While many adventurers come from near and far to visit Arizona’s popular spots like Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Havasupai Falls, the Chiricahua’s are often overlooked. Located 2 hours south of Tucson, Arizona lies this incredibly unique national monument. The Chiricahua’s are Arizona’s secret gem of diverse rock formations, unknown to many. Here are 7 Reasons Chiricahua National Monument is Worth Visiting.
1. Free Entrance
Most National Parks & Monuments have an entrance fee, but the Chiricahua National Monument is free! This alone makes the drive down there worth it. There is not a ranger at the entrance booth collecting a fee, but there is a visitor center where you can stop and purchase snacks and souvenirs, get questions answered, or use the restrooms. There are restrooms at many of the trailheads in the park as well.
2. Camp Nearby for Free
Since Chiricahua National Monument is in a pretty remote area, there is a lot of open desert within 5 miles of the entrance where you can camp. Although a 4×4 is not required, it is a bumpy dirt road to get to the free sites. With free entrance and free camping, visiting the Chiricahua’s can be a very inexpensive trip.
We found a beautiful campsite, perfect for tent camping, at 31.9710323, -109.3278915. To get there, you will drive towards the entrance of the park but instead of entering, you veer right at the fork just before the entrance. Drive on Pinery Canyon Rd for about 5 miles. Once you’ve passed over a cattle guard, you will notice paths on both sides of the road that lead to small campsites every so often.
Of the ones we saw, we thought ours was definitely the best! It was nicely shaded, flat, and very quiet. We were able to find plenty of dried branches and stump pieces to build a fire the 2 days we were there. It was marked with cairns and looked like this from the road:
You can also camp inside Chiricahua National Monument, at Bonita Campground. These spots require a reservation beforehand and are not free, though they are fairly inexpensive. To book your campsite, visit https://www.nps.gov/chir/planyourvisit/bonita-canyon-campground.htm
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3. Secluded Trails
Nicknamed “Wonderland of Rocks”, the Chiricahua’s have a lot of trails to explore for views of these awe inspiring creations. For such an incredibly unique and picturesque location, there are not a lot of annual visitors compared to other rock formations in Arizona. If you are wanting to go somewhere outdoors, away from the popular tourist attractions, this is a perfect alternative. We visited in late April and only passed one other group of hikers in the 4 hours we spent hiking. It was extremely peaceful & refreshing to be in nature alone. (Although it did make me nervous about wildlife encounters, so always travel prepared. Check out our outdoor travel necessities here).
To get our exclusive list of “The Best Hikes in Chiricahua National Monument”, click here!
4. Beat the Heat
The best time to visit Chiricahua National Monument is during spring or fall. Weather can vary from week to week, but highs typically are in the 60s-80s with lows in the 40s-50s between March-May & September-November. When we visited in late April, there were strong winds which are typical for spring. This might be the only reason the second half of the year is the BEST time to visit the Chiricahuas.
As you probably know, Arizona summers can be brutally hot. It can be challenging to find good hiking and camping because of the unbearable heat. Chiricahua National Monument tends to stay around 90 degrees all through the summer with lows in the 60s. Relative to Tucson or Phoenix, this is great summer weather for outdoor activities! Always bring lots of water and sun protection if hiking in the heat.
Winter in Arizona’s dry desert climate can feel very cold. Though the highs range in the 50s, the lows are consistently in the 30s making tent camping brutal. It’s definitely doable if you come prepared for cold temperatures! (And if you’re used to cold weather, not a wimpy Arizonian 😅)
5. Beautiful Scenic Drive
If you are just wanting a relaxing day trip without hiking, you can take the scenic driving route along Bonita Canyon Drive. There are pull-offs all along the way where the trail heads are. You can get out, stretch your legs, take pictures, and breathe in the fresh air. As you drive, you will see amazing rock formations on either side of the road.
Once you make it all the way to the top, Massai Point, you can look out and see the impressive valley of rhyolite rock pinnacles, sometimes referred to as “hoodoos”. There are short scenic paths if you want to get pictures from different angles and see the main attraction of the national monument.
6. Glittering Nighttime Sky
Since the Chiricahua Mountains are secluded away from any big cities, the night sky is absolutely breathtaking. You can see so many stars & you may even catch a glimpse of the milky way. If you enjoy night photography, the Chiricahua’s should definitely be on your bucket list.
7. Visit Interesting Historic Places Nearby
On your way to the Chiricahua’s, you will pass many interesting historic spots such as Tombstone, Kartchner Caverns, and San Xavier del Bac Mission. If you are able to spend time at each of those places either on your way into the Chiricahua’s or on your way back home, I highly suggest it!
Tombstone is a fun ghost town for the whole family, with a live reenactment gun show and souvenir shops. https://www.cityoftombstoneaz.gov/
Kartchner Caverns are gigantic underground caves you can tour. Be sure to book your time slot in advance! https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/tours/
San Xavier del Bac Mission is a beautiful religious building with a rich history. Learn all about it while you are there, but be respectful as it is still a functioning church that holds weekly mass. https://sanxaviermission.org/
More about the Chiricahuas
I left the Chiricahuas wondering, how are the hoodoos formed? How did this place even get here? If you are wondering the same thing, and want to read up on it before you visit, here are some resources. I am not going to try and explain it because I still have a very surface-level understanding, but in simple terms, it’s a result of ancient volcanic activity and erosion. Read more about it here: https://www.nps.gov/chir/learn/nature/geologicformations.htm
One of the coolest features of the Chiricahua Mountains is the diversity of biomes you’ll find as you drive or hike through them.
With the various landscapes you find in this area, you’ll also find a variety of wildlife. We heard and tracked down wild turkeys near our campsite! There are wildcats, bears, javelina, rattlesnakes, and other creatures inhabiting these mountains. Please take precautions while camping and hiking to be safe and leave no trace. Here’s specific information on the unique “Sky Island” terrain of the Chiricahua’s. https://www.nps.gov/chir/learn/nature/sky-islands.htm
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