Francisco Vázquez de Coronado might have been a failed Spanish explorer during the 1540’s, but inspiring the Coronado National Memorial is quite the legacy which is where this route starts. The route climbs up the majestic Montezuma Pass, dives off the back …. then sweeps down across open grasslands in the San Rafael Valley. Three popper hills later (we call them the teeth) and you arrive at Parker Canyon lake, where you can enjoy a nice picnic stop before returning on the same roads, but in reverse. The “teeth”, the grasslands, and up and over Montezuma Pass. The final few miles, descending back into the visitor center, is just spectacular!
Late fall to early spring when the skies are clear and the temps are moderate. We would avoid this route in summer. It is very exposed to the sun. Wind could also make this route brutal.
Coronado National Memorial visitor center. Flush toilets, water.
Lat / Long: 31.344933, -110.255169
Park at the Coronado National Memorial Visitor Center. Pop in and say “howdy” to the friendly staff before taking off.
The first 3 miles wastes no time with a solid 1,300 foot climb to the top of the pass. The first mile is paved and then changes into gravel switchbacks with dreamy views of the surrounding area. When you reach the towers, stop and really suck in that glorious view.
Then “dive off” the back of the pass for a few miles (6% grade), which then levels off to a nice flowy downhill. The area is littered with Pinyon pines and Junipers that perfectly frame open vista views of the San Rafael valley.
At ~ mile 11.5, the low point of the day, there are several creek crossings — Sycamore Creek and Joaquin creek. For us in December, a few days after several days of rain, the creeks were flowing with water.
Soon enough you end up on a straight road through grasslands that host curious cows and climbs gradually. Now for the teeth, pitched rollers that take you out to Parker Canyon lake. The closer you get to the lake the more rugged the road becomes, something we like to call gravel cobblestone.
There’s a seasonal store at the lake (see below) that rents canoes and supports the fishing community, but don’t bet the ranch on it being open or providing you with water. At the lake you have done half the elevation and you are halfway home! Just turn around and head back the way your came out … and save a bit for that last 1.5 miles to the top of Montezuma Pass.