When it comes to national parks, Arizona is obviously famous for the Grand Canyon – and for good reason. It’s a stunning testament to mother nature’s power and patience. But spread across the state are 23 other national parks, monuments and historic sites begging to be visited and ready to share their stories.
Tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona, just miles from both the New Mexico and Mexico borders, you’ll find Chiricahua National Monument. With just over 17 miles of trails, it’s one of the smaller Arizona National Parks & Monuments, but in my opinion that makes it perfect for exploring as a day hike.
I visited in October and the weather was beautiful shorts and t-shirt temperature, cooling off into the evening. There’s only one road through the park so it’s super easy to see all the sights without worrying about navigating. After a quick stop at the visitor center for souvenirs we continued on Bonita Canyon Drive, stopping at a few pullouts to check out different rock formations and historic sites.
Most of the hiking trails are clustered in the south east portion of the park near where the road ends at Massai Point. A good majority of trails intersect so you can choose a route that fits your schedule and level of difficulty. Chiricahua claims to be a “Wonderland of Rocks” and it truly is – with unique rock formations and pinnacles around every corner and plenty to see.
I was visiting the park with my mom and dad so we opted for a shorter hike that would allow plenty of time to stop and take photos, but still see a variety of terrain. The Echo Canyon Loop combines the Echo Canyon, Hailstone and Ed Riggs trails for a 3.5 mile loop with approximately 580 feet of elevation gain. We did as advised and trekked the trail counter-clockwise starting with Echo Canyon.
Starting from the Echo Canyon parking area, you’ll head immediately downhill following quite a few switchbacks through rock pinnacles and other formations. Don’t miss the Grottos – they’re a great place for a quick snack break or to escape the sun on a warm day. The trail is well marked and easy to follow, wide and well groomed. You’ll have a lot of steps up and down in several areas, but my mom with pretty recent knee replacement did just fine.
This was my favorite part of the hike for sure and if you only have an hour or two I’d definitely recommend this section as an out and back.
Once you descend into Echo Park it becomes more densely forested and the trail flattens out as you make your way along Hailstone Trail. You’ll start to see more desert plants and cactus in this area along with many signs of the Horseshoe Two Fire in 2011. Charred tree trunks stand in strange juxtaposition with the green brush and new trees in the area.
When you reach the junction with the Ed Riggs Trail you may want to take another small break. From here the trail starts climbing pretty steadily as you make your way out of the canyon and back to the parking area. You’ll be surrounded by larger pine trees and the trail was mostly shaded in the late afternoon. Accounting for lots of photo taking and a few short breaks, my retiree parents and I completed the loop in just under 3 hours and had an amazing time!