Apache National Forest
Arizona, New Mexico
Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region
1,876,891 acres (1,813,601 federal/ 63,290 other)
Growing up in Arizona, we only ever heard this referred to as Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since it was merged in 1974. The more eastern Apache National Forest section represents about 69% of the combined forests total acreage and partly spills into New Mexico. On its west side it borders the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations, only containing one side of Mt. Baldy (which is famous for its ski resort). The National Forest contains the eastern portions of the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim, a forested escarpment that cuts 200 miles across much of the state of Arizona.
Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, Mt. Baldy, Butler Canyon, Escudilla National Recreation Trail, Hannagan Meadow, Chitty Canyon, Big Tree Trail, Eagle National Recreation Trail
The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) is a narrow, winding paved road that runs 120 miles north-south through Apache National Forest and is the best way to explore. Near the northern end of the highway, a steep unpaved road leads east up to the trailhead for Escudilla National Recreation Trail. A fire burned the 10,912-foot mountain that the trail summits and on our hike in May 2020 we counted 75 downed trees that we had to step over, both on the three miles in and the three miles out. To the east, the remote Blue Range Primitive Area was created in 1933, but has yet to receive Wilderness designation. About 18 miles south of Alpine make a stop at the historic Hannagan Meadow lodge, the only place to get gas along the route (or air if like us you have to put on your spare tire). The highway continues south dropping down from the Mogollon Rim into a more desert-like environment.
A short, but worthwhile hike descends west from Sardine Saddle near the southern end of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway. At the end of the 0.4-mile trail is the largest Arizona cypress tree growing in the United States (97 feet tall with a 181-inch trunk circumference). There are also some big alligator juniper trees growing near the bottom of the canyon, and if you see their bark you will realize why they got their name.
We were excited to find horned lizards (a.k.a. frogs or toads) along the Escudilla National Recreation Trail. The cliffs of the Mogollon Rim provide good thermal updrafts so are a good place to looks for turkey vultures and a variety of raptors. The ranges of mule deer and Coues whitetail deer overlap in this part of the country. We saw turkeys on the road back to Rose Spring Trail (Forest Road 54).
There are great views from atop the Mogollon Rim at Blue Point Overlook on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.
Spring and fall
Highway 191 is paved, but is a slow drive due to its many curves. Many of the side roads are very rough and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. We got a flat tire on the rocky Forest Road 54.
There are several developed campgrounds, including one at Luna Lake and several along the East Fork of the Black River. Dispersed camping options abound, including on the road to Escudilla National Recreation Trail and we found a nice campsite near the entrance to Forest Road 54.
Bear Wallow Wilderness
Mount Baldy Wilderness
[Blue Range Primitive Area]
Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)
Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)
Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)
Nearest National Park
Petrified Forest (Arizona)
Conifer Tree Species
Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce
Flowering Tree Species
quaking aspen, Emory oak, Arizona white oak, turbinella oak, New Mexico locust, Rocky Mountain maple, pointleaf manzanita
Explore More – The Apache arrived in this area from the north in the 1300s and their name comes from a Zuni word translated as what?
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