Cave Creek Nature Trail Walk – 03/21/2021

This is the first post for a 5-day camping and hiking trip to the Chiricahua Mountains with our friends Jay and Nancy. The Chiricahuas are in the southeastern corner of Arizona, just across the state line from Rodeo, NM. I have been interested in visiting there since a fly-in to Amigos Del Cielo Airport with our friend Lanny. We heard great things about hiking (and bird watching) on the eastern slopes of this small mountain range.

The Drive In

‘Tis 331 miles from Albuquerque, almost a six hour drive with our R-Pod camper/trailer. Campsites at our destination, Cave Creek (Sunny Flat and Stewart) are first-come-first-serve, and we had been advised to be there soon after noon when people would be leaving. So we took 2 days, spending the first night at the Rockhound State Park south of Deming. This is a dandy campground with large site pads (with full hookups), each separated from nicely for the others, and offering great views of the Little Florida Mountain range to the east and across the plains to the west. Sites are by reservation and we were fortunate to get a nice site for Saturday night.

View of Dragon Ridge near Sunset from Rockhound State Park.

Sunrise of Dragon Ridge the next morning from Rockhound State Park.

On Sunday it was up and get going the 125 miles to the town of Portal at the entrance to Cave Canyon and into the Canyon to check out the campgrounds. For truly great video tours of the campgrounds (see Resources below for YouTube videos), we favored the more informal Stewart Campground. The road through the campground is gravel as are the sites; there is one vault toilet centrally located; and the trees create what I describe as a ‘cozy’ environment. Driving through Stewart we found 3 sites that were available and one being vacated – we preferred the latter (#5) and weren’t disappointed. We set up our R-Pod and soon Jay and Nancy arrived and set up their tent on a nice tent pad, a feature of nearly all of these campsites.

Approaching Cave Creek Canyon.

We had been advised that there were no services nearby – no gas, food, lodging, or internet service; fill up your gas tank in Lordsburg. We found otherwise: yes, no gas, but a small general store in Portal with the basic necessities (and a small menu plus beer) and lodging (Portal Peak Lodge, Store, & Cafe), and the Sky Island Grill and Grocery with a larger inventory of groceries and cafe menu. Internet service is available at both places courtesy their WiFi; cellular service is not available in the canyon and spotty even out in the open on the road between Portal and Rodeo.

The Hike

Cave Creek Nature Trail Walk.PatJayNancy.2021-03-21

Having set up our camp by mid-afternoon, and having spent the last 2 days (1 day for Jay and Nancy who drove from Placitas), we needed to stretch our legs. We suspected there was a trail across Cave Creek (15 yards across strewn rocks, no water), so we ventured out. And .. across the creek and Cave Creek Road (FR 42) we found a nice, easy trail. We headed up-canyon towards the other campground, Sunny Flat. This campground is more formal with paved road and large RV sites, and more open without the forest close at hand.


Total Distance:  2.08 miles
Elevation: start  5,024 ft, maximum  5,161 ft,  minimum 5,017 ft
Gross gain: 144 ft.  Aggregate ascending 190 ft, descending 312 ft (return half of out-and-back)
Maximum slope: 33% ascending, 60% descending, 7.5% average
Duration: 1:18

GPS Track Files for Download
If you haven’t explored these hiking tracks with Google Earth, I urge you to try it. With the virtual 3-dimensional presentation, achieved by panning and tilting the view, you can get a much better idea of the hikes and terrain than you can get from the screenshot above. For some ideas, check out  Using Google Earth Track Files.

References and Resources

NM State Parks: Rockhound State Park
NM Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources: Rock Hound State Park and Spring Canyon Recreation Area
USFS: Stewart Campground
             Sunny Flat Campground
AZ Camp Guide: Stewart Campground
                               Sunny Flat Campground
Camp Arizona: Stewart Campground
                            Sunny Flat Campground
The Dyrt: Stewart Campground
                   Sunny Flat Campground
High Desert Camper (YouTube): Stewart Campground, Arizona
                                                            Sunny Flat Campground, Portal AZ
Chiricahua Mountains Hiking Trails: Cave Creek Nature Trail #603
Friends of Cave Creek Canyon: Hiking

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