★★★★☆ Moderate / Southern Arizona:
Walk amongst ginormous hoodoos on this downhill hike! With a free shuttle to the top of the Chiricahua Mountain’s Massai trailhead, this hike gets up-close-and-personal to a slew of the massive “standing up rocks” the park is known for – including its prized cluster, Heart of the Rocks. Finishing downhill, right next to your car in the shuttle parking lot, is a pretty sweet bonus.
TRAILHEAD: Bonita Canyon Drive, Willcox, AZ • DIFFICULTY: Moderate • DISTANCE: 7.5 MILES 1-way using the free shuttle (or 15 MILES RT) • APPROX. TIME: 4-5 HOURS (1-way hike) • ELEVATION GAIN: -1050 FEET (-75 STORIES) • APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 1,125-1,275 • BEST TIME OF YEAR: March-October • PETS: No • KID FRIENDLY: NO • FACILITIES: Yes • FEES: None
Known for its seemingly endless hoodoos, Chiricahua National Monument is a worthy destination! The almost completely downhill hike through the stone spires, from the shuttle drop off at Massai Point, starts at a cool 6780′ elevation that makes Spring, Summer and early Fall hiking perfect. To nab the free shuttle, park at the Visitor Center and register before its 9:00 am departure.
Starting from gorgeous Massai Point, the hike back down to the Visitor Center follows one long path that has been broken up into separately named sections (see downloadable map below). The first mile descends the Massai and then Ed Riggs sections, where views of mountaintops frame the horizon and large sculptural spires peek out above the Pines.
After Ed Riggs, the 1.2 mile Mushroom Rock section – named for a large funghi shaped hoodoo – makes a mild ascent alongside a dry shaded stream bed. At the start of the Big Balanced Rock section, a side trail leads to Inspiration Point. Here broad vistas overlook a gazillion hoodoos.
The formations multiply and mutate into increasingly bizarre shapes along the mile-long Big Balanced Rock section. A massive, 40′ high rock, that this section was named for, seems to balance impossibly on an itsy-bitsy base.
Just before the 1.6 mile Sarah Deming section, another side trail loops through Heart of the Rocks. This maze of towering hoodoos is the park’s highlight. Huddled together are wacky formations named Punch and Judy, Thor’s Hammer, Duck, Pinnacle Rock and more. The area is super fun to explore, but steep in spots.
From here on out the trail is strictly downhill. The Sarah Deming section descends along the side of a hill, with awesome views back up at Heart of the Rocks, and out over the hoodoo crusted valleys. The mostly flat Lower Rhyolite Canyon section follows, continuing 1.5 miles back to the visitor center and your waiting car.
Note: Heart of the Rocks can also be accessed by parking at Massai Point and making a 9.5 mile loop (see downloadable map below). This option heads uphill from Sarah Deming, on the Upper Rhyolite Canyon and Echo Canyon trail sections.
Chiricahua’s wacky hoodoos are the remains of the hot lava, spit from a huge volcano more than 27 million years ago. Cracking and erosion have worn them into their crazy shapes. Native Apaches called them “Standing up Rocks.”
Directions From the intersection of I-10 and I-19 (in Tucson) head southeast on I-10 for 76.82 miles to exit 336 / AZ-186. Continue for 3.4 miles on AZ-186 (called Haskell as it passes through Willcox) and then turn right / east on Maley / AZ-186. Continue for 34.33 miles. AZ-186 becomes Bonita Canyon Drive as it enters the park. The Visitor Center is located 2.5 miles into the park on the right side of the road.