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Cochise Stronghold Trail #279, AZ

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Guide 76 Triplogs  5 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Douglas
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 4.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,925 feet
Elevation Gain 1,050 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,100 feet
Avg Time One Way 2-3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 8.17
Backpack Yes
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18  2019-05-25 RedRoxx44
25  2018-05-20
Cochise Stronghold
4  2018-01-11 Pivo
6  2018-01-04 cactuscat
22  2017-03-18
Cochise Stronghold to Divide
5  2016-12-26
Cochise Stronghold Campground
30  2016-12-26 Al_HikesAZ
49  2016-10-04 DevilChild
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6
Author fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 383
Photos 3,724
Trips 2,746 map ( 18,187 miles )
Age 44 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
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Sun  6:08am - 6:17pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
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Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Salutory honk
by fricknaley

The Dragoon Mountains in southeast arizona are a great mid-altitude range, and are pretty easy to get to. The Cochise Stronghold Trail is one of my favorites in this area. It's a nice combo of distance, difficulty (the elevation gain is only about 1100 feet - but you climb up the divide each way so double it up), and uniquely awesome scenery. It reminds me of Joshua Tree in some ways. Apparently it's where Cochise often held up, and somewhere up in the mountains is where he's buried.

Take off from the campground on the east side of the divide - there is also a western approach but it's 4-WD. There is a signed takeoff for the Cochise Trail. It actually begins from a short nature trail. Start by crossing a bridge and immediately coming to a fork (the nature trail is a loop). Take quick left and follow for a couple minutes to a sign pointing you off to the left again. Again follow for just a couple minutes and a horse trail joins from your left and together (as the sign says) you take a right. Now you are off...

Immediately the scenery is awesome and all around, huge boulder-laced mountains. You start to slowly climb along a wash for about a half-mile before coming to a hiker's gate. Pass through and continue your ascent, which is very pleasant. Just short of a mile you come to a kind of clearing, with some the floor of some sort of really old structure still left in the ground. Hang a right here (there appears to be a more faint trail to your left) and follow up the wash for a while longer. The flora here is cool, with manzanita/juniper/small pines growing alongside yucca/agave and prickly pear. Also there is a huge amount of beargrass lining the way. Eventually the trail swings right and heads out of the wash (which is never that far away as you'll see). As you climb up more the trail takes on more of a cross country feel and becomes more rocky. The trail is pretty easy to follow, anytime you lose it just look for well placed cairns and remember that you are always heading west. At about 2 miles you come to Half-Moon Tank on your right, where some ducks gave me a salutory honk. The trail climbs up a bit more then opens up and becomes absolutely awesome. Boulder-laced mountains fall away into the distance, many with massive bald domes of rock. This part of the walk is incredible. At about 3 miles you come to the Stronghold Divide. You can turn around or head down to the other access point on the west side.

I recommed hiking down because the views down the western canyon are superior and the western side actually does have a bit of a different feel to it. It is steeper though. The hike down is straightforward as it switchbacks down the canyon. The views to your right are always tremendous. After about 1.75 miles you ultimately end back at ground level at the western trailhead - which looks to be pretty remote.

Turn around and start your climb all over. The way back is tougher as you regain all the elevation in a little more than half the distance, but it's not that bad. The views are straight ahead the whole way and that's pretty good incentive.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2005-04-26 fricknaley
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  • 100 Classic Hikes - 2007
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    100 Classic Hikes - 2007

Coronado FS Details
In the 1860's, the charismatic Chiricahua Apache leader, Cochise, adopted the rugged canyons that cross the midsection of the Dragoon Mountains as a refuge for himself and his people. The place came to be known as Cochise Stronghold. One feature of this natural fortress was that the two rocky canyons, one from each side of the mountain range, nearly meet high in the Dragoons. With their outlandish rock formations and thick oak-juniper vegetation they offer a concealed escape route in either direction. No one knows how many times Cochise and his people used these two canyons and the trail that connects them to move across these mountains. Today, Forest visitors travel this route as a portal back into this area's colorful past, as well as an access route to its scenic present. The trail extends between the Cochise Stronghold Campground on the east and a 4-wheel drive road (FR 688) into West Stronghold Canyon on the west side of the Dragoons. If you choose, you can travel all the way to Council Rocks at the mouth of West Stronghold. A trip along this trail will give you some idea why Cochise considered it a stronghold.

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent of 26 deeper Triplog Reviews
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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Cochise Stronghold to Divide
Camped friday and saturday nites at the Cochise Stronghold campground with a group of super folks from "Friends Hiking and Camping Club". The campground was real nice but filled to max with a mixed bunch of young & old hikers/campers. Saturday we hiked to the divide on the Cochise Stronghold trail #279. Some clear pools of water along the way but little flow from springs. Next time we'll camp on west side of Stronghold.
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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Walking in a Winter Wonderland. This will be one of my most memorable hikes.

