View of the hoodoos from Echo Canyon Loop Trail – Chiricahua National Monument

If you’ve never heard of Chiricahua (cheer-i-cow-uh) National Monument, you are not alone. We had never heard of this place until we moved to Arizona in 2019 from California. We consider it a hidden gem and it is now one of our favorite places to camp! I will be writing about our visit last year (just our family at 2 of the standard sites) and this year (with 2 other families at the group site). We have gone camping in Chiricahua National Monument twice and each time has been a very different experience!

Chiricahua National Monument is a 12,000 acre “wonderland of rocks” located 35 miles southeast of Willcox, Arizona. If you’ve ever driven the I-10 and seen the billboards for The Thing, Chiricahua National Monument is about 40 miles straight east of The Thing. There is no entrance fee to the park. There is currently construction on Arizona State Route 181 going to the park from the 186 which means a bit of a rough road for 4 miles.

Last year, we camped in Bonita Canyon Campground in Chiricahua National Monument close to the entrance at two of the standard sites, Site 1 and Site 2. We went a little earlier in June than we did this year. We stayed 3 nights and had beautiful weather. A few of us even felt chilly at night and wished we had brought more blankets! The parking for each of the standard sites is supposed to fit 2 vehicles each but our van definitely took up the parking for Site 1 with no space for another vehicle. When we got to Site 1 and saw that we probably could use another campsite, we were able to reserve Site 2 online while standing outside the visitor center.

This year, we camped at the group site (Site 26) in Bonita Canyon Campground. The group site has a minimum group size of 8 guests and a maximum group size of 24 guests. You can reserve campsites online at We were camping with friends and our group size was 17. The parking area for the group site can accommodate up to 5 vehicles but I think 4 vehicles is a better fit. We have a 12 passenger Transit van that fit fine with 3 other vehicles so it would have taken some maneuvering to fit 5 vehicles.

Bonita Canyon Campground – Site 1 – June 2023
Bonita Canyon Campground – Site 2 – June 2023
Bonita Canyon Campground – Site 26 – 2 of 6 tent pads – June 2024

Some important things to note about the campground:

  • There is no electricity available so plan for cooking with gas/campfire.
  • There is no food, ice, or gas available in the park. Willcox, AZ, is the closest town and is 37 miles (59 km) from the park. We brought 2 coolers this year and 1 cooler had just ice. I think we could have used more than the two 16 pound bags of ice we had.
  • Wood gathering is prohibited in the park. Bring your own firewood for the fire pit, grills, and personal raised fire pans. No ground fires are allowed.
  • Drinking water is available at pumps located throughout the campground. The group site had one right at the site. The individual sites have a water pump close by.
  • Each site has a bear box to store anything that might attract a bear (or any other animal). We stored food and toiletries in them at night and when leaving the campsite for any length of time. The group site had at least 9 bear storage boxes.
  • There is a restroom building, men’s and women’s restrooms, with two stalls in each with flushable toilets and a cold water sink. There are no showers.
  • Each standard site has a tent pad. The group site had 6 tent pads. I believe they are 12×12 tent pads but did not get to measure them.
  • The standard campsites cost $20 a night. The group site is $3/person with a minimum of $24/night or a maximum of $72/night.
  • Phone service is very spotty in the campground. There is wifi available at the visitor center (we were able to stand just outside the building to access the wifi) and phone service is sometimes available up at the trailhead parking lots (specifically Echo Canyon and Massai Point).
  • Each standard campsite has a grill and a picnic table. The group campsite has 2 huge grills and plenty of picnic tables, probably 6. I think we used at least one 12 pound bag of charcoal on just one grill.
  • Any site not reserved is available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can make a reservation via online or call. No cash, check, or credit card payments accepted onsite.
  • Check in time is noon and check out is 11 AM.
  • The address for the campground is 12856 E Rhyolite Creek Rd, Willcox, AZ 85643. The phone number is 520-824-3560.

