Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Coronado Trail, US 191 Arizona

coronado trail
When one thinks of the greatest roads for motorcycling in the United States, names like "Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway", "Tail of the Dragon", and "Bear Tooth Pass" usually surface to the top.

But rarely does "Coronado Trail" ever get mentioned.

Stretching from Clifton, AZ in the south to Springerville, AZ in the north, the Coronado Trail offers 123 miles of twisted two-lane highway running through the Apache National Forest. There are over 400 switchbacks along the way and very little civilization to speak of. Because the road gets so twisted, and takes such a long time for cars to get through, there's very little traffic. According to the AZ State Highway Department, cars on this road are spaced an average of 19 minutes apart.

For motorcyclists, this translates into tons of hard-leaning fun with barely any traffic to get in your way.

The Federal Highway Administration considers this drive to be the curviest road in the nation, offering everything from wide sweepers to 10mph switchbacks. There's a 6000 foot elevation change from the Upper Sonoran Desert to the alpine meadows of the White Mountains. Cell phone coverage is pretty much nil, and the only gas along the way is at Hannagan Meadow, about half-way through the route, as well as the town of Alpine, just further north.

Because of the volume of twisties and no biker bar to be found, many motorcyclists won't even bother riding this.

Officially, the Coronado Trail is part of US Route 191, which stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian. Specifically within Arizona, it had been previously designated as US Route 666.

The Coronado Trail roughly follows the same route taken by Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who in 1540 led a group of settlers over the Mexican border, heading further north over the White Mountains. Today, there's nothing along the highway commemorating the famed Spaniard, much of the road now largely showcases the grandeur of the Apache National Forest.

I first rode this highway in April 2008, returning again in April of 2010. On the first run, I simply rode from Clifton in the south to Springerville in the north. But on the return run in April 2010, I dragged some of my riding buddies along to show them how awesome this road is. We brought our camping gear and set up camp about 1/3 of the way up in a little picnic area dubbed "Sheep Saddle" off the road. The road is so void of travelers, the forest rangers didn't bother to stop to check for camping permits.

After the first night of camping, we spent the following day riding up to Alpine and crossing into New Mexico for a southerly ride down US Route 180, before turning back into Arizona to meet up with the Coronado Trail.  We camped another night before completing one more run at The Coronado.

the coronado trailthe coronado trail

the coronado trailthe coronado trail

beer in snowthe coronado trail

Road conditions are mixed depending on where along the highway you are. Towards the south, the road runs through the Morenci Mine, and red colored dust is found all over the road. The next 20 miles expect to find loose gravel in the turns. About halfway up, you'll find rocks on the road, having fallen from rocky mountain sides. At one time, I found cattle on the road, having to stop and wait for them clear away. In April there was still plenty of snow up by Hannagan Meadow. Once you pass the town of Alpine, the road tends to become faster, with wider curves.

If you just love twisties, and you hate traffic, give The Coronado Trail a try.


  1. This scenery with the paved road are a perfect match for a bike ride. An open stretch of a road with a motorbike give a great riding experience. However this can only be more comfortable and safer with reliable tires. This is because tires play the greatest role when it comes to rider's safety and comfort. No rider would love a tiresome ride. My experience with my tells it all...


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)