The best way to get in touch with the canyon is on foot. The Chiricahua Mountains contain numerous trails of all lengths and varying degrees of difficulty. When choosing a trail, an important consideration is the temperature and season in which you will be hiking. In winter, hikes in the canyon bottom and up to ~7,000 feet are pleasant. Above 7,000 you might encounter snow and it may not be possible to drive to trailheads at high elevation. In summer, hikes in the high country are delightful and the temperatures are cooler than in the canyon floor. In all seasons, be sure to carry adequate water and clothing, as well as emergency supplies (high energy food, first aid kit, etc).
There are several resources available to help plan your hiking adventure.
- On this page you will find a list of 6 trails that are easy walks or easy-moderate day hikes in the lower elevations of Cave Creek Canyon. There are also 4 longer and more strenuous day hikes that are popular and offer excellent views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Easy and Moderate trail descriptions are also posted on the fence at the Visitor Information Center for visitors who arrive outside of staffed hours.
- A local hiker has developed a webpage, Chiricahua Mountains Hiking Trails, with descriptions of more than 80 trails, organized by difficulty, length, and condition. Many of the descriptions on this website have been updated since the floods caused by Hurricane Odile in 2014, although some descriptions are noted as being incomplete. This website also contains a list of resources and maps that hikers may find useful.
- The Cave Creek Visitor Information Center has copies of the many of the hiking maps listed in #2 above and the volunteer on staff can discuss the hikes with you.
- The USFS Coronado National Forest maintains a list of hikes in the Chiricahua Mountains, with maps and descriptions. Many of the descriptions were updated after the Horseshoe II Fire (2011), but they have not been updated since Hurricane Odile (2014) and the resulting floods. Nevertheless, the USFS list of hikes and their locations is a useful resource, even though in some cases the trail conditions are not accurate.
- The Portal/Rodeo Hiking Group meets every Thursday to go on a (usually local) hike, and all are welcome to join. View their website (http://www.portalrodeo.com/hiking/) for details of the upcoming hike, and meeting place & time.
Easy to Moderate Day Hikes
Vista Point (0.3 miles round trip). Start at the parking area on Forest Road 42 about 1 mile southwest (up the canyon) from the Visitor Information Center. The trail climbs to a ridge top that provides a great overview of the canyon, where the South Fork of Cave Creek joins the main fork. Cathedral Rock looms to the east. The trail surface is rocky and winding, but at least it’s short.
Map to Vista Point
South Fork Road (2 miles round trip). Start at the beginning of the South Fork Road (Forest Road 42E), about 1.5 miles from the Visitor Information Center. There is room to park cars by the side of the dirt road there. A walk along the road provides both scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. Look for Elegant Trogons after mid-April. The surface is a smooth dirt road, which was repaired and graded on 2015. The road goes up in elevation gradually as it follows the South Fork of Cave Creek. Traffic on the road is generally light but can raise clouds of dust. The road ends at a berm and wide spot where cars can turn around. Adventurous hikers can continue upstream beyond the berm, but the trail is moderate or difficult after that point.
Map to South Fork Road
Cave Creek Nature Trail (2 miles round trip). Start at the Sunny Flat campground (parking available for those staying in the campground or nearby at the entrance to the South Fork road) or at the Silver Peak trailhead. The trail goes along the main stem of Cave Creek between these two areas. There are benches along the way and interesting sights and sites (most hikers miss the “hobbit house”). The trail surface can be rocky, sandy, and uneven.
Map to Nature Trail
Ash Spring (3 mile loop or 1.5 mile round trip). Doing this hike as a loop involves combining a nice trail with a gravel road and a dirt (jeep) road. Another possibility is to walk along an abandoned driveway that served the former residence at Ash Spring. If done as a loop, it can be done in different directions. What follows is thus one of the several options. At the western (uphill) end of Forest Road 42A, park at the Herb Martyr campground, either in the upper or lower parking area (restroom at the lower area). Walk back along FR 42A one third of a mile to the start of the Greenhouse Trail, which at this point is a jeep road, labeled Greenhouse Trail 248 (called FR 713 on some maps). Follow this road another third of a mile as it climbs the mountain, then take the Ash Spring trail, to the left (up-canyon). The sign here indicates the Basin Trail (here coincident with the Greenhouse Trail) but says nothing about Ash Spring or 247A, which traverses the slope. Enjoy the grassland, scattered oaks, Chihuahua pine, and alligator junipers, and vistas along this section, which leads to the spring. The spring water feeds two pools that have been established to benefit the Threatened Chiricahua leopard frog. The spring is near a creek drainage and the vegetation becomes more dense, with closed-canopy pine trees, including Apache pine. Following the trail through a gate (wilderness boundary) takes you along a north-facing slope, down some steep rocky trail, to Herb Martyr campground. The trail surface is generally good and trail maintenance crews trimmed thorny vegetation next to the trail as recently as 2015. If you choose to do the loop the other direction, it is best to start at the lower parking area, from where the trail descends directly down and across a creekbed. Starting at the upper parking area at a nice sign leads to a network of walkways made by generations of campers, making navigation difficult.
Map to Ash Spring
|Name||Length (round trip)||Difficulty||Location|
|Vista Point Trail||0.3 miles||Easy||Forest Rd 42, ~1 mi SW of Visitor Information Center|
|Cave Creek Nature Trail||2 miles||Easy||Between Silver Peak Trailhead and Sunny Flat Campground|
|South Fork Road & Trail||2 miles to 6 miles||Easy to Moderate||Junction of Forest Rd 42 and South Fork Road|
|Ash Spring Loop||3 miles||Moderate||Herb Martyr Parking Area|
|Crest Trail to Bootlegger Saddle (summer)||2 miles||Easy to Moderate||Rustler Park|
Moderate to Strenuous Long Day Hikes
|Name||Length (round trip)||Difficulty||Location|
|Basin Trail to Ash Spring||8 miles||Moderate||Forest Rd 42 2+ miles past the Southwestern Res. Sta.|
|Silver Peak Trail||9 miles||Moderate to Strenuous||Trailhead parking 0.2 mi. W of Visitor Information Center|
|Herb Martyr Trail to Pine Park||6 miles||Moderate||Herb Martyr Parking Area (FR 42A)|
|Greenhouse Trail to Winn Falls Overlook||3 miles||Moderate||Herb Martyr Road (FR 42A) for 1.84 mi, then right onto Greenhouse Road (FR 713)|