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Chiricahua Mountains

The Chiricahua Mountains are a large mountain massif located in the southeastern part of the US state of Arizona. The range contains 85 named peaks and lies within the Basin and Range Province. The tallest and most prominent peak is Chiricahua Peak at 9,750 feet (2,972 m) tall with 5,134 feet (1,565 m) of prominence.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona


The Chiricahua Mountains are a large mountain massif situated in southeastern Arizona. These peaks lie within Cochise county within the expansive Coronado National Forest.

Elevations in the Chiricahua Mountains range from around 3,800 ft (1,158 m) up to the summit of Chiricahua Peak. The peaks rise steeply from the valley floor, providing a dramatic backdrop for the region. The defining feature for the range includes the plethora of hoodoos and balancing rocks.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Often referred to as a “Wonderland of Rocks”, this mountain massif is nestled between two sweeping valleys. The range runs roughly north to south with the Sulphur Springs Valley on the west and the San Simon Valley on the east.

Along the southern edge of the range lies the Swisshelm Mountains and Pedregosa Mountains while the Dos Cabezas Mountains are situated to the northwest. Small towns are found along the edges of the range with Willocx, Douglas, and Rodeo providing access to the region.

The Chircahua Mountains run 35 miles (56 km) in length in a northwest direction and roughly 21 miles (34 km) in width in a north to south arc shape. A portion of the range lies within the Chiricahua Wilderness which is one of the eight wilderness areas in Coronado National Forest. The other wilderness areas in the forest include:

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Additionally, the Chiricahua Mountains are surrounded by other popular outdoor recreation areas. These peaks lie within the Coronado National Forest, Chiricahua Wilderness and the Chiricahua National Monument. Other nearby areas include the Dos Cabezas Mountains Wilderness to the northwest, Miller Peak Wilderness to the southwest and the Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness to the north.


The entire Chiricahua Mountain massif is a part of the Basin and Range province. These peaks were formed by an uplift structural block formation along with the surrounding mountain ranges.

A series of volcanic eruptions, coupled with intrusions, formed the base of this range roughly 35 to 25 million years ago. The Turkey Creek Caldera took place 27 million years ago, marking the last major eruption in the area.

Balanced Rock, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Balanced Rock

This volcanic eruption resulted in nearly 2,000 feet (610 m) of volcanic ash being spread throughout the area. Millions of years of erosion carved out the rocks, leaving behind the distinct rock formations that define the range. Hikers can see the distinct layers of rocks in the hoodoos, pillars, and outcroppings.

The area features Precambrian basement rocks along with sedimentary rocks from the Paleozoic and Creaceous periods. The unique rock features in the range consist of Rhyolite Canyon Tuff.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

A band of sedimentary rock runs throughout the range and is rich in mineralized deposits. Minerals such as Wulfenite led to the creation of mines in the region, though larger mines were located in other portions of the state.

Major peaks within the range include Chiricahua Peak, Swisshelm Mountain, Mount Sceloporus, Cochise Head, and Fly Peak.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona


The dramatic changes found in the Chiricahua Mountains allow for a variety of both flora and fauna to thrive in the sky islands of southeastern Arizona.

Despite being located in the desert, the range features five of the nine life zones throughout its varying landscape. The Chiricahua Mountains are home to 375 avian species. Many of these species are predominantly found in Mexico with this mountain range marking their northern limits.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Other common animal species in the range include black bears, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, jaguars, and ocelots. Some reptile species found in the lower elevations include the bunchgrass lizard and banded rock rattlesnake.

Lower elevations in the region feature a desert landscape. Here hikers will spot various species of cacti, succulents, and low growing grasses. The grasses found in the range act as a vital part for the connection of ecosystems.

As elevations increase, the desert terrain gives way to forested patches amidst the rock features. Arizona sycamore, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and Madrean pine-oak woodlands are all common.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Human History

The land within and surrounding the Chiricahua Mountains has a human history dating back over 11,000 years. These earliest traces of human settlement showcase the Clovis culture, as seen in the Double Adobe Site.

Artifacts of both the Mogollon and Mimbres cultures are found throughout the region. Artifacts found in the range date back between 150 BCE to 1450 CE. This land marks part of the ancestral homelands of numerous tribes including the Chiricahua Apaches for whom the range is named after.

The surrounding region marks part of the ancestral homelands of many peoples, including the Chiricahua Apache Nation, Tohono O’Odham Nation, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, among many others.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Peoples of European descent began arriving in the region during the seventeenth century. The Mission San Xavier del Bac was founded by the Spanish missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1700 in what later became the city of Tucson. A military fort was established nearby in 1775 by the Spaniard Hugh O’Conor.

