Hotspots Near You

268. Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, Arizona

This premier location in the Chiricahua Mountains is where to go for Arizona specialities such as Elegant Trogon, Mexican Chickadee, and Montezuma Quail.
By Steve Wolfe | Published: 10/18/2017

Without a doubt, Cave Creek Canyon is a premier birding location in North America. In fact, the Chiricahua Mountains, which surround the canyon, were highlighted by the King Penguin himself, Roger Tory Peterson, in the 1980 book Roger Tory Peterson’s Dozen Birding Hot Spots.

I have been coming to Cave Creek for 20 years to bird, hike, backpack, and take photos. What initially attracted me was that the Chiricahuas are the northernmost section of a chain of mountains that extends south to Mexico’s Sierra Madre; birds and other wildlife that are found in the Sierra Madre and other areas south of the border can possibly make their way to the Chiricahuas.

Target species for many birders, such as Elegant Trogon, Mexican Chickadee, Montezuma Quail, Elf Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Painted Redstart, and Red-faced Warbler are found here. And Slate-throated Redstarts have been spotted in recent years.

In 2014, I bought a house in Portal, so I could be at the gateway to this amazing place. Make a trip to the canyon this coming spring, summer, or fall. You won’t regret it.

Steve Wolfe is a writer and wildlife photographer. Previously, he wrote about the South Coast Botanic Garden, Hotspot Near You No. 229, and Overton Wildlife Management Area, No. 253.

268. Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, Arizona

Directions

Cave Creek Canyon, located 150 miles east of Tucson, features canyons, streams, and wildlife. From Tucson, take I-10 into New Mexico and head south on Hwy. 80. Drive 28 miles and go right on Portal Rd. (New Mexico 533). Go about seven miles to Portal, then continue on 42 Forest Rd. for three miles into the canyon.

Downloadable Files

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
31°52’59.48″N 109°10’29.69″W

Habitat

Extensive forest, upper elevation pine-oak woodland, and a perennial creek on the canyon floor creating a riparian zone.

Terrain

A paved road runs along flat canyon floor. Hiking trails on both sides of road; plenty of turnouts, for access and to observe birds from your vehicle. Handicapped parking spots at campgrounds and visitor center, but most walkways and trails unsuitable for wheelchairs.

Birds

Around 400 species. Residents: Yellow-eyed Junco, Montezuma Quail, Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owl. Migrants: Virginia’s, Wilson’s, and Townsend’s Warblers, Lazuli Bunting. Summer: Lucy’s Warbler, Elf Owl, Rivoli’s and Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Elegant Trogon, Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Grace’s and Red-faced Warblers, Painted Redstart, Hepatic Tanager, Scott’s Oriole. Uncommon: Violet-crowned and Lucifer’s Hummingbirds, Plain-capped Starthroat.

When to go

Best from about April 15-May 31 and in September and October. Summer for breeding birds such as Elegant Trogon.

Amenities

Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center, open 9-4 daily, has restrooms, area info, WiFi, and a list of recent bird sightings. Many Portal residents’ yards with bird feeders are open to the public. Restrooms also at campgrounds.

Access

National forest. Fees at improved camp sites.

Tips

Spring and autumn temperatures moderate, and July brings welcome rain. Bring sunscreen and insect repellent.

For more info

Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center, (520) 558-2221
Friends of Cave Creek Canyon

Sites nearby

Willow Tank
Approximately 10 miles southeast of Portal, off State Line Rd. An impoundment of water one acre in size that is one of the few places east of the Chiricahuas to look for waterfowl. Bendire’s Thrasher is resident.

Barfoot Park
About 11 miles west of Portal, off the dirt Trans-Mountain Rd., at 8,000 feet elevation. Mexican Chickadee, Olive and Red-faced Warblers, and Zone-tailed and Short-tailed Hawks.

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