Chiricahua National Monument – Echo Canyon / Rhyolite Canyon Trails

Cold temps and rowdy neighbords meant not much sleep last night but that was okay. I had planned to rise early anyways and take the shuttle to Echo Canyon for a hike back down to the visitor center. Was definitely a nice bonus riding the shuttle so I could watch the scenery go by and not worry about driving for a change.

Weather was sunny and warm with blue skies and zero clouds. From the trailhead you can see Sugarloaf Mountain that I hiked up yesterday – always looks different from a distance compared to when you’re on the trail itself.

Echo Canyon Trail

Today’s hike has amazing scenery from start to finish. One last look at Chiricahua Peak on the distant horizon before dropping down into the canyons.

And just steps from the trailhead I descended into Echo Canyon where thousands of volcanic rhyolite pinnacles stand as far as the eye can see. This is definitely one of the most “alien” and unique looking landscapes I have ever seen.

These pinnacles were created by volcanic activity 27 million years ago and have been shaped further by millenia of erosion. They come in all shapes in sizes and some are even gravity-defying like this Groot look-alike.

The further down the trail I go, the closer I get to the pinnacles. From a distance they look small yet large (if that makes sense). Now as I can almost touch them it is as if they are giants.

Another angle as I am completely engulfed into the field of rocks on both sides of Echo Canyon.

At a point the wide open space tightens and starts winding directly through the formations. In some spots it narrows to not much wider than the trail itself.

In other spots it forms complex and unique rock grottoes. I bet you could wander through the tunnels here for ages like a carnival fun-house.

Outside the grottoes, the trail opens up and again you are wandering between an endless sea of towers.

Another view from below looking upwards. I’d say these are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet high.

Upper Rhyolite Canyon Trail

As Echo Canyon ends and the trail starts descending, I got my first glimpse of a small stream that is running down the rocks like a cascade. I’m not sure but this might be Bonita Creek, and if not it’s a runoff from the recent snowfall.

Another couple sections of narrow cliff walls and we transition from Echo Canyon Trail to Upper Rhyolite Canyon Trail. Honestly I’m not sure of exactly where this changes but based on landscape differences alone this was my best guess.

Most of the creek is obscured deep in the canyon but at times you get a quick look. Some fun little “waterfalls” can be seen if you look close enough.

At the very bottom the creek forms a larger pool and the two canyons merge into one. Vegetation here is dense and green – quite the surprise for December.

As this section of the trail ends it crosses southward over the next finger. One last look down the chute before the trail continues it’s descent.

Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail

Once across the canyon the trail forks. You could loop around back up top (and there are some amazing features on this route), but today’s hike was back down Lower Rhyolyite Canyon.

Forest cover keeps increasing as we descend further into the canyon.

Here’s another angle to show the differences in terrain. Those large pinnacles now rise well above the trail, whereas down low the trees stake their claims.

Now nearing the bottom the trail is almost completely covered by the forest. Up close you can really see how much diversity exists – pines, junipers, oaks, pinions, and more.

Another view as we wind through a tunnel of trees. The trail surface here is mostly gravel and small softball-sized rocks and sometimes larger stone steps.

Bonita Creek runs parallel to the trail as you get within the last mile before reaching the visitor center.

Here, a break in the cover is caused by the tumbling rocks from the large pinnacles above.

One last fantastic view of these amazing formations and the convergence of multiple canyons as our hike winds down.

This area is great for birding and even a novice like me identified several species including this Mexican Jay that wisely loiters around the picnic areas.

And finally I’m back at the visitor center. Time to continue the adventures, but as my available time dwindles it’s time to start back towards Phoenix.

Hiking Data

Here you can see the top-down route I took from Echo Canyon (pink). Notice how the trail winds up and over the fingers and then down the canyon floor as shown by the shaded relief.

Total distance of 4.4 miles. Not a very difficult hike but you should expect it to take a couple hours minimum. As you can see I took my sweet time enjoying the sights and not caring so much about staying on schedule. Overall descent at 1,400 feet – even going all downhill you’ll still get a workout on your quads.


Author’s Note: Due to many reasons – none of them very good – I’m posting this from the future in June 2022. Actual visit date/time December 12, 2019 5:04pm. I’ll backdate it later so as to maintain chronological order. I’ve got an overwhelming backlog of photos to process which is probably why I procrastinate. Hope you enjoy them all the same.

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