National Scenic Byways and Other Recreational Drives


Arizona's diverse scenery spans alpine peaks, colorful mesas, and dramatic canyons. The drives below offer a great way to see this beautiful state. Some of the drives including the Kaibab Plateau, Apache Trail, Black Hills and Coronado Trail have achieved National Scenic Byway designation.

Canyon de Chelly: Land of Standing Rock

Where ancient and modern Arizona dance a rocky two-step.

Apache Trail Scenic Byway

The Apache Trail consists of 78 miles of awe-inspiring desert scenery along State Highway 88 on the Tonto National Forest. Less than 30 miles from Phoenix, the byway features impressive rock formations, giant saguaro cactus, and narrow canyons.

Burr Trail

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, this is one of the world's great backcountry desert drives.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

'Cept for one tiny leg-stretcher trail, the only way to see this beautiful and fascinating area is by driving.

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway covers 123 miles of U.S. Highway 666 from Clifton to Springerville and follows the path of Coronado's conquistadors in their search for the legendary seven cities of gold. Mountains, lakes. forests, and meadows abound ox this route through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The route follows a transition from rolling grasslands at an elevation of 7,000 ft. (2134m) into spruce-fir forest at over 8000 ft. (2439m) affords a pleasant drive. Surrounding areas extend up to 11,000 ft. (3354m). For more information see the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway guide.

Petrified Forest National Park

Discover ancient stories of dinosaurs, plants, and early peoples in a visit to this hauntingly beautiful desert.

State Highway 273

This loop off State Highway 260 provides the main access for both Big Lake and Sunrise Ski Area. It leaves State Highway 260 two miles west of Springerville, passes near Big Lake at Crescent Lake, winds through Lee Valley and returns to State Highway 260 past the Sunrise Ski Area. Passing through meadows and aspen stands it is colorful in both spring and fall. Although part of the route is not paved it is passable by automobile. The section from Sunrise Ski Area to State Highway 260 is the only portion open in the winter. The route is located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Forest Road 300 -- Rim Road

The Rim Road begins on the Coconino National Forest off State Highway 87 north of Payson and extends eastward across the west half of the Sitgreaves National Forest. The route winds along the Mogollon Rim through ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests offering spectacular views. Only-the portion from Woods Canyon Lake to Highway 260 is paved. Much of the remainder is quite narrow used heavily by logging equipment and can become slick after heavy rains. None of the route is cleared of snow in the winter.

Forest Roads 24, 25, 26

This loop leaves US. 666 fifteen miles south of Alpine on Forest Road 26 and returns near the KP Cienega turnoff. The roads take you through ponderosa pine and mixed conifer and also across the Black River a popular fishing stream. Although unpaved this 40-mile route is passable by car. It is not open in the winter. The route is located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Forest Road 504

Leaving State Highway 260 west of Heber this road travels through ponderosa pine into pinyon-juniper country to old Forest Road 34. It passes through several small canyons including Chevelon Canyon and is open year-round. The road has a gravel surface and is normally passable by car. The route is located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

State Highway 260

This paved route connects Payson and Springerville through Heber, Show Low and McNary. The road from Payson to Show Low ascends the Mogollon Rim and travels through part of the largest continuous stand of ponderosa pine in the world. Leaving Show Low the road gains elevation as it passes through the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation with its mountain meadows and meandering streams and then descends into Springerville. This section is especially pretty when summer flowers are blooming and when the aspen turn their golden autumn hues. The road is open yearlong. This route pass through portions of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

White Mountains Scenic Highway

The White Mountains Scenic Highway wanders for 123 miles through ponderosa pine forests, crosses several mountain streams, and passes through an area rich in Apache Indian culture. The byway is located on the Apache-Sitreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona.

Kaibab Plateau-North Rim Parkway

Described as"the most beautiful 44 miles in America," the byway begins at Jacobs Lake, travels through dense forests of the Kaibab National Forest that open on beautiful, high alpine meadows, and small lakes, and ends at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Recreation opportunities, as well as opportunities to learn about the vegetation, geology, wildlife, and the rich history of the area, are plentiful along the way.

Beale Wagon Road

This historic road was one of three major routes to California prior to the Civi1 War. Built between 1857 and 1859, the road ran from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to the Colorado River, roughly following the 35th parallel. Nearly 23 miles of the road are on the Kaibab National Forest, and approximately half can still be seen today.

Historic Route 66

Perhaps the most legendary of all U.S. highways, immortalized as the "Mother Road" by John Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath" and in song by Bobby Troup, Route 66 traversed most of northern Arizona including sections of the Kaibab National Forest. Portions of the historic route passing through the forest have been listed to the National Register of Historic Places and a 22-mile stretch has been designated an official auto tour route. For more information see the Historic Route 66 Guide.

Other Scenic Drives in the Kaibab National Forest

The Kaibab National Forest offers a multitude of routes offering outstanding scenery, wildlife viewing opportunities and recreational opportunties. For more information on these routes see the Kaibab National Forest Road Guide.

Bonita Canyon Drive

Climbing gradually through oak-juniper and pine forests, Bonita Canyon Drive winds 8 miles to the mountains' crest and Massai Point in the Chiricahua National Monument. The overlook gives commanding views of the park, desert valleys beyond, and the landmark peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and Cochise Head. As you drive back, stop at the roadside pullouts to see rock formations, other geologic features, and exhibits.

Ajo Mountain Drive and Puerto Blanco Drive

Two scenic loop roads -- the Ajo Mountain Drive and the Puerto Blanco Drive -- penetrate desert country in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Both are winding, up and down graded dirt roads. Passenger vehicles can travel them easily, but if you are driving a motorhome more than 25 feet long, you should not travel these unpaved roads. Even some small motorhomes have difficulty, so check with a ranger first. Trailers are not recommended on these roads.

Guidebooks are available at the visitor center and at the start of both drives. When on the road: carry emergency tools; take drinking water and extra water for your vehicle; stay away from flooded areas; and never drive off the road. The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive winds along the foothills of the Ajo Mountains, the highest range in the area. Outstanding desert landscapes and impressive stands of organ pipe cactus are among the highlights of this tour. The drive takes about two hours. The 53-mile Puerto Blanco Drive circles the colorful Puerto Blanco Mountains and passes through a startling variety of scenery. Around one corner you will find the desert oasis of Quitobaquito, while around another you'll find a true Sonoran Desert environment, with saguaros, organ pipe cacti, and elephant trees. This trip takes half a day.

Saguaro West and East Scenic Drives

Saguaro West Scenic Drive in the Saguaro National Park follows the 6-mile Bajada Loop Drive passing through dense saguaro forests. This graded dirt road begins 1.5 miles from the information center. A guidebook is available. Persons with motorhomes or trailers should check road conditions before starting the drive.

Saguaro East Scenic Drive in the Saguaro National Park follows the 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive as it winds through the heart of an extensive saguaro forest and offers a close leisurely look at a variety of Sonoran Desert life. This one-way road, which begins at the visitor center, is paved.

Grand Canyon Rim Drives

There are many overlooks accessible by car which offer spectacular views of the Grand Canyon National Park. The East Rim Drive (highway 64) follows the canyon rim for 26 miles east of Grand Canyon Village to Desert View (the east entrance to the park). The East Rim Drive is open to private vehicles throughout the year. The West Rim Drive follows the rim for 8 miles west from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest. The West Rim Drive is closed to private automobiles from late May through September. At that time of year the park runs a free shuttle bus to provide transportation to overlooks on the West Rim Drive.

Navajo Canyon Country

'Cept for one tiny leg-stretcher trail, the only way to see this beautiful and fascinating area is by driving.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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