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Coronado National Forest - Arizona

Mountain Recreation

Situated on several mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, the Coronado National Forest offers three major historical sites and more than twenty recreation areas

The four forest areas in the extreme southeast section of the state are all within reach of several centers: Benson and Bisbee -- at the south end of the state -- are close to forest tracts that straddle the Chiricahua Mountains and the large section of the forest lying just north of the Mexican border, between Nogales and Sierra Vista; and Safford, which is close to the large northern tract in the Pinaleno Mountains. Rose Canyon Lake and other nearby recreation sites are near Tucson.

Chiricahua National Monument

This scenic park is located in the national forest east of Benson and north of Douglas. It is accessed from either the east or west side of the Chiricahua mountain range. From the east, drive west from Benson to either U.S. Route 666 or Arizona Route 186, and drive south to Arizona Route 181.

From Douglas or New Mexico, take U.S. Highway 80 south from Interstate 10 or north from Douglas, and then turn west onto the sideroad that leads through the village of Portal (ranger station) andthe mountains.

Historic sites include the Faraway Ranch and Bonito Canyon. There is a campground in the monument, as well as along the gravel road leading westward from Highway 80 past Portal. There are interpretive trails and guided tours of monument sites. For information, phone (520) 824-3560.

For more information, go here.

Fort Bowie

Just outside the national forest boundary, Fort Bowie is located at the northern edge of the Chiricahua Mountains, northwest of the Chiricahua National Monument. Visitors can stroll through the ruins of the fort, which was constructed in 1862. It was a stop on the Butterfield Stage route. The site is accessed via a self-guided foot trail. To get there, drive south from Interstate 10 from the junction just east of Bowie, or northeast from Arizona Route 186 (9 miles north of Hwy. 181).

Cochise's Stronghold

The refuge of the great chief Cochise and his Apache followers, who were chased into the high granite reaches of the Dragoon Mountains, the stronghold provides a fascinating glimpse of the days when Indian wars dominated the scene in the Old West. The site is operated by the National Forest Service (520-826-3593) and includes a campground, picnic area, and hiking trails. There are several other prominent historic sites in Cochise County that commemorate the struggles between the cavalry and the Apache, but Cochise's Stronghold provides the best overview of those turbulent times.

U.S. Route 666 leads south from Interstate 10 and runs north from Douglas, on the Mexican border. Just north of the community of Sunsites is a gravel road that leads west to the Stronghold. If you're driving east from Benson, another scenic route leads from Interstate 10, at the Dragoon exit. Drive east along this sideroad to meet Highway 666 and drive south for another 8 miles to the gravel road.

Coronado National Memorial

Located just north of the Mexico boundary, south of Sierra Vista, the memorial commemorates the explorations of Francisco Coronado and other Spanish conquistadors in 1540. Operated by the National Park Service, the memorial is open daily with a visitor center, museum, and hiking trails. Montezuma Pass is a spectacular scenic attraction. For information, phone (520) 366-5515.

Recreation Sites South of Safford

Riggs Lake is at the end of a partially graveled forest road which leads east from U.S. Route 666, 9 miles south of Safford. Along this road are three forest campgrounds: Arcadia, Shannon, and Riggs Lake. The Riggs Flat Campground is farther to the west. Mt. Graham (el. 10,717 feet) dominates the scene here. There is a ranger station at Riggs Lake, 10 miles down the road.

Rose Canyon Lake

Mt. Lemmon rises more than 9,000 feet from the desert floor, northeast of the city of Tucson. At the end of a winding road is the area's prime downhill ski center. Along the road are several forest recreation sites. Sabino Canyon, close to the city at the edge of the mountain's slopes, is a favorite haunt of birders, photographers and hikers who often wade into the river to see wildlife. Farther along the road are forest campgrounds: Mound Basin, Rose Canyon and Spencer Canyon. Rose Canyon Lake is situated near the end of the road, before you reach the ski area.

Nearby Places of Interest

The Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum is in Willcox, a town situated on Interstate 10, east of Benson. The museum displays memorabilia of the cowboy movie star, one of the famous singing cowboy entertainers&emdash;in a league with the other major stars of the genre, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

Fort Huachuca, in the town of Sierra Vista, is a restored fort and museum of southwestern military history. It's one of the few remaining active army posts of the Old West. For information, phone (520) 533-5736. 


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