On Christmas Eve & Christmas morning, the Cochise Stronghold Campground had 3-4” of snow and the trail at higher elevations had a little bit more. Christmas Day the temps got up into the mid-40s so the snow started to melt. Overnight it froze.

Campground: I got to the campground around 10:00 on the 26th and was greeted by snow/ice accumulations and the sound of running water from the ice melt. I had my ice scraper so I quickly got the campground squared away.
What a great day and what great memories. See my triplog about the campground.

The trail was a combination of slush, ice, and snow. Temperatures rose into the low 50’s during the day so there was a lot of melt and streams and trails were running with water. Snow was melting and falling out of the trees. This was a target rich environment for photos so I was often stopping to take photos. I was using my new Sony alpha6000. It will take some getting used to with the screen and the lenses. Layering was difficult. It was tough to get the right layers so I was often either too hot or too cold and had to stop and adjust. Not many people had hiked very far on the trail. In some places, I started to think that I wish I had my Kahtoola Microspikes for the ice. As I got closer to Half Moon Tank the trail I started wishing I had worn my Sorel snow boots and not my Lowa desert boots. Looking at the trail from the Dam to the Divide, I decided to turn back.
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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Cochise Stronghold Campground
Driving in on Ironwood presents the full panorama of the Dragoons. I stopped at the Interpretative sign then continued on. There was one little fork in the road. The main road went left, I went right (I'm just a Road less Travelled kind of guy :y: ). I ended up in the “dispersed camping” area outside of the Cochise Stronghold Campground. There were numerous RVs and trailers. Camping here is free but you don’t have picnic tables – so bring your own. I had a nice talk with some women from Colorado who were staying for two weeks. There must be 2 dozen places to camp.

I got back on the main road and followed it into the campground. As you enter the campground you have to stop and go to an interpretative sign with an envelope box and a payment box. If you have a National Park Service Pass, Golden Eagle Pass, Coronado Forest Service Pass, etc, enter your Pass # and it is $5 per night. If you don’t have a pass it is $10 per night. There was no one in the Campground. Each campground has access to the Outhouse near the trail, a picnic bench, fire pit and a sorry excuse for a BBQ.

I chose Campsite 7. Mostly because it was in the sun and the snow was melting. (Did I mention that it was cold just after Christmas). And it is close to the trail. These campsites are close together. Later in the day a family of Norwegians chose #8. Eynar and his sons Odin, Paul, and Ian (named after Ian Paice of Deep Purple :o), (I was afraid to ask who Odin was named after) They had a Norwegian Sami Indigenous TeePee tent - way cool. They were expert fire builders. I am fearless but they scared me with how they were splitting kindling with a hatchet in the dark. But they each had 10 fingers as best I could tell so I couldn't say anything. They stayed up talking around the fire. Didn’t bother me since I don’t speak Norwegian.

A Santa Claus looking pilgrim pulled up in a Pickup/trailer combination and camped near the group site. His generator bothered the Norwegians but not me. I could hear the stream under the bridge tonight from my campsite.

I would camp here again if there were only a couple of groups. Otherwise I might consider bringing a table and camping out in the dispersed camping. :M2C:

SNOW For Christmas. The Alligator Junipers were nicely green.
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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I've wanted to hike in the Dragoon Mountains for years and finally said now is the time. Gathered my gear for a planned overnight camp at the West Stronghold Trail Head to do an out and back early in the morning. In my mind sounded much better than waking up 3am in Phoenix.

One thing I learned quickly after passing Benson on the drive in is to NOT trust google for directions. The shortest route was blocked due to private roads. Had to make a detour back with longer drive on the 80, Middlemarch Road, and the forest roads. Somewhat frustrating as I had planned to arrive, set up camp, and then hike in to watch the sunset. That plan went out the window and I was happy to have just enough light to set up camp. Forest road was definite 4wd only and had to make 2 minor water crossings and one moderate one. Had a nice cold night listening to an extremely active forest with lots of critters making noise all night long. Awesome.

A heavily shaded and wooded camp site quickly changed to stunning views of the Dragoon Mountains and mind blowing formations of Cochise granite. The climb was nice and steady through overgrowth of grasses and wildflowers. My hiking time slowed substantially as I just could not help myself from stopping and taking pictures of everything I encountered. There were fresh signs of wildlife from the past night or days with javelina tracks/scat, deer tracks, and some fresh bear scat which naturally put me on higher alert.

Halfmoon Tank was filled to the brim from what I assume was recent rains, hiking past this spot turned me into a blood donation service for the tanks hordes of mosquitos. I was surprised by the abundance of water. There was water flowing in spots I had not heard about on this site or other sources. Even encountered a full pond of water of what I assume was an abandoned livestock watering tank. I had trouble finding John's Well so I couldn't get a water report for this source.

