About 27 million years ago the Turkey Creek volcano, in the heart of the Chiricahua Mountains, spewed forth more than 100 cubic miles of white-hot ash and pumice that settled, fused, and cooled into a 2,000-foot-thick layer of grey volcanic rock known as rhyolite. Then, nature’s sculptors (ice, water, wind) began whittling away at the rock to eventually create craggy grottoes, towering rock spires, massive stone columns, and balanced rocks weighing hundreds of tons. Known to the Chiricahua Apache Indians as "Land of the Standing-Up Rocks," this wonderland of rocks was renamed Chiricahua National Monument by the National Park Service in 1924.
The Wilderness encompasses most of the monument on this “sky island” mountain range where snow falls in winter and summer temperatures hover “mildly” in the 90s with dramatic monsoon thunderstorms. It is a unique crossroads of plants and animals from four ecosystems: the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts, plus the Rocky Mountains and Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains. Cactus, yuccas, and mesquite in the grassy lowlands give way to sycamore, oaks, alligator juniper, and Arizona cypress in the canyons with Apache, Chihuahuan, and Ponderosa pines plus Douglas fir in the high country as you travel the 8-mile scenic drive to Massai Point. Watch for Chiricahua fox squirrels, coati-mundi, javelina, and black bears. This birdwatchers’ paradise is home to the rare sulphur-bellied flycatchers, Mexican chickadees, and red-faced warblers.
The 17 miles of day-use trails offer something for hikers of any ability. Try the Massai Nature Trail for a quick overview of the Wilderness while the 3.3-mile moderate Echo Canyon Loop winds among the pinnacles. More challenging is the 0.9-mile jaunt to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, the 4.8-mile round trip Natural Bridge Trail, and the 7.3-mile round-trip hike to the Heart of Rocks, location of the most unusual named formations. No overnight camping is permitted in the Wilderness. The Bonita Canyon Campground has 25 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Stock up on supplies in Willcox, AZ because there are no services in the monument.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Chiricahua National Monument Wilderness.
Chiricahua National Monument is located 4 miles east of the junction of Arizona Highways 186 and 181. It is 37 miles southeast of Willcox, 120 miles southeast of Tucson, and 70 miles north of Douglas.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates National Park Service wildernesses) - Public Law 94-567 (10/20/1976) To designate certain lands within units of the National Park System as wilderness; to revise the boundaries of certain of these units; and for other purposes.