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.
Points of Interest
Madonna of the Trail Monument
This monument depicts a pioneer woman holding her baby and her young son clasping her skirt. A series of 12 Madonna of the Trail Monuments were erected across America to portray the indomitable spirit of pioneer women, who left the comforts of their eastern homes to brave the western wilderness. It is located at 182 E Main St, Springerville, AZ.
Hannagan Meadow Lodge
Hannagan Meadow Lodge has undergone numerous upgrades since the forest service first issued a permit for a store to be built at its location in 1926. Today, Hannagan includes a lodge, cabins, and a restaurant. The nearby Hannagan Meadow was named after Robert Hannagan, who was a cattle rancher in the area. It was also the gathering site on June 19, 1926, for dedicating the Clifton-to-Springerville Highway. At the dedication ceremony, the new route was referred to as “The Trail of Coronado.” Find it at 23150 US 191, Alpine, AZ, (928) 339-4370.
Blue Vista Scenic Overlook
Exit into the rest area at milepost 225. The Blue Vista Scenic Overlook, at an altitude of 9,190 feet, is perched on the edge of the Mogollon Rim. After the Grand Canyon, the Mogollon Rim escarpment is one of the most dramatic geological features in Arizona. The Mogollon Rim, which runs southeast from near Seligman, AZ, to the New Mexico state line, marks the dramatic transitional border of the Colorado Plateau in Arizona.
Chase Creek Scenic Overlook
This overlook to the south shows the Coronado Trail’s switchbacks up from Chase Creek. The view also highlights the topographical change from high desert terrain to forested mountain topography, accentuated by rugged rock formations. Find it at milepost 176.5.