I was so impressed with the overall experience that I am eager to return for more camping and to explore Middlemarch Canyon and Slavin Gulch trails. Cochise Stronghold and the Dragoon Mountains gave me just what I was looking for including a sense of the history, the geology, flora & fauna, relaxation, and a damn fun hike.

Dragoons, I love you!

Plenty of wildflower overgrowth along the trail. In some sections hiking through wildflowers trying to obscure the trail.
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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Day 1 of an 8-day road trip through Southeastern AZ. Had lunch in Benson and left our vehicle at the Cochise Stronghold B&B just outside the campground. Great place, BTW.

Had never hiked the Stronghold before. Was a bit warm at the start, but some of the trail was shaded and the scenery was great. Even a few wildflowers left to enjoy and there were even hints of Autumn colors here and there. Enjoyed the Saddle and then headed back down. Explored the campground and its informative signs about the history of the Stronghold.

We'd brought chili and other provisions since its a ways to any place to eat and most are closed on a Sunday night anyway. Hurried through dinner and went outside to catch the total eclipse. With the moon still below the eastern hills, it was seriously dark providing a great star gazing opportunity. Even saw a few meteors. Took advantage of the hot tub to watch the eclipsed moon rise above the eastern hills. Made for a nice end to the first day of the trip.
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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this hike has been on my list ever since i picked up the 100 classic hikes book years ago
finally had a chance to spend some time at cochise stronghold
after a big breakfast, hit the trail kind of late around 10:15
nick's description covers it well
from the start, there was a lot of flowing water from recent rains
there were also a lot of mosquitoes :?
my good friend was visiting from nebraska, and we took our time sightseeing, snacking and taking photos
highlights included cochise spring and half moon tank, both of which were overflowing
the divide was a nice spot for a break
we descended the canyon on the west side
great views and a nice waterfall made up for an overgrown trail
obviously not as much use on this side
we took another break near the gate at the western trailhead
made a steady climb back up to the divide, then returned to the campground
saw a few people out early on, then one gal waiting for her climbing friends on the west side
one kid trail running on the return and that's about it
enjoyed the rocks, the running water, looking for climbing routes, the waterfall and this area in general
a few wildflowers and no evidence of fall color yet
no critters, but plenty of what looked like bear poop
now to explore the hikes on the west side: slavin gulch and council rocks
will post my return trip for a good track
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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ABC car-camping trip to the West Stronghold was a big success. I often find it difficult to get folks from north of the Gila River divide to head south, but this time I had 10 takers for the scenic Dragoon mountains. It was great to have so many eager hikers to explore this granite boulder wonderland.

Day 1 we arrived and did Council Rocks (separate triplog) at sunset after finding a great campsite at the Stronghold Canyon trail head (there was a stroke of great luck). This meant that...

Day 2 started straight out from camp hiking up to the Stronghold Divide. The dry conditions made for a poor showing of wildflowers and dry creek beds, but even in the worst conditions these mountains are magnificent. As we hiked up the steeper grade of the West Stronghold trail, we were treated to plenty of birdsong and many turkey-vulture sightings, but no eagles (which I look for each time I'm here - they're supposed to nest at Rockafellow Dome). The sky was clear, with a few wandering clouds and amazing views in every direction - including off to the mountains where I'd hiked with Sirena the week before.

Half-Moon tank was nearly empty (quarter-moon as Angela called it). The East Stronghold campground was nearly full. Our group was split up for most of the hike, but everyone was able to move at their own comfortable pace, which always makes for a fun day. In the end, I decided that I prefer the hike starting in the West - that way you get the steep climb done early in the day and your views in the afternoon are amAZing!

We made it back to camp in time to relax, have a beer, and head back out to Council Rocks for another sunset photoshoot. Life certainly is good!

Almost none, really...dry dry dry!
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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an ABC event led by Wendy. 11 people were signed up all week and by gosh 11 people showed up :o . As many of you know, that's a rare occurrence but a welcome one. Wendy and I had hiked the trail from the other side in Sept 2011 and had a super time including camping and then our long drive home via Bisbee the following day. This time we would hike both days in the western Dragoons.

We met up at Wendy's house with 2 of the other hikers and then went to El Chorro for a carne seca/prickly pear margarita lunch :DANCE: . And then it was off to our camping spot via Middle Marche Rd, FR 687 to 688 to the West TH. We arrived on Friday afternoon, claimed the spot and then headed back with a stop at Council Rocks to drop off the other two hikers while we put up signs for the group. We came back to Council Rocks and played around until the sun was set before heading back to camp for dinner (yummy salmon cakes by Wendy for us) and to freeze most of the nite in the tent, at least for me. Other late comers arrived and set up their tents until around 9PM when the last stragglers came in I think.

