We planned three nights in Bonita Canyon Campground, deep in the heart of the canyon. We knew we were flirting with the likelihood of chilly nights in mid-December, but when we discovered that below-freezing temperatures were forecast, we almost bailed on our plan. At the last minute, we decided to forge ahead. We are so glad we did.
Sure enough, the temperatures dipped into the low 20’s. With no hookups, we relied on our little auxiliary propane heater to keep us warm. Our hiking strategy didn’t turn out as planned when we awoke the second morning to find the road to the top of the canyon closed. Still, we got in plenty of hiking. And we spent a wonderful three days at Chiricahua National Monument.
If anything, the light dusting of snow added to the magic of the canyon.
A Scenic Drive And Planning A Hiking Strategy
The park offers an assortment of trails that can be combined in many different configurations, depending on your time, energy, and desire. Most of the trails are clustered at the top of Bonita Canyon Drive. This spectacular scenic drive climbs from the visitor center to Massai Point, eight miles winding through a landscape of oak, juniper, and pine forests with stunning views of sculpted rocks and far-off mountain vistas.
Even if you don’t intend to hike, don’t miss the scenic drive. The views from Massai Point are outstanding.
As I mentioned earlier, we had a plan. With three nights in the park, we figured we had two full days for hiking all of the trails at the top of the canyon. Using the excellent map provided by the visitor center, we figured out our routes.
Hiking From Massai Point
The first day worked out beautifully. The park has a convenient shuttle van that leaves from the visitor center at 9:00 a.m. and drops hikers at the Massai Point Trailhead or Echo Point Trailhead to make their way back down the canyon to the visitor center.
We chose the Massai Point Trailhead, first hiking the gorgeous half-mile Massai Nature Trail, and then heading down the canyon via the Ed Riggs Trail, Mushroom Rock Trail, Inspiration Point Trail, Big Balanced Rock Trail, Heart of Rocks Loop, Sarah Deming Trail, and the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail back to the visitor center. All in all, nine miles of extraordinary beauty.
We awoke our second morning to icy rain and the news that the road to the top of the canyon was closed. Alas! Our plans for hiking the 3.5 mile Echo Canyon Loop were dashed. Instead, we set out on the easy and flat 3.0 mile (round-trip) Silver Spur Faraway Trail, which took us from the campground to Faraway Ranch.
Along the way was a self-guided tour of the history of the monument, including the role the Civilian Conservation Corps played in making these remote mountains accessible in the 1930s. They built roads and extensive trails, named the rock formations, and created signs—those guys did an outstanding job.
Faraway Ranch was the home of Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson, who settled here in 1888. In the 1920s, their daughter Lillian and her husband Ed Riggs turned the home into a guest ranch for nature lovers, which was in operation until 1973. The family played an instrumental role in the creation of the national monument.
A Taste Of The Echo Canyon Loop Trail
On our last morning, we awoke to snow and the exciting news that the Bonita Canyon Drive was again open. We drove the scenic road to the top, hiked the nature trail again at Massai Point (it looked so different in the snow!), and had just enough time to do about a half-mile of the Echo Canyon Trail before turning around and heading back to pack up camp.
We need to return to finish that Echo Canyon Loop.
About The Campground
If you have an RV smaller than 29 feet and don’t mind camping without hookups, this is the place to be! We loved our stay at Bonita Canyon Campground. With only 26 sites, reservations are essential if you want to score one of the larger sites. The campground has restrooms, but no showers. It’s quiet, dark at night, beautiful, and within walking distance of the visitor center and Faraway Ranch. No cell service, of course, but you might get random texts on the trail at the top of the canyon (that’s where we got a text from our RVing buddies Jodee and Bill: “Don’t forget to look for Cochise Head!”).
So so beautiful! I love the natural moss on the rocks. Thanks so much for always sharing your adventures. Be safe and God Bless You. Christine
Thank you, Christine. It truly is an astonishing landscape! The beautiful green on the rocks is lichen, which grows only in a healthy environment. Isn’t that cool! So happy to have you sharing our adventures.
So beautiful, and some really great hikes. We have had this one on our list for awhile, but never seem to spend enough time to get that far southeast in Arizona. Maybe next time, but probably NOT in December. I really don’t like being cold.
Sue, the hiking in Chiricahua National Monument far exceeded what we imagined. You would love it! We were grateful for the coziness of our four-season trailer, and when we were on the trails, we weren’t cold at all. (Of course, I was wearing a down jacket, wool gloves, and a wool hat on the coldest day…)
The inclement weather made for some interesting atmosphere. We always seem to be driving by that part of Arizona during really cold weather and thus bypass. I think next time we need to do as you did and stop regardless of the weather. Love the named rocks and beautiful scenery!
Ingrid, I thought the same thing…that the snow actually made for some interesting photos. It certainly made the green of the lichen pop! I’d say stop next time you’re passing by, even if it’s cold. I think your rig will even fit in the monument campground. :-)
Now that’s a ROCK GARDEN!!!
