In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill making the most scenic part of the mountains a national monument. The entrance is 70 miles north of Douglas, 36 miles southeast of Willcox, and 120 miles east of Tucson. Rigs longer than 29 feet may not head up the drive or enter the campground, but they can park in the paved lot near Faraway Ranch. The entrance station collects a fee of $5/person ages 17 and up; 16 and under get in free.
Exhibits (520/824-3560, www.nps.gov/chir, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily) illustrate area geology, ecology, and wildlife, as well as the lifestyles of the Chiricahua Apache, early ranchers, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. A video introduces the monument and its sightseeing possibilities. Rangers can answer questions and advise on road and hiking conditions. Campfire programs run mid-March to mid-September, and other naturalist programs may be scheduled too. You can purchase books, prints, posters, videos, maps, and other items.
Bonita Canyon Drive
This six-mile paved mountain road from the visitor center climbs through Bonita Canyon to Massai Point (6,870 feet), where you'll encounter sweeping views of the rock features and distant valleys and mountains. A wheelchair-accessible path leads up to the little geology exhibit building for the best panorama. Look north for the profile of Cochise Head. Interpretive signs on Massai Point Nature Trail, a quarter mile one way, explain how this wonderland of rocks formed and describe some of the plants found here; the trail also passes some great viewpoints. Winter storms can close the road, but snowplows clear it soon afterwards.
The Chiricahuas are best appreciated on foot, whether on short nature trails or extended hikes. Many species of birds can be seen, from grassland inhabitants near the monument entrance to mountain dwellers at the top. Rangers advise you to pace yourself, allowing for the altitude and rough terrain, and to carry water on longer trips. Thunderstorms often strike in July and August; if caught, stay low and avoid exposed areas. Watch for rattlesnakes—summer is their most active season, though they also slither about in spring and autumn.
You can hike any time of year, but conditions are usually ideal March-May and Oct.-November. Snow sometimes blocks trails Dec.-February. Monument trails are for day-hikes only, and no permit is needed. Camping is restricted to the campground near the visitor center. Horseback riding is permitted in the monument, but rangers like to be told when horses are brought in; horse trailers should be parked at the Faraway Ranch parking lot. Dogs are not permitted on any trails except the Faraway Trail, and they must be on leashes at all times within the monument.
Maps sold at the visitor center include Chiricahua topo maps, a geologic map, and a Coronado National Forest map. The hikers' shuttle will take you up Bonita Canyon Drive to the high country daily at 8:30 a.m., so that you can walk trails downhill back to the visitor center.
The free monument brochure includes a map outlining all trails. Faraway Meadow Trail is an easy 1.2-mile walk between Faraway Ranch and the visitor center. The path winds through lush vegetation watered by a small seasonal stream, a good place for bird watching. A short side trail leads to the campground.
The most impressive scenery awaits hikers on the Echo Canyon and Heart of Rocks Trails. Echo Canyon Trail winds through spectacular rock formations in a 3.3-mile loop; begin from Echo Canyon parking area or Massai Point trailheads, both near the end of Bonita Canyon Drive. Heart of Rocks Trail passes famous rock formations—Punch and Judy, Duck on a Rock, Big Balanced Rock, and others—on a 7-mile out-and-back trip from Massai Point. With a half day, you can make a nine-mile loop by returning on the Sarah Deming and Echo Canyon Trails. Inspiration Point is a one-mile roundtrip excursion off Heart of Rocks Trail with views over the whole length of Rhyolite Canyon.
You can also hike all the way down to the visitor center via Rhyolite Canyon Trail, 4.1 miles one-way from Echo Canyon parking area or 6 miles one-way from Massai Point trailhead. Sugarloaf Mountain (7,310 feet) is the highest peak in the monument, with an excellent panorama of Arizona, New Mexico, and the Chiricahuas, including the eroded remnants of the volcano that was the source of the rock layers; the 1.8-mile roundtrip begins from the Sugarloaf trailhead. Natural Bridge Trail, from the lower part of Bonita Canyon Dr., offers pleasant but less spectacular hiking to a small rock bridge—actually a fallen rock column—2.4 miles from the road.
Members of the Erickson family lived on this ranch for 91 years before its purchase in 1979 by the National Park Service. Rangers lead tours through the old ranch house most days, offering tales of the family, ranch life, and the surrounding region. You're also welcome to visit the grounds on your own during daylight hours; signs and a small exhibit building relate stories about the ranch and the people who lived here. Trails continue another quarter mile to the 1880 Stafford Cabin, one of the oldest in the state.
Faraway Ranch is 1.5 miles west of the visitor center by road, then a quarter mile in on foot, or you can take the 1.2-mile Faraway Meadow Trail from the visitor center or campground.
Campgrounds and Services
Picnic areas lie along the main road at several locations—see the map given you at the entry booth. The first one, Bonita Creek Picnic Area, is on the left just 0.3 mile inside the monument; the last one is at Massai Point at the end of the Bonita Canyon Drive.
Bonita Campground, a half mile past the visitor center, is open year-round with water and costs $12 (no hookups or showers); sites can accommodate trailers or RVs to 29 feet. The campground often fills by mid-day from March to early May; only the group site can be reserved. Dispersed camping outside the monument is another possibility; you can drive up Pinery Canyon Road 3.8 miles to the Coronado National Forest, then look for a likely spot in the next three miles; no water, facilities, or charge. Pinery Canyon Road begins just outside the monument entrance.
Willcox, 36 miles north of the monument, offers the nearest motels as well as restaurants, stores, and RV parks. Sunizona, 27 miles west of the monument, has the nearest gas, RV park, and cafes. Sunsites, 38 miles west of the monument, has RV parks and cafes.
On to Fort Bowie National Historic Site