East of Tuscon, Arizona, the remote Dragoon Mountains rise high above the surrounding desert landscape, reaching elevations of over 7,000 feet. This arid, rocky landscape was the final stronghold of the indomitable Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise. After many failed attempts by the US Army to imprison Chief Cochise (he escaped every time he was captured), a treaty was eventually negotiated, and he and 1,000 of his followers were allowed to remain in their homeland. Chief Cochise died peacefully in 1874 and was buried within the mountain fortress; however, the exact location of his grave remains unknown.
Today, the area offers spectacular scenery, with world-class rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, and camping.
Getting to the Cochise Stronghold
The roads leading into either side of the Dragoon Mountains are not technical in nature (Forest Service Road 687 does get rougher the further you go), but they can become impassable when wet. Plan your visit accordingly so that you do not get stuck.
There are two access points to the Cochise Stronghold: East and West.
East Stronghold: Head east from Tucson on I-10 and take the Dragoon Road exit (318) toward the town of Dragoon. From the post office, go 7.5 miles and turn right onto Cochise Stronghold Road. Follow this until it ends at a T intersection with Ironwood Road; take a right and continue.
West Stronghold:Drive south from Benson on Arizona Highway 80 for approximately 20 miles. Make a left on Middlemarch Road (if you reach Tombstone, you’ve gone too far). Follow Middlemarch for 10 miles before turning left onto Forest Road 687. Various access points to the West Stronghold peel off of this road.
Camping, Hiking, and Climbing
Because of its location in Southern Arizona, the Cochise Stronghold is an excellent destination in the fall and winter, with spectacular camping, hiking, and rock climbing opportunities.
The Cochise Stronghold campground, operated by the National Forest Service on the East side of the mountains, is open from September 1 through May 31. This first-come, first-served campground costs $20/night. Learn more on the USDA website.
Free dispersed camping is also available in many locations on both sides of the Dragoon Mountains. Your best options will be off of Ironwood Road (East side) and along Forest Service Road 687 (West side). When visiting, make sure to stay on established roads and do not create new campsites or fire rings.
There are multiple hiking trails within the mountains, but one of the favorites in this area is the Cochise Trail #279. This 9-mile out and back hike ascends approximately 1,900 feet and traverses the Stronghold Divide, with spectacular views of the surrounding rock formations.
The Cochise Stronghold is a world-class rock climbing destination, and if that’s what you are after, Mountain Project has detailed information about approaches and climbing routes.
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