Haha, yeah!! It definitely is the most wonderous, beautiful rock garden we’ve ever seen, John! Maybe you could recreate something similar in Ashland? We’re still waiting for you two to join us on the road.
Glad you made it and got inspired. Those trails seem to go down first and you know what that means. Beautiful pictures once again.
Debbie, we did get inspired by Inspiration Point. :-) We took the shuttle van to the top and hiked nine miles of trails back down the canyon…a kinder and easier option than having to hike back up to the top. There were some places where we had to hike up, though—Heart of Rocks Loop, for one!
I went wild with my Pinterest just now. We have never been here and need to fix this park in next winter. Same idea as Sabino Canyon…ride the shuttle to the trail head. We like that idea.
I love these trails. The spires add so much beauty to the hike. Ahhhhh…Inspiration Point! Your balance rock is bigger than the one we just climbed to in BB. Gorgeous! There is so much beautiful scenery in Chiricahua NP. I don’t know how we have just driven right by all these years on our way to Tucson. I don’t think that will happen again.
I am not going to tell Paul about all the steps. He hates steps. He can’t figure out why they just can’t make a trail…hehe…poor boy. Oh my gosh…Punch and Judy is great.
The snow just adds so much mystery to the park. I just love all your photos! Terrific job. Eric looks like he really enjoyed the trails. What a super three days y’all had.
Marsha, we absolutely loved our three days in the park. I’m so glad you’re inspired to visit (and went wild on your Pinterest, LOL!). It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve been in our travels.
Taking the shuttle to the trailheads is a great option. We were really happy to not have to hike down into the canyon and then hike miles of rocky trails all the way back up. Don’t tell Paul about the steps. Just make sure you take hiking poles. :-))
You will LOVE this place!
Beautiful. I love how you are so honest about the hike. Lol. We were told to stop there last time we drove by. Definitely will now.
Pam, I promise to be honest about our experiences! (Thanks for noticing!) We love our hiking/biking/kayaking adventures, but sometimes there are really hard/awful/miserable parts. It’s all part of the adventure, right? And it always seems worth it in the end.
Definitely, hike the Chiricahuas. You will be happy.
I love the green moss on all the hoodoos, it really sets them off. I also love the descriptive names given to the rock formations….and yes, I did see the duck in your picture. Looks like it was laying an egg instead of sitting on a rock.
We just blow by this area, as it seems lots of other people do, on our way to or from somewhere. Perhaps we need to give it it’s due next time!
Sue, I just went back and looked at the duck, and it does look like it’s laying an egg. :-)
This is a place you will enjoy—even if you don’t hike the more intense trails. The scenic drive is outstanding, the Massai Point Nature Trail is gorgeous, and Faraway Ranch is beautiful and interesting. Stop by next time you’re in the neighborhood. I know how you love rocks!
Isn’t this just the coolest place ever!! We LOVED our couple days hiking here. We stayed in Wilcox and made the drive in to the park. We didn’t know about the van (we weren’t early enough either)!! Instead, we did what they call the Loop. We did all the trails you hiked but then instead of heading “down” to the VC, we turned “up” Echo Canyon. What a killer!! We were beyond tired as we came through the Grotto area at the end. John wouldn’t even stop and check out the Grotto. He was done. So…we came back the next day and did the much shorter loop that started at the parking lot but we headed down to the Grotto (and this time we enjoyed it), across Hailstone, and up Ed Rigg’s. These are all tough trails with all the up and down but, WOW, the beauty totally keeps your mind busy. Thanks for taking me back. I remember every rock! Love, love this place!! So glad the weather cooperated enough for you. The snow would have been a nice touch.
Pam, this really is one of the most spectacular places we’ve hiked! I have to say, I’m really happy we did the shuttle option. We were so ready to be off the trail at the end of that nine miles—I’m grateful we didn’t have to hike back up the canyon!
I’m still bummed we missed out on the Echo Canyon Loop because of the road closure. We only hiked a short portion of it, and it was gorgeous. We’ll be back! (Wanna come with us?) :-)
Yes!!! Let’s make a plan to visit together next time! That would be fabulous!
Seriously, let’s make a plan! We would have a blast together! And it would distract us from the pain, haha!
We are beginning to think you two will be pretty bored coming to Ohio in May! Well, we do have the “birds” at migration. No great trails like this to enjoy. I think we will be too civilized for the two of you :)
See you soon,
Ed and Diana and Eze
Diana, NO WAY will we be bored coming to visit you guys! We’re so excited about our trip to Ohio to see you and to go to the birding festival together. We need civilization every so often to keep us from going feral, haha. We can hardly wait to see you!
That is such a wonderful park! And remote enough that it doesn’t get tons of visitors…I love it! Very cool that you got to see it with a dusting of snow.
Lisa, we really enjoyed seeing the park with a dusting of snow. And we’re happy it didn’t snow so much that we weren’t able to hike the trails! It’s such a gorgeous park, and as you said, remote enough that it doesn’t get overrun with visitors. We had the trails to ourselves!
