Chiricahua National Monument: The Complete Guide

Chiricahua National Monument

Ronda Brady / Getty Images

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Chiricahua National Monument

Address
12856 East Rhyolite Creek Road, Willcox, AZ 85643, USA
Phone +1 520-824-3560

Spanning 12,025 acres in southern Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument is the result of the eruption of Turkey Creek Volcano millions of years ago; as the ash cooled, it formed rhyolite layers that eroded into the shapes visible today, including rhyolite rock pinnacles, balanced rocks, and columns.

The monument’s impressive landscapes make it a popular hiking destination in Arizona. Other sites include settlers’ homesteads and a cemetery. Ranger-led tours introduce visitors to those early settlers, the Chiricahua Apache who called the area home, and the Civilian Conservation Corp who built the park’s infrastructure.

Things to Do

Hiking is the main activity in Chiricahua National Monument. The park has 17 miles of trails, ranging from the flat, 0.2-mile Bonita Creek Loop to the grueling, 9.5-mile Big Loop. If you don’t want to hike, you can drive the scenic 8-mile Bonita Canyon Drive, stopping along the way to visit Faraway Ranch or picnic at one of five picnic areas.

Camping, birding, and stargazing are also popular activities in Chiricahua National Monument. Normally, the monument hosts ranger-led programs, such as tours of Faraway Ranch. However, it has temporarily suspended these programs; if interested, check the monument’s website for current availability.

Hiking Chiricahua National Monument

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Best Hikes & Trails

The monument offers a good mix of trails for every fitness level. While on the trail, take a selfie; by hiking at least 5 miles and showing visitor center staff your trail selfies, you can earn a Chiricahua National Monument “I Hike for Health” pin.

  • Echo Canyon Trail: One of the most popular trails in the monument, Echo Canyon Trail takes hikers 1.6 miles (each way) past the Grottoes formation and a sheer-walled passage known as Wall Street before descending to the forest floor and back up. Loop back to the trailhead on the Hailstone Trail.
  • Natural Bridge: While not as spectacular scenery-wise as other hikes in the monument, this out-and-back trail leads to a water-carved natural bridge. It totals 4.8 miles and is considered a moderately challenging hike.
  • Heart of Rocks Loop: This hike includes views of some of the monument’s most popular rock formations, including Duck on a Rock and Punch and Judy. However, to get to it, you need to either start on the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail and continue on the Sarah Deming Trail or approach it from Massai Point via Big Balanced Rock Trail. Either way, it will be at least a 7-mile, round-trip hike.

Scenic Drives

The monument’s only paved road, Bonita Canyon Road runs 8 miles from the entrance station to Massai Point. Along the way, you’ll pass Faraway Ranch, the historic house of former Chiricahua Forest Ranger Neil Erickson; the Erickson family cemetery; and overlooks of Bonita Canyon. The drive ends with views of rhyolite rock pinnacles cascading down the slopes. Massai Point also has a short nature trail and picnic tables.

A spur off Bonita Canyon Road leads to the Sugarloaf Mountain Trailhead and picnic tables. You can also picnic at Massai Point, Echo Canyon, Faraway Ranch, and Bonita Creek.

Where to Camp

The monument has one campground, Bonita Canyon Campground. While there are several dispersed campgrounds in the area, these are smaller and available only on a first-come, first-served basis. Just off I-10, you’ll find an excellent KOA in Willcox and another one further away in Benson.

  • Bonita Canyon Campground: This 25-site campground near a riparian area has running water, flush toilets, and picnic tables. However, there are no hookups or showers. You can reserve sites at Recreation.gov. (Make your reservations early if you plan to visit during the spring, the campground's most popular time.) The campground does not allow vehicles over 29 feet.
  • Idlewilde Campground: A remote, tent-only campground open from April 1 to September 30, Idlewilde Campground is located on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains, near the New Mexico border. Its nine sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and have access to restrooms and running water.
  • Willcox/Cochise KOA Holiday: This KOA campground has 62 sites, many of which are pull-through, plus cabins for rent. While kids enjoy the playground and hand-dipped ice cream, adults can walk the dog at the lighted dog park, watch 38 channels of TV, or take advantage of the Wi-Fi to check email. The campground is conveniently located just off I-10.

Where to Stay

The closest hotels are in Willcox, a small Arizona city 37 miles northwest of Chiricahua National Monument. Options there are limited to budget motels and chains. Sierra Vista, roughly 82 miles southwest of the park, has more boutique options. Although it will take at least an hour and 45 minutes to get from Sierra Vista to Chiricahua National Monument, the drive takes you through historic Tombstone, the site of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Tombstone also has a few options.

  • OYO Hotel Roses: Don’t let the exterior of OYO Hotel Roses fool you—inside, the rooms are individually decorated and have a boutique feel. Not to mention, you can find rooms for as low as $50 per night. Just make sure you book the OYO property on Haskell Avenue, not on Bisbee
    Avenue.
  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites: If you prefer a chain hotel, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites has clean rooms and free breakfast. It is also conveniently located off I-10, just north of the freeway.
  • Sierra Suites: This Sierra Vista boutique hotel, which features terra cotta tiles and wood-beam ceilings, makes a good base for exploring Southern Arizona, including Chiricahua National Monument. It’s less than a half-hour from Tombstone and 40 minutes from Bisbee.
  • Tombstone Monument Ranch: Designed to look like a Western town with wooden sidewalks—your room could be the mining office or the bordello—this guest ranch includes three meals a day, horseback riding, archery, and other fun activities.
Chiricahua National Monument

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How to Get There

Chiricahua National Monument is approximately 120 miles southeast of Tucson. To get there, take I-10 in either direction, east or west, to exit 340 in Willcox, Arizona. Head south into the city on Allen Drive. Turn right on Haskell Avenue and continue to AZ 186. Make a left turn on AZ 186 and follow it for 31 miles to AZ 181. Turn left. Drive the last 3 miles into the park, at which point the state route becomes Bonita Canyon Road.

If you are coming from Sierra Vista, take Charleston Road east to Tombstone, following it to Allen Street. Turn right, then make a quick left at 1st Street and pick up AZ 80 (East Fremont Street) by turning right. Follow this to Camino San Rafael, and turn left. Continue for about a little over a mile and turn right on Gleeson Road. Drive 23 miles to US 191 in Elfrida. Turn north (left) and go 13 miles to AZ 181. Turn right. Fuel up in Sunizona before continuing, following the signs to Chiricahua National Monument.

Accessibility

Chiricahua National Monument has an accessible visitor center and restrooms. However, the trails into the wilderness are not accessible with the exception of a short, paved stretch of the Massai Nature Trail. To see the incredible rock formations, you can drive Bonita Canyon Road and view the landscape from overlooks.

For those who want to enjoy time beyond the car, the park has an accessible picnic area at Massai Point. Bonita Canyon Campground also has one accessible campsite, site 8, with easy access to restrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings.

Chiricahua National Monument

Ronda Brady / Getty Images

Tips for Your Visit

  • There is no gas at the monument. Depending on which route you take, fuel up in Willcox or Sunizona before continuing.
  • The monument has a 24-foot limit on vehicles. Larger vehicles are not permitted past the Faraway Ranch parking lot.
  • Cell service is limited in the monument. If you plan to hike, take a GPS personal locator beacon so you can signal for help if you need it.
  • Leashed pets are allowed on some lower canyon trails, but they are not permitted on most of the monument’s trails.
  • Before heading out on any trail, bring plenty of water (about one quart of water per hour), salty snacks, and electrolytes. Apply sunscreen and wear closed-toed shoes.
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The Complete Guide to Chiricahua National Monument