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Chiricahua National Monument Overview

Located in far Southeastern Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument is the rock garden of all rock gardens. Although it is a bit out of the way, this hoodoo forest (hoodoo: spires of rock resembling totem poles) is worth a visit. Its unique rock formations are practically otherworldly; it is unlike anything you have seen before. The Chiricahua National Monument offers a variety of activities, including hiking and camping. There is also a scenic drive that ends at an overlook with a majestic view.

The beginnings of this rock forest date back millions of years ago, to a volcanic eruption. The volcanic ash and rock spread over the area from the eruption eventually eroded in specific ways to form amazing rock structures that look like they might just topple over at any given moment (and some do periodically!).

Chiricahua is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable places you will ever visit. It is a must for those who like to hike, camp, or just enjoy some crazy scenery. Geologists will not want to leave. ūüôā Make the trip — you will love it!


The monument is 2 hours southeast of Tucson, or 45 minutes south of Willcox (which is the closest town to the site and your last chance for a stop at Walmart if you forgot something from home!). It is easily accessible from the I-10; follow signs for Willcox, then for AZ-186 E, then for AZ-181 E to Chiricahua National Monument. The pin at the map below takes you to the trailhead parking area.

Chiricahua Arizona Big Balanced Rock

Chiricahua National Monument’s Big Balanced Rock – 25′ Tall and weighs 1,000 tons.

For hiking, there are several trail options ranging from easy to strenuous. In my opinion, the most worthwhile destinations include the Heart of Rocks loop and the Big Balanced Rock trail (photo below of the “Big Balanced Rock – 25′ tall). If your time is limited, just go for a short jaunt from the Echo Canyon Trailhead to the Echo Canyon Grotto. If you have more time and are with the right group, check out my preferred trail route below.

The trail progression that I followed and loved is outlined below (8.5 mile loop). This is probably only suitable if your group is relatively fit. It will require making a day of it and will take you in a big loop. Going this direction on the loop was perfect because it allowed us to experience Echo Canyon Grotto at the end of the hike, which is fitting because it is like the cherry on top to all the other amazing formations you have just hiked through. The ratings on this post assume you are completing the below route.

  • Start at Echo Canyon Trailhead (Starting Elevation of 6,780′)
  • Proceed clockwise via the Ed Riggs Trail (380′ Net Elevation Loss)
  • Head to the Mushroom Rock Trail (610′ Net Elevation Gain)
  • Continue on the Big Balanced Rock Trail (150′ Net Elevation Loss)
  • (if you have time/energy, a detour onto the Heart of Rocks Loop is worthwhile!)
  • Take the Sarah Deming Trail to Rhyolite Canyon (880′ Net Elevation Loss)
  • Then head back to the trailhead and Echo Canyon Grotto via the Upper Rhyolite Canyon Trail and Echo Canyon Trail (800′ Net Elevation Gain).

If you are planning on camping, you can make reservations online here.  There is a great campground located in the park (flush toilets for the win!). There is even a secluded site large enough for a bigger group (up to 24 people); it is ideal for a group trip, especially when the weather is good (group campsite includes: 6 gravel pads for tents, two large grills, three large food lockers, trash cans, ash cans, and a location 100 feet from the parking area and 500 feet from the toilets).

Gear and Gadgets

Always bring plenty of water, especially if hiking or camping! Weather can be a bit unpredictable on this sky island. Check the weather forecasts, of course, and be prepared with layers and rain gear if there is even a remote chance you will need it. Be sure to check out the Day Hike Gear Guide for your day hike adventure at Chiricahua!

Further Reading

Day Trip Gear Guide

Photography Gear and Gadgets

Outdoors and Wilderness First Aid

National Monument Website

Chiricahua Arizona Rock Garden

Chiricahua’s Fields of Hoodoos