Lovely photos as always! This place has long been on my wish list. Do you happen to recall which of the sites in the campground would best accommodate an RV?
I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Suzanne. You will love the trails, and staying in the campground is wonderful! We stayed in site 6 and it was big enough for our 27-foot trailer (with a deep slide-out) and our Tundra. There were a couple other sites that would also accommodate rigs our size, but I don’t recall the site numbers.
I’ve never heard of this place, but what a cool series of hikes! Though, you are much braver than us sleeping without hookups in 20 degree weather. I’m becoming soft in my old age….
I love the various rock formations and the things you can see in them. Is it weird if I thought the duck one was some sort of upside down Star Trek ship? Yes? It’s weird… I don’t know, that’s what it made me think of. There’s probably a psychological profile here somewhere….
Anyway, the hikes and views are certainly impressive. We’ll certainly add it to our list…. in May or June or another warm month. :)
Laura, this is now one of our favorite parks (we do have a lot of favorites, but this is one of our favorite-favorites. :-)) Definitely put this on your list! Don’t go in the middle of summer, though—it gets too hot. This is a place of extremes.
Haha, yeah, the duck totally looks like an upside-down Starship Enterprise!
What a wonderful trail. I love green moss. Beautiful pictures. I enjoy your writing so much. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your kind comments, Ilse. I love the green lichen on the rocks, as well. The trails in the monument are magical!
We absolutely love the Chiracahuas! This post was like stepping back in time…loved every photo and every word. This may be one of our most favorite places to hike. We didn’t get to the Faraway Ranch, so that was a lovely little side excursion for me. Thanks Laurel!
I’m so glad we could take you back to one of your favorite places, LuAnn. It is definitely at the top of our list, as well. We would love to go back and hike it again, along with the trails we missed. When you get another little travel rig, let us know!
Wow! Amazing places in this old land of ours. I love to see all of the amazing projects that the CCC accomplished.
So true, Brenda. We live in such a beautiful and interesting country, and we’re so grateful to have the opportunity to explore it. There’s soooo much more on our list…
And yes, the CCC was an extraordinarily successful program. Sure wish we had something like that in place now.
Your are so intrepid. Of course you would go even if the temps were predicted to be in the low 20’s. Definitely a gorgeous place but I think I’d have to check back later. Absolutely love the CCC tower and their trails. .Those boys did such wonderful work. We could sure use them now. Sounds like it would be a 16 mile hike just to go up and back to the top? 9am is pretty late for me to start hiking although perhaps in December. Love how you combined all the hikes on your way down. Amazing Pinnacles. Great pictures. LOL at the camel and Punch & Judy, You were right when you said I’d want to hike all over this National Monument. Will a 35’ motorhome qualify for Bonita Canyon?
Sherry, I’ll bet you guys would be out hiking those trails, too, even in the cold! Honestly, we weren’t cold on the trails because we were dressed for the weather. I’d rather be cold than hot any day while hiking!
We hiked 9 miles down the canyon, and that included the extra half-mile out and back to Inspiration Point and the extra mile Heart of Rocks Loop. Believe me, that 9 miles was plenty! There is no way we would have (or could have!) hiked back up in one day. Thankfully the park provides the shuttle van.
The limit for RV’s in the campground is 29 feet, and I wouldn’t try anything bigger.
I use to do quite a bit of backpacking in those mountains and loved every minute of it – especially for its diversity. Thanks for taking me back there…
John, what a gorgeous place to backpack that would be! I imagine it would be quite an adventure. I’m glad you enjoyed a trip down memory lane. :-)
This puts Dr. Seuss, and Walt Disney to shame. Truly, a landscape that spurs the imagination!
Sheila, this is a place where imagination can run wild! It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve been, and even more special because it’s so uncrowded.
This is a fabulous place! There was still snow on the ground when we hiked there :)in Jan of 2013 but as you say it is really a wonderland of rocks. I would not mind going back there one day, although we will not fit in any spot in the campground so we have to stay at Wilcox again.
Thank you again for taking me back there for now :)
MonaLiza, as you know, it’s worth the trip even for those who can’t fit into the campground. I’m glad you enjoyed a return journey through our blog until you can get back and hike more of the trails. I remember that you were hiking in deep snow!
I was so glad to show this beautiful place to Bill last year, as it is one of my very favorites too. We were turned away due to snow the previous year too. Cochise Head is such a unique and poignant view – I love his pine tree eye lash :-) Thanks for including so many pics of the beauty to be seen from the trails. The formations are fabulous – yes, saw the duck (definitely looks like she’s laying an egg).
Jodee, it was fun to get your text on the trail reminding us to look for Cochise Head! It is really a poignant reminder of the original peoples of the Chiricahuas. This is such a gorgeous, sacred place.
Thanks for a great post Laurel….another place to add to our growing list. The hiking looks amazing!
You’re welcome, Brenda. Those lists keep growing, don’t they? I don’t think we’ll ever run out of places to explore.