights under certain conditions. After multiple delays, including one caused by Eric Hernstein’s death, the case came before Judge A. Wallace Tillinghast, a well-known judge whom the younger Hernstein had sought out personally to pursue the claim. On December 10, 1978, Judge Tillihast ruled that the Forest Service did not have the authority to sell mineral rights under the circumstances presented, and ordered that the land be turned over to the custody of the Superior Court of California where it remains today.
This legal victory led to the establishment of Lost Dutchman State Park. Some sources cite the presence of the park’s namesake feature, the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, as evidence that the park is a tourist attraction. However, according to court documents, the mine has been closed since 1967 and will soon be demolished, so the park offers little in the way of recreational opportunities beyond hiking. Nevertheless, tourists do visit the park, apparently drawn by the name. According to a local newspaper advertisement, Lost Dutchman charges $5 per vehicle per day, plus up to $8 roundtrip for each person in your party, all within reason. There are also campgrounds available for overnight stays. Like much of the desert, the park can be hot and dry, even during winter. Accordingly, visitors should bring everything they think they’ll need, including sufficient water and food for their entire stay. No medical facilities or garbage collection are available, and campsite selection is limited. Lost Dutchman features trails of varying degrees of difficulty, ranging from easy to moderate in terms of elevation gain, length, and terrain.
All trailheads are marked with directional signs indicating whether the path leads toward the north, south, east, or west. Trail information is available at the visitor center/park store, located just off Interstate 40. Visitors may access I-40 via Exit 778 (Skyline Boulevard). Although parking spaces are abundant, many drivers prefer to use alternate routes like Skyline Boulevard rather than pay the relatively high entrance fees of approximately $6 per adult in addition to whatever tolls may apply. One popular alternative is to take the Coombs road shortcut across the highway bridge, although this route can be blocked by snow. Other possible entry points include Exits 877 and 984, both of which connect to Mount Lemmon Road. Entrance Fees The park is open year-round, though hours vary depending upon the season. Summer months see regular business hours of 8:00 am until sundown every day of the week. Winter hours are more restrictive, typically seeing us close at 5 pm Eastern Time on Fridays, and sometimes earlier. Camping Covered camping areas are scattered throughout the park, and offer amenities like electricity, running water, and trash service. Prices range between $10 and $20 per night per vehicle, and reservations can be made online through the website.
Group Camp sites accommodate anything from single tents to large RVs. They share a common area with picnic tables and fire rings, and often boast views of the surrounding mountains. Prices range from $15 per night for a single tent site, to $30 for a group site with up to four people per site. Backcountry camping is permitted in specified backcountry areas, away from paved roads, modern facilities, and other hikers. Backcountry campsites are rustic, offering minimal privacy. Modern restroom facilities are not provided. Water and electric power are not guaranteed, and there is no garbage pick up. Overnight use permits must be obtained from the park office.
Backcountry camping costs $12 per night per vehicle, and reservations can be made online through the website. Horseback riding Stables host a variety of horses, providing equestrian services for both individuals and groups. Riders are expected to maintain proper control of their mounts at all times, and are prohibited from allowing their animals to run free. Horses brought into the park must have current negative Coggins papers, or proof of inoculation before entering the wilderness. Permits are required for overnight stabling of horses, and space is very limited. Only unbridled horses may be taken into the backcountry. Saddle rentals are available, and stable hands provide basic care for injured or sick horses. Prices start at about $15 per hour for a single horse, and increase significantly if the animal requires full time attention.
Bikes are another popular means of exploring the park, especially given the recent trend of record low temperatures in the valley. Bikers require a valid driver’s license and registration from any state. Mountain biking is governed by rules and regulations of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), which maintains a list of IMBA-recognized bike parks worldwide.
Because of the unique environment of the park, unusual wildlife may be seen, including mule deer, cacti, rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes.
Reptiles and amphibians include frogs, lizards, bull snakes, gopher tortoises, whiptail catchers, coach whips, and horned toads. Birds observed at the park included golden eagles, owls, hawks, mockingbirds, cardinals, owls, quails, ducks, geese, herons, loons, grebes, pelicans, bald eagles, owls, hummingbirds, flickers, sanderlings, red-billed magpies, northern pygmy owls, ospreys, kites, falcons, and owls.
Mammals observed at the park included mule deer, cacti, rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, muskrats, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, kit foxes, badgers, otters, beavers, skunks, and porcupines.