Cochise Stronghold is located to the west of Sunsites, Arizona in the Dragoon Mountains at an elevation of 5,000 ft. This beautiful woodland area lies in a protective rampart of granite domes and sheer cliffs which were once the refuge of the great Apache Chief, Cochise, and his people. Located within the Coronado National Forest, it is managed by the Douglas Ranger District.
In Sunsites, AZ, take Ironwood Rd. (off State Rt. 191) west 9.1 miles to campground entrance. Once inside the Forest, Ironwood Rd. becomes Forest Rt. 84. NOTE: After, 3.8 miles, Ironwood Rd. (and Forest Rt. 84) becomes a Forest Service-maintained dirt road. While the road can appear rough, people in passenger cars frequently traverse the road. There are five, usually dry, stream crossings on Forest Rt. 84. Unless there has been unusually heavy rains within the last 48 hours, most cars can pass without trouble even when the streams are flowing. Ford at your own risk, however.
This rugged natural fortress was, for some 15 years, the home and base of operations for the famed Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise. Cochise and about 1,000 of his followers, of whom some 250 were warriors, located here.
Born in present-day Arizona, Cochise led the Chiricahua band of the Apache tribe during a period of violent social upheaval. In 1850, the United States took control over the territory that today comprises Arizona and New Mexico. Not hostile to the whites at first, he kept peace with the Anglo-Americans until 1861, when he became their implacable foe because of the blunder of a young U.S. Army officer, Lt. George Bascom. In that year, Cochise and several of his relatives had gone to an encampment of soldiers in order to deny the accusation that they had abducted a child from a ranch. The boy was later proved to have been kidnapped by another band of Apaches.
During the parley, Cochise and his followers were ordered held as hostages by Bascom, but Cochise managed to escape almost immediately by cutting a hole in a tent. Bascom later ordered the other Apache hostages hanged, and the embittered Cochise joined forces with Mangas Coloradas, his father-in-law, in a guerrilla struggle against the American army and settlers. The capture and murder of Mangas Coloradas in 1863 left Cochise as the Apache war chief. The U.S. Army captured him in 1871 and prepared to transfer the Chiricahua to a reservation hundreds of miles away, but he escaped again and renewed the resistance campaign. The following year after negotiating a new treaty with the help of Thomas Jeffords, the band was allowed to stay in their homeland.
Cochise is reputed to have been a master strategist and leader who was never conquered in battle. He died peacefully on the newly formed Chiricahua reservation in 1874. His son, Taza succeeded him as chief. Upon his death, he was secretly buried somewhere in or near his impregnable fortress. The exact location has never been revealed or determined.
The town of Cochise, Cochise County, the renowned geological feature known as Cochise’s Head in the Chiricahua Mountains, and the Stronghold are all named in tribute to him.
Nature & Interpretive Trails
Within the Stronghold is a hiking/equestrian trail, “Cochise Indian Trail”, that goes from the East Cochise Stronghold Campground, over the “Stronghold Divide” and down into the West Stronghold Canyon. This trail is approximately 5 miles long one way. You can also access the trail directly from Cochise Stronghold, A Canyon Nature Retreat. Partway along Cochise Indian Trail intersects Middlemarch Trail, which leads through more cloaked/forested terrain to Middlemarch Canyon Road.
The Interpretive Trail leaves from the campground and consists of a short loop trail approximately 0.12 of a mile long with information along the way about the Stronghold, Cochise and his descendants. It is a beautiful, leisurely walk among the oaks and junipers.
The Nature Trail, also starting from the campground, is self-guided, clearly marked, and is approximately 0.4 mile long. It forms a rough horseshoe shape and involves some up and downhill climbing. There are benches strategically placed, so you can sit and listen to the whispers of those from long ago and enjoy the superb views of the canyon.
Cochise Stronghold Campground offers Handicap Accessible restrooms. These restrooms consist of one large stall containing a “composting” toilet, which is environmentally friendly and odor free.
There is no dump station for RVs, nor is there any water available at the campground.
Campsites : RVs are welcome up to a length of 30′, although smaller is preferred. There are no pull-through sites, you have to park on the standard forestry type apron. There are a total of 11 sites, 9 for tents or RVs and 2 group sites. Each site has a grill and picnic table
The maximum length you may stay in the park is 14 days. The fees for staying are as follows. Please note that 85% of the fees collected at the Stronghold for use stays on the site for improvements and maintenance
Please take the time to read about “Leave No Trace”, available from the Bureau of Land Management. This is information is important whether your in our National Forests, Parks or just looking around an old ghost towns. Help preserve the land so that others may enjoy it also. Thank You.
There is a high danger of fire due to the dry conditions throughout the southwest. Please respect our forests and help maintain the beauty of them by following all campground rules on fire and make sure all fires are OUT. At certain times of the year fires of any kind are prohibited due to the high fire danger.
Thank you for helping us maintain the beauty of our National Forests.
For more information on Cochise Stronghold or the Coronado National Forest please call the Douglas Ranger District Office: (520) 364-3468.
Books to read
- Making Peace with Cochise, by Edwin Sweeney
- An Apache Life-way, by Morris Opler
- I Fought with Geronimo, by Jason Betzinez
- Geronimo, by Angie Debo
- Indeh, by Eve Ball
- Cochise, by Ed Sweeney