The Big Loop
January 16th, 2021
Location: Wilcox, AZ
Distance: We logged 9.1 miles
Parking: Echo Canyon, if full park at Massai Point
Pets: Not allowed on trail
Chiricahua National Monument is 3.5 hours from Phoenix. It’s not a bad drive, but we decided to stay the night in Tucson at Hotel Congress because we wanted to explore Tucson as well. But it is definitely a doable day trip. Our plan was to hike The Big Loop, a hike that takes you throughout the entire monument. We left Phoenix at 6:30 am and arrived at the park around 10:45 am. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center first to get the post cards and magnets that Lauren sends home to her family. We then headed to Echo Canyon parking lot, but it ended up being full. A little stressed out, we continued down the road and parked at Massai Point. Looking at the map it added .6 miles onto our hike. We were okay with this! So we started to get ready for our hike and headed down Massai Point. Massai Point’s elevation is 6,870 feet. Be aware of this when you start your hike. You can feel more out of breath when hiking at this type of elevation, especially when you aren’t used to it.
We took Massai Point to Echo Canyon (where we would have started if there was spots). You quickly will come across signs for Echo Canyon Grotto. You will walk through incredible hoodoos to get to the “grotto”. From here you will head down into Echo Canyon Park that is full of pines, firs, and cypress. There is so much greenery down here you might not even feel like you’re in Chiricahua National Monument anymore. There is also water that flows through here in the winter and spring. From Echo Canyon Park you head up to the intersection of Rhyolite Canyon and Hailstone Trail. For the Big Loop you head down into Rhyolite Canyon, but you could head up Hailstone Trail as part of the Echo Canyon Loop that is 3.5 miles. Once again you don’t feel like you are in Chiricahua National Monument. You are now below the towering hoodoos and can look up to them, but at the bottom there is so much greenery.
Once you head up to Rhyolite Canyon you connect to Sarah Deming Trail. This trail was tough! The entire trail has incline. This part definitely tested our limits, but we are also the type of hikers that don’t sit down for breaks. We were out of breath, but we just wanted to get to the next part of the hike which was Heart of Rocks Loops. We do suggest to take your time while hiking the Sarah Deming Trail. We are avid hikers and tend to hike fast, but not everyone wants to or should do that. It is always important to know your limits. Once we reached the top you are brought to Balanced Rock Trail and Heart of Rocks Loop. You can bypass Heart of Rocks Loop if you want, but we recommend it. It does add 1.1 miles onto your hike, but this is included in The Big Loop. We wish we could tell you this is just a loop and there is no incline, but that wouldn’t be true. There is incline/decline on this loop. There are incredible rock formations throughout this trail. You will see signage that will signal what each rock formation is named. Our favorites were kissing rock, pinnacle balanced rock, duck rock, and big balanced rock.
After you hike Heart of Rocks Loop you will head onto Big Balanced Rock Trail. You will take Big Balanced Rock and hike down into Hunt Canyon. The last decline of the hike!! This is one of those hikes that you incline, just to decline. After you get through Hunt Canyon you will take Ed Riggs Trail up to Echo Canyon. You will come across the sign that you passed when you first started the hike. One way will lead to Echo Canyon Parking Lot and the other way will lead to Massai Parking Lot. We headed towards Massai Point since that is where we parked. Ed Riggs Trail is pretty steep. The hardest parts of this hike are Sarah Deming Trail and Ed Riggs Trail. The entire stretch of both trails is all incline and you are already hiking at a high elevation. Towards the end of this hike both of our feet started to hurt and we were just ready to get back to our car. Once we headed towards Massai Point we forgot that we hiked down to Echo Canyon Trail because we didn’t think we would have more incline to get to the parking lot, but we did! Once we reached the parking lot we were so relived.
Overall, we hiked 9.1 miles and gained 2,000+ ft in elevation. This hike was very strenuous, but beautiful. Park rangers suggested to plan to hike 5-6 hours+ depending on your pace. We finished it in 4.5 hours. We would recommend this hike to avid hikers or hikers that have time to spend the whole day hiking. Park Rangers don’t recommend to hike this once it gets dark. The sun sets earlier in the winter, so that is something you need to be careful with while hiking this. You can also always do an out and back out instead of hiking The Big Loop. If you want to experience the hoodoos, but don’t want to hike a long distance we recommend to hike from Echo Canyon Trail or Massai Point to Echo Canyon Grotto. With this hike you will be able to see the massive hoodoos from above, but will also get to walk among them. This hike would be about 2 miles if that. Another option would be to hike past the Grotto and do the Echo Canyon Loop. You would take Echo Canyon Trail to Hailstone trail to finish the loop.
Some of our favorite photos: