Exploring Trails in the Copper Canyon


How safe is Copper Canyon?
Our take on the narco/violence situation is that it seems to be concentrated primarily along the border. The violence also appears to be directed by one cartel against another as they vie for control of drug trafficking routes and supply chains. There has been some violence in the Copper Canyon region but no violence has been directed toward tourists, and it is our understanding that it is not in their best interest to do so. The mafia relies as much on tourism (that is to launder money, etc ) as those not involved in the drug industry. There is an unwritten code to leave tourists alone - the government would pull out all the stops if tourists were to be hurt. This vigilance is evident from the presence of federal police on the train. Flying into Los Mochis has never been a problem, nor has the train up from the coast. Also, the buses from Chihuahua are safe and comfortable, if traveling on your own. Our hiking routes are well scouted by us, and by our local guides. The media fixates on all the violence, but the majority of the people in the region are the most hospitable and friendly people you are ever likely to meet! It would be irresponsible to say that nothing could ever happen - it would be the equivalent of guaranteeing that you will never be in a car accident. We've done everything possible to ensure our clients a safe trip, and we would never knowingly put anyone in harm's way. Read a recent (12/25/2011) AP article.

Why should I choose Copper Canyon Trails over others?
We have been hiking in the area since 1991. We love to spend time in the barrancas, and we would be honored to give you a perspective that you'll probably find nowhere else. Besides our wilderness experience, rigorous First Aid training, and years of presence in the area, is our commitment to help the natives and our respect of their culture. We are taking you there to see the area from their point of view. These steep rocky trails are their highways. When opportunities arise we respectfully get you into contact with the locals.

How many people are in your groups?
Burro trips require a minimum of 6, and we limit the maximum to 12 people. Every trip has two English speaking guides, and a local Spanish speaking guide, and our cook. A full trip may use 18 burros and 3-4 arrieros (burro drivers). We try to maximize your experience while minimizing our impact in the fragile canyon ecosystem.
Hiking trips are limited to six people, and guides.

How do I get a visa?
IF YOU DRIVE visas for $28USD are obtained at the border or the checkpoint where you get the temporary vehicle importation hologram. Holograms as of 2015 were $35USD and vehicles additionally required a $300USD refundable deposit on your credit card. They process the deposit immediately. Have them refund the deposit when you turn in the hologram on your return crossing, or you will forfeit it after your hologram expires. It will probably take 3 business days to refund and you’ll probably lose money on the conversion from dollars to pesos, again with pesos to dollars, and with bank fees. It’s a pretty slick set-up. Although not required, it's also a good idea to get insurance. The person listed on the vehicle registration must be in the vehicle.

  • NOGALES Aduana is at km 21.
  • AGUA PRIETA Aduana is in the building on the right as you drive over the speedbumps, park in back; or pull under the awning before you enter the gauntlet of barricades and blinking lights.
  • EL PASO Aduana is at km 30.
    For the visa you need a passport. Also to reenter the United States, you are now required to have a passport. At some checkpoints, you'll be required to pay $28USD at a separate bank window or building before you go any further. Other checkpoints allow you to find a bank on your own to pay the $28 in order to validate your visa.
    IF YOU FLY across the border, you'll be given a form to fill out for your visa. You will have to find a bank in the airport.
    WHEN YOU LEAVE turn in your visa and get a stamp out of Mexico in your passport. An entry stamp without an exit stamp will cause problems with future Mexico border crossings.
    Call or write for more details and options on driving, flying, and taking public transportation in Mexico.

    Are there any physical requirements?
    You should be in good physical shape. You will have to sustain hiking for 6 to 8 hours on the first day on the Urique River trip. The Oteros River trip requires hiking 6 hours/day. You might think it is easy going downhill, but it is much tougher on your body, particularly the knees. After lunch the first day of the Urique River hike, the trail is steeper, there are more loose rocks, the temperature rises as it is later in the day and at a lower elevation, and by now you're a little tired. IT IS NOT A RACE, but you have to keep moving to get to water located at camp 2000 feet below. The Oteros has less dramatic elevation changes. The hike to the Urique Marathon has an incredibly steep section, but you've got 3 days hiking to prepare. Nevertheless, this last hiking day we cover about 25 miles!
    To get in shape, you might consider descending 300 flights of stairs. That's usually not practical, but you get the idea. To really get the idea, now dump rocks and rubble, sized from softballs to birdshot, on the stairs. Now go up and down the stairs with 2 gallons of water in your daypack! Muy loco, no?
    People in flat country can at least find a highrise building or stadium and regularly workout on the stairs with a partially loaded (1.5 to 2 gallons of water) daypack. You're trying to achieve a steady sustainable rhythm up, at a slightly elevated cardiac rate; and to develop your quads and maintain your equilibrium going down. Don't sprint, Hike For An Uninterrupted Hour!

    What is included in the burro trips?
    More appropriately, what is not included are visas (or tourist card, valid for up to 180 days and obtained at your point of entry), sleeping bag and pad; Pesos for incidental drinks and snacks, crafts, and tips. Typically, you'll want to change about $250USD into pesos. (We suggest a $35-$50 USD tip per client to be divided by the the Mexican crew).
    See "What to Bring" for a complete gear list but remember a second pair of shoes for river crossings, a waterproofed duffel for burros, and your daypack.

    What is included in the backpacking trips?
    You need your own backpack (About 70 liters/4500 cubic inches), tent (optional), sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and if it's hot a cotton or silk sleeping bag liner is comfortable; as well as clothes and essentials, including your own first aid kit that you normally carry (whistle, compass, flashlight, knife, basic blister and soreness stuff). We provide kitchen tarps, stove, food, snacks, treated water, and good coffee. Lots of Good Coffee and a French Press! are an essential element to good morale. No Whining!
    See "What to Bring" for a complete gear list.

