Are you ready to explore the largest, deepest canyon system in North America? If so, you’re not going to the Grand Canyon. Instead, you’re heading south to the Mexican state of Chihuahua. There, where six rivers converge into the powerful Rio Fuerte, is your destination — the rugged Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon.
Spanning a mind-blowing 37,000 miles, the stunning Barranca del Cobre’s signature green canyon walls enclose challenging hikes and dramatic vistas, two distinctly separate ecosystems, and the ancestors of ancient civilizations. The region can be explored on foot, on horseback or burro, and by train — an amazing journey that climbs to plateaus 8,000 feet high and drops into the deepest reaches of the canyon.
Situated at the entry point to the canyon, the small town of El Fuerte is some 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean, with an elevation of just 600 feet above sea level. Here you’ll find three lakes providing world class bass fishing, cruises on the El Fuerte river, and a verdant tropical forest that’s home to an array of rare and exotic birds, including the tiger heron, great black hawk, chachalaca, russet-crowned motmot, and white-fronted parrot.
Steeped in the indigenous and Spanish conquistador traditions, El Fuerte is also the starting place for the world-famous Copper Canyon train. This marvel of architecture and engineering covers 390 miles in a 14-hour trip, crossing 39 bridges, passing through 86 tunnels, and climbing 8,000 feet to the canyon rim. It’s a spectacular journey that provides overnight stops and opportunities for hiking in and around the canyon.
Into the Canyon
Intrepid campers, hikers, and climbers will find plenty of opportunity for adventure inside the walls of Barranca del Cobre. Because of the canyon’s dramatic changes in elevation, it contains two completely different ecosystems. At heights ranging from 4,000 to 8,000 feet, the alpine plateaus are heavily forested, with more than 20 different species of oak trees and 15 varieties of pine, along with alder, juniper, poplar, and madrone.
6,000 feet down, in the depths of the canyon, you’ll find a semi-tropical environment that can become semi-arid, depending on seasonal rainfall. At canyon’s bottom, huge palm and fig trees grow alongside a wide variety of cactus. Hikers making the descent will encounter a number of challenges, including rock climbing and rappelling, wood and rope suspension bridges, and one giant “Tarzan leap.”
Some of the best views of the canyon can be had in the town of Divisidero, also a major access point to hiking trails into the canyon. Recent development there has added a heart-pumping zipline and cable car trip over the canyon walls.
Rich Canyon Heritage
Tucked away on remote canyon cliffs are the villages of the Tarahumara Indians, an indigenous people who sought refuge from the Spanish invaders hundreds of years ago. Famous for their long-distance vertical running, the Tarahumara still speak a language evolved from the ancient Aztec.
Today you can experience the Copper Canyon on foot, as the Tarahumara do, or choose any number of exciting alternatives. Seven times larger than the Grand Canyon, spectacularly beautiful, and host to a unique and diverse ecology, the Barranca Del Cobre offers adventurers an unforgettable journey.