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Explore / back road

Montezuma Pass
Montezuma Canyon Road

Coronado National Memorial
2 Cool Lizards travel guide

Montezuma Pass is located on twisting, gravel/dirt East Montezuma Canyon Road, which connects Coronado National Memorial on the southeast end to highway 83 leading to Sonoita on the northwest end at Parker Lake. A 4 wheel drive, high clearance vehicle is required for this trip. We made the trip in a Hyundai Sonata, but a 4 wheel drive is recommended. DO NOT take this road if it is raining, due to flash flood areas.


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Montezuma Pass Road This gravel back road winds over Montezuma Pass, through Montezuma Canyon, and past the Coronado National Memorial and forest. This was a spectacular, scenic drive connecting Coronado National Memorial on the southeast end to highway 83 leading to Sonoita on the northwest end. We drove the road up over the pass from east to west.

Montezuma Pass stands at an elevation of 6,575 ft, the Memorial is at 5,300 ft, and the San Pedro Valley is off in the distance (slide 2 above) at 4,375 feet (per information at the Memorial). From the pass, Coronodo Peak Trail can be taken for more spectacular views. Bicycles and pets are not allowed on the trail, which is .4 miles in length. See slide 3 above for the view from the trail.

Stop in at the Coronado Memorial and Visitor's Center (east end of the journey) for maps and information regarding road conditions. The center is home to a museum featuring the life of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Artifacts and reproductions are on exhibit. Per museum information, Coronado's expedition of 1540 - 1542 took him up through Mexico to the Grand Canyon in what is now Arizona and as far north and east as present day Salina, Kansas. He was in search of the seven cities of gold, which were never found.

If you have time, take the .75 mile Cave Trail that is just outside the museum. Bring a flashlight and good walking shoes if you plan to crawl back into the cave.

If you wish to see this area, but are not quite up to the full trip, climb to Montezuma Pass from the Coronado Memorial, and then return to the memorial. To see the other end, drive the mostly paved highway 83 from Sonoita to Parker Lake (a distance of 24 miles one way). The area between Parker Lake and the pass is the most difficult, especially if there is any water over the road. We made the trip in a Hyundai Sonata, but we did have some rather difficult areas to get through and I would not recommend taking the trip unless in a 4x4 vehicle. The road had very sharp turns and sheer drop offs. On the west side of the pass, areas of the road had been damaged by recent rains. We made the trip in September 2007, and heavy monsoon rains came just as we came up to Sonoita. A guardian angel had led us through.

The scenery was spectacular leading up to the pass, with views of the switch backs we had just traveled. As the elevation dropped to the west, the terrain turned to beautiful grasslands and flowering meadows.

Follow Montezuma Canyon Road west from the Visitor's center. The first 1.5 miles from the visitor's center is paved. The road then turns to gravel and climbs quickly for the next 2 miles to the pass (elevation 6,575 ft). Various hikes can be taken from the pass. From the pass, take Forest Road # 61 to Parker Canyon Lake. Highway 83 to Sonoita starts just after the lake. The east boundary of the Coronado National Forest is just west of the pass. The entire drive from the visitor's center to Sonoita took approximately 2.5 hours. We had traveled 47 miles.

FLASH FLOOD WARNING: If you are caught in a flash flood area when there is water in the washes (dips in the road) DO NOT CROSS flooded areas. Stay in a high area and wait until the water subsides.

DO NOT take this trip without a good, detailed map of the area.

BRING WATER Extra food is a good idea as well.

BORDER DANGER WARNING Smuggling and/or illegal entry is common in this area due to the proximity of the international border. Please be aware of your surroundings at all times and do not travel alone in remote areas.

Click here for National Park Service safety information.

Fabulous reviews of nearby places:

San Pedro Valley
Patagonia Sonoita Preserve
Patagonia Lake


Montezuma Pass Forest Road 61
Sign on East End Of Road
Montezuma pass FR 61
East End Montezuma Canyon Rd
Coronado National Memorial
Coronado National Memorial


Directions


From Sierra Vista (northwest of Bisbee and Southeast of Tucson) take highway 92 south. 92 eventually turns east. Turn right (south) onto S. Coronado Memorial Road. Follow it to Montezuma Canyon Rd. Turn right (west) onto Montezuma Canyon Road.

The park service map calls the road East Montezuma Canyon Road. The Google map on the right calls it West Montezuma Canyon Road. Shortly after the cave trail (east of the Visitor's Center) the road turns from paved to gravel/dirt and is called Forest Road 61. FR 61 will take you past Parker Canyon Lake Visitor Center and on to Nogales. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOOD FOREST SERVICE ROAD MAP SO YOU DO NOT GET LOST.

After Parker Canyon Lake we took Hwy 83 north to Sonoita. This took us through very pretty pastures and grazing cows. Due to recent rains, there was a small amount of water on the road in some areas. Do not take this trip when raining or after recent rains.

Resources:

nps.gov/coro: National Park Service Website


accessible travel

Coronado Peak Trail Accessibility
A large family style, private, accessible restroom is located in the visitor's center at Coronado National Memorial. There is also a primitive accessible restroom at the pass. It is not large. The Coronado Peak Trail at the pass is not accessible (see photo).

The views from the car are beautiful; trails are not necessary to see the mountains and valley below. Other than the one photo above, all photos on this page were taken from road look-outs.


travel with children Children
Watch children very carefully. The roads contain no guard rails. The museum and Cave Trail at the Memorial visitor's center are wonderful places for children to explore.

Be prepared: bring food, supplies and water for your children and yourselves.

See BORDER DANGER warning above. This is a beautiful area, but, due to the fact that our border is not secure, there is smuggling, drug running and other illegal activity in the area. High speed chases can occur.

See our article: Travel Safety.

Also see: National Park Service safety information.
travel with pets Pets
Pets are NOT ALLOWED on trails within the park or memorial (this is the usual rule for all national parks and memorials). Leashed pets are allowed only on paved roads or in the picnic area. Watch pets at all times due to steep drop offs along the sides of roads. Bring food and water for your pet.

NEVER LEAVE PETS UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE - TEMPERATURES CAN BE RISE QUICKLY INSIDE VEHICLES ON SUNNY OR WARM DAYS.


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