The increased presence of settlers led to a number of violent battles between the Spaniards and the Indigneous Tribes of the region. Following the Mexican War of Independence, the land became part of the state of Sonora but was later ceded to the US in 1848 following the Mexican-American War.

As settlers began to travel west across the US, the population in the region began to grow as Tucson was established as a stopping point for travelers. Mining continued to grow in the late 1800s, bringing more people into the region.

The construction of the railroad and increased population, ultimately lead to the Indigneous peoples of the region being forcibly removed from their native homelands and put onto reservations. Tucson quickly became one of the largest commercial centers in the area.

The Chiricahua Mountains, along with the other portions of the Coronado National Forest, were first included as part of the Santa Rita Forest Reserve in 1902. This was followed by the establishment of the Mount Graham, Santa Catalina, and Chiricahua forest reserves during the same year. In 1906, and 1907, the Dragoon National Forest, and the Tumacacori, Baboquivari, Peloncillo, and Huachuca forest reserves were also established.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

These reserves and forests were consolidated in 1908 into the Garces, Chircahua, Crook, and Coronado national forests. These forests were further consolidated in 1953 to form the Coronado, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto National Forests that we know of today.

In 1924 the Chiricahua National Monument was created in order to protect the unique hoodoos and balancing rocks of the range. The Chiricahua Wilderness was established in 1964 and today spans 87,182 acres (353 sq km) across the range.

Major Trails & Hiking Areas

The Chiricahua Mountains are home to numerous trails and hiking opportunities. Here are some of the top hiking areas to visit in the forest:

Chiricahua Wilderness

The Chiricahua Wilderness spans across the central portion of the range, covering 87,182 acres (353 sq km). Here hikers will find a plethora of trails, sweeping viewpoints, and the tallest peaks in the entire range. The remote region is regularly used for backpacking. Here are a few of the most popular hiking trails in the area:

  • South Fork Trail #243: This out and back route follows along the South Fork of the Cave Creek. Hikers wind gently through the forested landscape while red rock cliffs and outcroppings tower above. The end of the trail features a small waterfall with a small pool at its base. This route is 4.1 miles (6.5 km) in length and features 419 feet (128 m) of total elevation gain.

    Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

  • Silver Peak: This mountain lies along the eastern edge of the range. Hikers pass through many distinct landscapes before reaching the summit. As the forest begins to thin the trail opens up with sweeping views of the range and the expansive valley to the east. The trail is 8.8 miles (14 km) in length and features 3,024 feet (922 m) of total elevation gain.
  • Chiricahua Peak: This loop trail is often used for backpacking and takes hikers to many of the tallest peaks in the range including Fly Peak, Johnson Peak, Raspberry Peak, and Chiricahua Peak. The loop is 15 miles (24 km) long and has 4,130 feet (1,259 m) of elevation gain.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Chiricahua National Monument

This national monument is situated at the northwestern edge of the range and features the distinct hoodoos that define the range. The Chiricahua National Monument spans 12,025 acres (48.6 sq km) and has a visitor center located a few miles outside of the entrance to the monument. Here are some of the popular hiking trails in the area:

  • Echo Canyon: This scenic loop connects many of the trails in the region. Along the route are a plethora of hoodoos, rock formations, and caves interspersed with trees and other plant life. The loop is 4 miles (6.4 km) in length and features 593 feet (180 m) of elevation gain.
  • The Big Loop: The Big Loop Trail offers hikers a more expansive view of the monument. Hikers are able to witness the scale of the hoodoos while traveling to a less visited portion of the monument. This loop is 8.7 miles (14 km) in length and features 1,817 feet (554 m) of elevation gain.

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Major Cities

Looking for a place to stay near the Chiricahua Mountains? Here are some of the best cities and villages to check out in the region:


The small city of Willcox lies just northwest of the range. Surrounded by sections of Coronado National Forest, Willcox marks the closest city to the Chiricahua National Monument. Situated in the Sulphur Springs Valley, the city lies on the unceded homeland belonging to the Chiricahua Apache Nation. Today Willcox is home to around 10,000 residents.

Six of the ten tallest peaks within Arizona lie within a 75 mile (120 km) radius of the city. The plethora of protected regions have helped make Willcox a hub for year round outdoor recreation. Seasonal lakes can be found near the city along with many wineries.

Willcox, Arizona


Tucson lies further west of the range and is home to around 550,000 people. With a metro population of over one million, Tucson marks the second largest city in Arizona and the closest major city to the range.

Home to the University of Arizona, Tucson is known for its desert landscape and close proximity to national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas. Tucson’s close proximity to Mexico has enabled it to have a thriving food scene that showcases some of the best Mexican cuisine in the entire country.

Tucson, Arizona

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