Sierra Vista Fun
There's Tons Of Outdoor Fun Around Sierra Vista
September 1, 2022
Check out the river that runs "backwards" on this trip.
We have a tendency to head north most of the time when we leave town, but we have learned the error of our ways. There are a lot of great places to visit in the southern part of the state, and the area around Sierra Vista is no exception. From a river that runs "backward" to creek preserves and mountaintop campsites, there are tons of things to see and do around there.
Sierra Vista, Canelo, Elgin Loop Drive
This one will take you most of the day but you'll see some spectacular county and you can visit Parker Canyon Lake and enjoy a picnic lunch in the shade! Start in Sierra Vista and head south state Highway 92. Around three miles from the Mexico border 92 curves off east, but you'll want to make a right onto South Coronado Memorial Parkway just after 92 is headed east.
Coronado National Memorial is a road and a National Park. The road goes through Montezuma Pass where I highly recommend you stop and stretch your legs and enjoy the view. But I'm getting ahead of myself! You'll want to stop at the Ranger Station/Visitor Center on the way and find out more about the Coronado Expedition, try on some Spanish armor, and find out about visiting Coronado Cave.
If you're valiant, go to Coronado Cave. The trail is well-marked and is about a quarter mile past the Visitor Center. Then there's a half-mile uphill hike to the cave, which is rated moderate to moderately strenuous. We did it, but when we got to the cave I totally chickened out. For one thing, we had no gear with us and the entrance is a very steep clamber down boulders – I couldn't see myself being able to get out! We had no flashlights either. So not a good idea.
If you want to go in the cave, I strenuously urge you to visit the nps.gov site and search for Coronado Cave. They have an excellent page about visiting the cave and even a video and some great photos of the inside. A few miles before the Montezuma Pass the pavement ends, but the road is a good gravel road. It stays gravel until you reach Parker Canyon Lake.
We stopped at the pass where there is ample parking, and walked along some paths that climb the hills. Even from the parking lot you get amazing views, and you can see both sides – east and west. The beginning (or end!) of the Arizona Trail passes through here, and there are benches to sit on while you take in the views. The girls loved it here.
Parker Canyon Lake
Parker Canyon Lake makes a great place to stop and eat lunch. Bring your own pr buy some snacks at the Parker Canyon Lake Marina. There are campgrounds and picnic tables, and plenty of trees for shade. It's a beautiful lake and has some good fishing. You can rent boats and kayaks, get a license, buy baits – the whole deal! Check out their webpage at www.parkercanyonlake.com.
From the lake we drove on through Canelo and Sonoita, then headed east on 82 then south on 80 to get back to Sierra Vista.
Ramsey Canyon/ Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserves
While you're in Sierra Vista, be sure to make time to visit two gorgeous Nature Conservancy sites, Ramsey Canyon and Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserves. Ramsey Canyon is just south of Sierra Vista – just take 92 south out of town and turn west on Ramsey Canyon Road. Ramsey Canyon has a little visitors center with a store, and great trails. The main trail follows Ramsey Creek and crosses it now and then with little wooden bridges. There are old building along the trail, as well as a big fireplace. Great photo opps.
We saw a lot of Coues deer at Ramsey Canyon, and they actually came pretty close to us, which was a treat. There is a splash place for kids, and at the end of the main trail there's another trail that goes up the mountain and reaches beautiful views. They are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays all year. Open 8-5 March through October, and 9-4 November through January. It is gorgeous here, so you don't want to miss this place!
Snails, Butterflies, Birds
The Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve is 873 acres protecting one of the few remaining permanent streams in Arizona, Sonoita Creek. There are beautiful, easy trails that follow the creek and wander through the meadows, and you'll see a huge variety of birds in addition to an amazing riparian habitat. It is an example of the rare Fremont cottonwood-Goodding willow riparian forest. There are trees there over 100 feet tall and 130 years old! We and the girls had a great time hiking around and making friends with the snails, butterflies, and birds!
Town Of Patagonia
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek is open Wednesday – Sunday 6:30 am to 4 pm October through March, and 7:30 – 4 the other months of the year. It is just southwest of the town of Patagonia. We visited Patagonia after going to the Preserve, had a great coffee and snacks, and then let John buy us some mugs and hats in some of the cute stores! It was so much fun!
Carr Canyon Road #368 Scenic Drive
Way up in the Huachuca Mountains southwest of Sierra Vista is a flat area (sort of) called Carr Reef. There is a narrow, winding road that goes clear up there. The first mile or so is paved, and after that you'll need high clearance. It's steep switchbacks with no guardrails, but the views from the road just keep getting better and better as you climb. You'll come to Carr Canyon Picnic Area and a campground too. There are a lot of hiking trails up there, and you're in a beautiful forest.
History Of Gold, Silver Mining
The girls absolutely loved it up there – we wandered all around and explored the forest, and hardly saw another soul. This was in March, and the road is closed from around December 15 to March 15. It's operated by the Sierra Vista Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest. There is a rich history of gold and silver mining in the area. Reef Townsite Loop Trail begins at the recreation area along with two campgrounds. From the Reef you can connect with a bunch of trails that go all over the Huachuca Range.
San Padro River
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area contains 40 miles of the upper San Pedro River. This river is one of the few rivers that flows from south to north – it begins in Mexico. It's a big river, but the area is home to a lot of different birds and animals.
San Pedro House
There are several different places to access the river, and one of the most popular is the San Pedro House, which is about 9 miles east of Sierra Vista on 90. It's got a little bookstore and information center with bird feeders that attract a lot of gorgeous birds, and there is a great trail from the San Pedro House to the river. We had a good time hiking around through the trees. The river itself is not very big, and in a lot of places you can hop over it, but there are several channels. It's a fun place to take kids to.
Don't Forget Tombstone And Bisbee
There is a lot more to do and see around Sierra Vista, like Tombstone and Bisbee, vineyards, and lot of beautiful country and trails to explore. Next time you're trying to decide where to go for a little vacation, be sure to check out Sierra Vista!