Last year, one of the kids accidentally bumped on a roof light in our van and the battery went dead overnight. The rangers at the visitor center said they couldn’t jump us and that we would have to ask fellow campers for a jump. We ended up calling my in-laws and since they were coming out to visit us for the day anyway, my father-in-law was able to rescue us and gave us a jump.

This year, we arrived on Saturday and met our friends at the group campsite a little bit after check-in. The parking area is about 100 feet from the campsite and you have to walk through the usually dry Bonita Creek creek bed to get from your car to the campsite. If the creek is running, you won’t be able to access the campsite.

We had an eventful first day at the campsite. After getting the tents up and all the food stowed away, we went for a hike up at Massai Point, located at the end of Bonita Canyon Highway that goes through the park.

Deer were the most common wildlife we saw on this trip. They liked to hang out just outside the campground and we often saw them while driving through the park.
A view of Cochise Head from Massai Point. There is an observation tower at the end of the paved path that has a lot of interesting information about the area.

The Massai Point Nature Trail is a loop trail with an upper loop and a lower loop. The upper loop is partially paved and leads up to an observation tower. The lower loop is not paved and is quite rugged, but the kids loved it. Halfway through the lower loop is an overlook where you can take some great panoramic pictures. The overlook is called Speaker’s Rock and was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps for the dedication ceremony of the park as a National Monument in 1934. I believe the lower loop also connects to the rest of the Chiricahua National Monument trail system.

A quick note about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): we have seen many of the structures and trails they built at various National Parks and Monuments in Arizona and have always been impressed with the workmanship evident in the things they built. If you would like to read more about the CCC, please visit and

Speaker’s Rock – lower loop Massai Point Nature Trail

The first night a skunk decided to wander through our campsite after dark. I hid in our tent with my two youngest while I could hear my other kids calling out where the skunk was going and when it left the campsite. It did make our site smell a little bit like skunk but it definitely could have been worse!

There are many trees at the campground that provide shade during the day.

After the kids went to bed, Josh and I sat outside the tent and looked at the stars. They were a bit hard to see because of all the trees but the stars were definitely clearer than at home and we saw a few satellites and two shooting stars. The sky was also continuously flashing from lightning generated by some thunderstorms. They were at the time far way because we couldn’t hear the thunder.

Last year, we were able to drive up to the Echo Canyon trailhead parking lot and watch the Milky Way rise and look at the stars at around 9:30 PM.

This year, at around 9:30, the sky suddenly turned hazy and we couldn’t see the stars anymore. It turned out that we were in for a thunderstorm that came through about 11 PM with lightning, thunder, and not very much rain. Fortunately, it left the area before the sun came up and we had a beautiful morning to eat breakfast and then go hike the Echo Canyon Loop.

A panoramic video of views from the Ed Riggs Trail – Chiricahua National Monument

To learn more about hiking in Chiricahua National Monument, the National Park Service website has a lot of good information:

After our hike, it was lunchtime. So we got lunch all prepared and had just sat down to eat it when a thunderstorm came in. And it rained for almost an hour before we got a break and then another thunderstorm came in. We had two breaks from the rain to go and put away the lunch food, which we only had time to cover with a tarp before running for our tents/vehicles. We also checked on each other since some of us ran for tents and some of us ran for vehicles. It hailed twice and there was so much rain that it was leaking into our tents. Fortunately, the wind wasn’t too bad and all of our tents stayed put.

After the second round of thunderstorms and dealing with soggy tents and mud, we decided that we should probably pack up and head home before it got dark. It looked like another storm was heading toward us and we didn’t think we could handle a third round of thunderstorms. Arizona monsoon is no joke and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck on the wrong side of Bonita Creek if it started running.

In spite of the weather, we still had a good time and plan to camp together again during a time when we are more likely to have nice weather. I think we can plan on camping in Chiricahua National Monument always being an adventure!

Mexican Jay on the fence, probably waiting to see if we drop food!

Important Links for more information:

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