The Mountains of Arizona •
Coronado Mesa • Tonto National Forest
• Superstition Mountains
• Maricopa County

Coronado Mesa, Arizona
The lower southern ridge of Coronado Mesa, where I parked
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Now on top the south end, a low rock rib to get over
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Summit is up ahead
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Getting nearer
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
At the top, a look northwest at Black Cross Butte
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Noth view of the cliffs across the Fish Creek Gorge
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Southeast view, the way I came
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Taking a side trip to look down some canyons
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
Coronado Mesa, Arizona
So bad, it's nationwide

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The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

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Date: November 20, 2021 • Elevation: 3,190 feet • Prominence: 390 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 340 feet • Conditions: Fantastic


Coronado Mesa is just a little rise of land tucked in amid some of the most spectacular canyon-and-cliff country in the United States. The hike is easy, non-technical, and fast, but affords one unique viewpoints to observe the surrounding grandeur. It lies in the canyons north of the Superstition Mountains, south of the Salt River, along the Apache Trail, the highway (AZ-88) that parallels the Salt River from Roosevelt Dam in the east to Canyon Lake to the west.

I wanted a hike, but not a drive, or at least something within an hour of my domicile. I was aware of this mesa from past map perusing, so today would be a good day to go visit it. I took US-60 to the AZ-88 (Idaho Road) exit, passed through Apache Junction, then continued northeast on AZ-88 into the hilly hinterlands. The highway gains into the hills and becomes curvier, heads north for a spell, then cuts east to parallel the river. It passes alongside Canyon Lake, with two single-lane truss bridges spanning two of the waterways. Past Canyon Lake, the highway comes to the locale of Tortilla Flat.

Up to Tortilla Flat, there was a steady but light stream of vehicles and motorcycles, but they almost all stopped at Tortilla Flat, for its outdoor bars and music. I continued onward, another 4 miles to the FR-80 junction. This side road drops down to Horse Mesa, a small village for workers who tend to the dam that holds back Canyon Lake. The highway is closed for the time being about another three miles east of where I was, due to a big fire in 2019, and subsequent rockslides that took out segments of the Fish Creek Grade.

Although driving slow due to the curvy and narrow roads, I covered the 45 miles from where I live to here in about an hour. I parked in a clearing off of FR-80, on the south flanks of the mesa. One other car was nearby, and there were dirt-bikers in the area. Because the highway is shut farther east, traffic here was very light. It was about noon, and very pleasant, sunny and warm, but comfortable. I was dressed and ready to go quickly. This would not be a complicated hike.

I hiked up the south slope, finding a path amid the grass and low brush, everything spaced out nicely. Halfway up, I stop to look back and a Sheriff's vehicle had rolled up beside my car, checking it out for some reason. Not much I could do now except watch. He stopped, then started moving again, and left. I have no idea what that was all about.

I was soon atop the south lobe of the mesa. Up ahead was a low rock band of rounded boulders, which I got through easily. The terrain was flat and sloping, a mix of brush, rocks and grass, sometimes thick enough to hide the ground underneath. It was warm, so a snake or two could be out mice hunting, so I was extra careful. I surmounted one rise, and could see the top up ahead, a half-mile away. I dropped into a saddle (about a 40-foot loss). The grass here was thick so I moved slowly. Maybe I should have moved fast so that it'd be hard to bite me.

I just kept walking uphill and soon came to the top of this mesa, which, as expected, was broad and flat, but with excellent views. I found a register in a cairn but with no pencil. The lone signer was here in 2017, but I suspect a handful of people come up here yearly, as it is so easy to do. I took a break here and studied what was all around me.

Coronado Mesa's northeast-facing cliffs drop about 1,400 feet into the Fish Creek Canyon, which feeds into the Salt River about a mile to the north. Across the way is giant Horse Mesa, the big butte whose cliffs push 2,000 vertical feet. Beyond it are the slopes of the southern Mazatzal Mountains with one of the Four Peaks visible on the high skyline. If that wasn't stunning enough, I simply turned in the other direction to survey the huge cliffy peaks that way. Looking northwest is Black Cross Butte, and looking west were the many hills and cliffs that line the Salt River. Seriously, if this was any other state, this would be a National Park. I guess there's a rule that a state can't have more than one canyon-oriented National Park. But that's a good thing. It was just me here, not a hundred other blobs on their phones clogging up the roads.

I spent a good while up here, no reason to be moving very fast. I started down, but chose to walk over to the northeast edge of the mesa and check out some of those rock formations and cliffs. The views were incredible, and a little vertigo-inducing. The cliffs of Horse Mesa across the way are so high to be intimidating. You have to stop and remind yourself which way is vertical at times.

The hike back, with my little detour, went fast and I had been gone 90 minutes, moving at a casual pace. At the car, I changed and relaxed. I am trying to break my habit of dumping everything in and getting home quickly. I have nothing going on at home and don't like being there, so why I rush, I don't know. It's a habit I need to break. So I just sat my ass down in a chair and enjoyed nearly an hour of looking around and doing nothing, letting my mind relax.

The drive out went well, and I was surprised how light the traffic was, this being a Saturday and the weather being so nice. I suspect people are taking this weekend off in preparation for next weekend's Thanksgiving craziness.

(c) 2021 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.