If you live in Arizona you have heard about the backway to Crown King. Crown King is a small town with a big personality at the top of the Bradshaw Mountains at an elevation of 5,700 feet in Central Arizona. The Bradshaw Mountains are known for gold and this is the reason the town has existed since the late 1800’s. The mine has since closed, but the few hundred people that live there are invaded every weekend by 4-wheelers.
The first time we went to Crown King was a few days after Christmas 2013. We were told by my family that we could not attend a family dinner to celebrate Christmas. Now, hear me out this gets better. My daughter came home from college and visited Sam and I for a few days during her Holiday break. She became ill at my house for a day but recovered. Due to this it was thought the risk was too great that we were hosting an unknown agent that could infect my mother. This was all diagnosed off the internet. Instead of staying home that day Sam and I decided to take a drive to Crown King. We only had a 2-wheel truck at that time, so we traveled to Crown King via I-17, taking the Bumble Bee/Crown King exit. The road is a graded 2 lane road that is maintained by the County. If you don’t have 4-wheel drive this is the way to visit Crown King.
We had a quick lunch at the top at The Old Mill Restaurant and started back down the mountain late in the day. Just out of town we saw a group of 4 adults that had pulled off the road. They had 3 quads, between them but one was being pulled by another with a strap and another had a low tire. We stopped to see if they were OK. One gentleman said “no, we are OK”, thanks; at this point a woman spoke up and said “Dad, we are not ok, we need help!” The story was this was a family that had ridden their quads up the backway leaving from an area North of Lake Pleasant, but it had taken much longer than expected, and they were not prepared for how cold it was that day. One quad had a broken axle, and another had a low tire. They were really cold and tired and were not making the best decisions. They thought to tow the disabled quad down the mountain toward I-17 drive the two quads while towing the broken one back to their truck and trailer North of Lake Pleasant via I-17 and the Carefree Highway. This would have taken them hours and would have been quite dangerous. Sam took charge of the situation, and came up with a plan for them. We loaded the broken quad in the back of our truck and would follow the other two quads down most of the mountain till we could get them safely set up at a staging area that is a few miles off I-17. We would then drive two of the men back down to Lake Pleasant to retrieve their truck and trailer. They gave the other 2 their coats and anything else to keep them warm and they were to build a fire to stay warm. The gentlemen would go back up and get them with the truck and trailer. We talked with the men on the way back to Phoenix, they were grateful for our help and thanked us over and over. These were not novice riders, I think they had become complacent and they were not completely prepared to handle all that happened that day. The trail had been more difficult than they thought and it was cold that day. Add mechanical problems and it went from bad to worse. I am not sure at what point they would have called 911 for help, sometimes we just keep going thinking we can handle anything.
We found their truck and they backed the tailgates together so they could move the broken quad into their truck bed. We parted ways after handshakes. As we were driving out of the area, we saw a burro crossing the road. This was my first glimpse of the wild Lake Pleasant Burros. It was so quick I was unable to get a picture. Perfect ending to an adventurous day. I told my mom the next day about our drive and she said “see, you were meant to go to Crown King that day.” OK; mom 1, Lisa 0.
Fast forward to May 2017. Our trusted jeep book, Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails rates the backway to Crown King as a “difficult” The book by Charles A Wells and Matt Peterson is very reliable and gives great descriptions. We never jeep without it. In fact, I have been writing notes about each trail for several years so the book is well used. We had been waiting to drive this trail with someone else for safety reasons, but as time went on, we decided to try it. We loaded a lunch in the jeep and took off. As we were driving on Cow Creek Road we saw more wild burros. This time they posed for some pictures. They are really beautiful animals.
The good part of the trail is some of the more technical areas have work arounds. So if you do not want to scratch your jeep, you do not have to. I have to say I was a little nervous of the unknown ahead. The trail was rough. The Arizona monsoon rains, snow and heavy use will degrade a trail pretty quickly. Initially, we saw only a few other vehicles but soon we met up with multiple 4-wheelers.
The trail is narrow, and difficult to pass anyone, so you just have to be patient. We discovered on this trip that we may not be the “jeep club” type of people. I felt like I was on my commute on I-10 every weekday, going 10 mph bumper to bumper. We got stuck for about 15 minutes while a jeep ahead of us became top centered on a large boulder. They tried to straddle it instead of putting the tire on it. At some point this group pulled off into the bushes to let everyone behind them pass. This was the busiest jeep trail I have ever been on. We made it to the top and had lunch at the Old Mill Restaurant just as we had 4 years before. Great food and service.
The trail will take you from the desert floor to the cool pines at the top of the mountain. The Town of Crown King suffered a devastating wild fire several years ago, so erosion is an issue toward the top of the trail. There are signs reminding visitors of the history of the fire, and to be cautious.
Beautiful day in the Jeep with Sam, but we did not stop as often as we usually do to look at interesting rocks and to take pictures. We want to stop and enjoy the views.