Sierra Vista, Arizona 85613Birding at Fort Huachuca
Huachuca Canyon is another major drainage on the north end of the Huachuca Mountains. Not as isolated as Garden Canyon and a bit harder to find, it nevertheless is worth a visit. Elegant Trogons are relatively common here in summer along with all of the typical birds of the oak and pine-oak woodlands. At the entrance to the canyon, birds of lower elevations meet their mountain counterparts: Summer and Hepatic tanagers, Lucy’s and Black-throated Gray warblers, Ladder-backed and Arizona woodpeckers. Gray Hawks nested in the sycamores over the lower picnic area, where the second Sinaloa Wren in the U.S. was resident for several years. A lingering trogon or two may spice up winter birding in the canyon, but birding is best from April through September. The road is popular with runners, so drive slowly and watch carefully when coming around curves. As always, take care when stopping to bird along the roadsides; use parking areas wherever possible, or pull all the way to the right side of the road. Normal passenger vehicles are safe as far as the turnaround and picnic area where the road crosses the creek; walking is recommended beyond this point.
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.
See all hotspots at 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.