The next morning it was up and at 'em to put together a good breakfast before our hike to the other side and back. We had some speedy hikers so after Wendy's "it's your own hike but re-group at the Divide" we wouldn't see them til the Divide. I was surprised to see a father-son team that lagged back with Wendy, Rocky and me as they were avid photographers :D . The son is pursuing a mining career via education at U of A.

It was a beautiful morning to climb up the west side. The trail is in very good shape except for just a few areas of break away from the rain I assume. This trail climbs, levels, climbs, switches back and forth almost the entire way so it's not too taxing. Of course, it's first thing so we had fresh legs. We admired the tree choked drainages, a fault wall, the dry waterfall and of course the rock formations are just incredible. There are many wobbly rocks and skinny rocks and tall rocks and big rocks. It's all very impressive especially as the Dome starts to appear :) .

Scout II was being onery today as I just said we were at .8 and then at the 1 mile marker Scout II said 1.25. So somewhere in that small time frame, Scout II added .25 miles. It's quite annoying. Granted, most times it all matches up on Mapsource and HAZ when I get home but that's not when it matters :x ! (altho, by the time we got back to the TH the mileage matched up - go figure ](*,) ).
We all had a break at the Divide before our trip down the east side.

The temps and breeze were just right for this beautiful hike. We would pass by Quarter Moon tank; nothing to see here and continue on our way taking occasional side trips for photos and stopping to wait for the others as Wendy was running sweep. The landscape and terrain changes off and on for this side which makes it lots of fun. We would encounter some other folks along the lower portion. We ran into these four older people that we would see again as we came back on the Slavin Gulch Trl Sunday (they were from VT).

Eventually we finally made our way to the campground for our lunch but not before passing two of our group that were heading back up the east side. We had lunch at the picnic table and watched a couple acorn woodpeckers carrying on. We ran into another of our group and saw two others as they headed back up.

It was starting to get a little warm for our trek thru the lower canyon and of course, you do have some spread out elevation to tackle. We would stop in the shade from time to time to wait for one of our group (I used to be that person :sweat: and still am on occasion). No big deal as there was no need to be in any kind of a hurry. We did see some better distant views 8) to the east at this time of the day. We still wandered in some areas to get some photo ops and once at the Divide and on our way down the west side, it was clear sailing except for the steeper and slippery switchbacks.

Back at camp, some of the group went to Council Rocks. I stayed at camp and drank a beer or two, had some snacks and read from the Rx I had done about the Dragoons to the others. The Dragoons are fascinating, especially where they got their name. For dinner we would have steaks, fried potatoes and salad, YUM. Dessert was a couple shots of fire water (same as the nite before :) ). One of the couples had done a honey moon hike on the Napali Coast and they had some video that they shared. It rained the entire time they were there except the 45 minutes of their wedding. Also, they met on a hiking trip.

I am glad to report that I :zzz: slept warmly and mostly soundly on Sat. nite. I heard it was 4 degrees warmer but I'm not sure if that really made that much difference... doesn't matter really as I had a good nite!

4 videos from the hike west to east of the trail:
Heading up the west side -
Finishing off the west side and heading to Cochise Spring on the east side
Part 3 continuing down the east side from Cochise Spring -
Part 4 finishing off the east side, at the campground and some squirrel action on the way back

schotts yucca
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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Wanted to go here for years and finally did, but didn't make it to the highest point as I intended, as my partner wanted to turn back. A pity, as it seemed to get more spectacular the higher you went. It was especially cool imagining how Cochise's band hid out here and seeing how they could have used both the peaks and crevasses of the terrain strategically.
Cochise Stronghold Trail #279
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Following my soaking at Chiricahua National Monument, I headed east to the Dragoons. Endless rain and mud dampened my spirit a bit, but I wasn't going home without visiting the Stronghold. I fish tailed through the mud and creek crossings and arrived at the deserted and closed Stronghold Campground. I cruised up the soggy trail with an umbrella above and Tevas below. The summer rains had been kind to the Dragoons. Wildflowers and new grass were everywhere. Sunflowers adorned the shoreline of brimming full Half Moon Tank. Cochise Spring box was overflowing. I made my way to the first overlook of Rockfellow Dome, then turned around to begin the long journey home to Prescott. Not the best weather, but it felt great to visit one of my favorite places.

Permit $$
Special Use

There is a $5.00 per vehicle trailhead parking fee at Cochise Stronghold Campground.

Coronado Forest
MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

Map Drive
FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

To hike
Head east out of Tucson on I-10 East to exit number 331 for 191 South to Sunsites. It's about 17 miles or so on 191 South. Look for a brown sign telling you to turn right on Ironwood road. Take this paved to gravel road until it ends at the Cochise Campground. The last bit of the road may be a little rough, but the ol' Taurus made it no problem. National Parks pass with golden eagle sticker appears to be accepted in lieu of fee.
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