Sawmill Canyon

Tips for Birding

Garden Canyon on Fort Huachuca is arguably the most beautiful in the Huachuca Mountains. The fort is well managed for wildlife; you may see White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Pronghorns or Javelinas along the way. The Upper Picnic Area offers great, easy birding; Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Painted Redstart and Elegant Trogon are regular here in season. (Please note that use of picnic areas for picnicking is by permit only and should be arranged in advance by calling (520) 533-6707/6708.) The road is unpaved above the picnic areas and is often severely eroded by rain and subsequent flooding. A 4-wheel drive or high clearance vehicle is recommended beyond this point, and the upper sections of the road may be closed to vehicles if conditions are particularly bad.

At the end of Garden Canyon Road, the Sawmill Canyon Trail continues to climb, but more gently, through classic pine-oak woodland. This is superb habitat for Montezuma Quail, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Red-faced and Grace’s warblers, and Zone-tailed Hawks have nested within scope view of the trail. Groups are limited to 12 or fewer.

Important visitor information: Fort Huachuca regulations prohibit the use of recordings, pishing, tooting, and other methods for attracting birds and the use of cell phones while driving. All canyons are closed after dark. 

Fort Huachuca has traditionally been open to the public, but security concerns have tightened access requirements. For current information on access to the Fort and REAL ID Act-compliant identification to initiate the background check, see the Fort Huachuca Visitor Access webpage.

About Fort Huachuca and Garden Canyon

One of Arizona’s largest military installations, Fort Huachuca was established in 1877 and continues as an active military post. The fort was the headquarters of the 4th Cavalry patrols that pursued Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apache and ultimately brought about their surrender in 1886. Fort Huachuca also served as the home of the famous “Buffalo Soldiers” who, among other exploits, chased Pancho Villa in 1916 following attacks on Columbus, New Mexico. Today, Fort Huachuca is an important military intelligence and communications center, and the expansive installation helps manage and protect important biological diversity in and adjacent to the Huachuca Mountains. Two museums and an annex trace the fort’s colorful history. Located within Fort Huachuca, Garden Canyon is sometimes called the most beautiful canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, and this scenic area contains some of the most diverse plant and animal life in the mountain range. This prominent desert landscape is bordered in several areas by creeks, ponds, forests, and waterfalls, with a wide variety of wildflowers, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

This portion of the Huachuca Mountains and San Pedro River Valley offers good opportunities to see white-tailed deer, pronghorn, javelina, coatimundi, black bear, and other mammals. Grasslands are prime habitat for Cassin’s and Botteri’s sparrows, which are best located while they are singing during July and August. Garden canyon and its associated side canyons are excellent places to observe the Montezuma quail, Gould’s turkey, acorn woodpecker, Mexican jay, elegant trogon, sulphur-bellied and buff-breasted flycatchers, painted redstart, and red-faced and Grace’s warbler. There is also a chance of seeing Mexican spotted owls. Common reptiles include the Yarrow’s and Clark’s spiny lizards, desert grassland whiptail, Sonoran spotted whiptail, Sonoran whipsnake, Sonoran mountain kingsnake, rock rattlesnake, and black-tailed rattlesnake. Wetlands on the fort support the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog and Sonoran tiger salamander. The fort provides varied habitats for a tremendous diversity of land snails, dragonflies, and other insects, including many endemic species. Garden Canyon is legendary among butterfly enthusiasts because of its biodiversity.

Fort Huachuca has traditionally been open to the public, but be aware that security concerns can suddenly change and tighten access requirements. Civilian visitors who are U.S. citizens must be prepared to provide photo identification, vehicle registration and/or car rental contract, and proof of insurance. Foreign nationals are allowed to visit only in the company of a U.S. citizen with a military identification card. Additionally, all or parts of the post may be closed to civilians for indefinite periods of time for reasons of public safety and/or national security. All visitors are subject to random inspections by military police.

From Sierra Vista go west through the post main gate, then follow the road southwest to Garden Canyon.

A single-lane dirt road takes you to the top of Garden Canyon, where a short walk and a climb up boardwalk steps lead to a good view of prehistoric rock paintings. The Upper Picnic Area in Garden Canyon provides excellent birding, and trailheads to other canyon areas are found here. The rough, steep Scheelite Canyon Trail begins about 0.7 miles past the Upper Picnic Area, and the steep, but more gentle Sawmill Canyon Trail at the end of Garden Canyon Road continues to climb through classic pine-oak woodland. The road to Garden Canyon is closed occasionally because of military maneuvers, and other canyons on the fort, including Huachuca and Blacktail, also offer excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.

Content from Birding at Fort Huachuca and Huachuca Mountains - Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory.