Coronado Trail Scenic Byway

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: Chris Myers

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway winds for 120 miles through Arizona’s White Mountains. The route is chock-full of challenging switchbacks, hairpin turns, steep grades, precipitous drop-offs, and breathtaking scenic vistas. It’s located in a remote section of east-central Arizona. This particular section of today’s US 191 was previously designated US 666, because it was the sixth spur off of the Mother Road, US 66. The route’s formerly assigned numerical identity earned it a sinister moniker—the Devil’s Highway.

If you were to travel back in time to the year 1540, you might run into Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. He led an expedition through this area seeking the vast wealth of the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. Although the elusive city of gold was never located, Coronado did find a landscape rich in rugged natural beauty. In more recent years, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated this stretch of US 191 as the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.   

Portions of US 191 follow the Mogollon Rim, which forms the western boundary of what geologists call the Colorado Plateau. Uplifted by tectonic plate forces, this plateau spreads across portions of four states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Erosional forces on the Colorado Plateau, as it uplifted over millions of years, created some of America’s most mind-blowing natural wonders, which include the Grand Canyon and numerous others. At some locations, the Mogollon Rim rises as much as 2,000 feet above the desert below.

Start your journey along the Coronado Trail at the Madonna of the Trail Monument in Springerville, AZ. The riding time south along the route is approximately four hours. Stops at the various points of interest, which are strongly encouraged, will obviously extend travel time. Due to the limited services along the route, begin with a full tank of gas and keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife. Deer, elk, and other four-legged creatures can appear suddenly on the roadway. 

In planning your trip, be advised that Hannagan Meadow Lodge, which is located in the nearly two-million-acre Apache National Forest, offers the only overnight accommodations along the route. If you want to make this adventure into a roundtrip, you can depart US 191 at its junction with SR 78 and follow that route east to US 180 in New Mexico, which leads back north into Arizona.