    Where do I get information on the area?
    See our reading list, or look on the Peoples Guide to Mexico website. Go Take a Hike for a list of maps. Most of these books, and topographic maps at 1:50000 or 1:250000 scale are available at the Mission Store in Creel. Coming from the coast (Los Mochis or El Fuerte), Creel is NOT on the itinerary. If you find a book you like, but can't buy it where you live, we'll look for it at the Mission Store when we transport the gear to the trailhead. The Urique trip is on two maps at 1:50000 scale (equivalent to a 7.5 minute topo) G13A21: San Jose Guacayvo and G13A31: San Rafael. We're only on about 2 inches of both maps (naturally). It's also on the 1:250000 G13-4:San Juanito. Cost is currently $15USD each, and we can’t guarantee availability. We’ll get them to you at the trailhead, postage extra.

    What else is there to do in Chihuahua?
    Chihuahua is the largest state in Mexico. If there was a home for the "Marlboro Man", this would be it. There are cowboys, horses, tack shops, and cattle all over the sierras. There are cowboy boots made of ostrich, ant-eater, eel, frog, iguana, caiman, rattlesnake, turtle, and even cowhide; most available with matching belts, and available in more than 64 colors! Be forewarned: Boots made from endangered species will not be allowed past US Customs. There are Mennonite communities making cheese, and guilds (campos) making everything from farm implements and machinery to swingsets and solar hot water heaters. They are also responsible for the apple crop, rivaling the Yakima valley of Washington state. Mexico's highest and 3rd highest waterfall are in the Barranca Candamena. Viewpoints for Cascada Basaseachi are an easy walk from the pavement, but it's best to have a guide for Piedra Volada. Ruins of cliff dwellings comparable to Mesa Verde, and of "ancient puebloans" comparable to Chaco Canyon are available to those with sufficient time to get off the pavement. Start with Cuarenta Casas or Nido de Aguila near Madera or Paquime and Cueva de la Olla near Nueva Casas Grandes. Many are "unimproved". Be considerate of any itinerant person that pops up to help you. Mata Ortiz pottery has been revived in recent years and now museum quality pieces can be bought on site. There are also several B&B's in town. Horse rides, whitewater rafting, climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, and "motocross" in the sierras vie with more refined city pleasures. The minimum time required for an unrivaled holiday featuring Chihuahua with the CHEPE train and a visit via ferry to the Gran Desierto of Baja requires 3 weeks. All this, and we haven't mentioned the socio-ethnic allure (or the impressive physical endurance) of the Tarahumaran indians, and lesser known tribes, or the twenty some churches and missions of the Jesuits who were expelled in 1767; or the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa! ...ah! Chihuahua.

    When is the best time of year to go?
    Most tour books recommend NOT going in the summer. This is the time of the monsoons. That said, the storms are spectacular, but the humidity saps your strength. Any trip that needs to take advantage of bridges or vados to cross the rivers is in jeopardy. There's also the chance of landslides blocking roads, hiking routes or train tracks. Spring and fall offer good climate on the rim, but the canyon bottom tends to get hot. Winter on the rim can bring freezing temperatures and hailstorms, but it's still possible to swim in the canyon. It's all just a matter of what you like.

    What kind of insurance should I carry?
    Evacuation insurance and travel insurance are strongly recommended. We’ve recently come across Insure My Trip, a clearinghouse with lots of plans and providers.

    What is a temporary vehicle importation hologram?
    A temporary vehicle importation hologram is required to drive beyond the economic or "free" zone into the country (typically 20 miles). This is to insure you do not sell or abandon the vehicle in Mexico. You can only have one vehicle in your name, and you need to be present in the vehicle. You will need current vehicle registration, a current drivers license, and a credit card which will be charged $30 USD.
    The hologram paperwork will be scrutinized against the VIN at various checkpoints; much more often than visas.

    Do I need extra car insurance?
    Yes. United States car insurance is not valid in Mexico, and is not required to enter Mexico. Mexican car insurance is easy to buy online, and can be obtained for about $8.00 USD/day. Car insurance can also be obtained at most border crossings.

    What innoculations should I get?
    Shots for Hepatitis A and tetanus are standard. The CDC includes this part of Mexico for Malaria and Typhoid protection. See the CDC website for more information. Allow 4-6 weeks for vaccinations to become effective.

    We suggest a $35-$50 USD tip per client to be divided by the Mexican crew on the burro portion of the 10 day trip.

    Are you a tax exempt organization?
    No, we are not a 501.3.c or any form of tax exempt corporation.

    Do you accept donations?
    We're currently soliciting stuff for the harsh sierra winters. Coats and jackets, hats, mittens, and shoes, particularly kids sizes, are appreciated. If you book a trip, and if it’s convenient add a couple of items. We pack these donations into remote villages where we leave them with the local governor, priest, or curandero. He or she usually distributes them to the locals when they get together for fiestas, typically Easter. Magnified reading glasses have become popular recently. These help the elderly women with the detailed work required for crafts and sewing. Toothbrushes and toothpaste in sample sizes, while not popular, are distributed. Bright fabric remnants in 2 meter lengths are always appreciated. Attend a race with us, and put your own fabric down as a bet on a runner. The running appears secondary as the women scrutinize all the offerings, and make piles of equal wagers. Only once they are satisfied can the race begin. Cash donations are accepted, but are not tax deductible. Write a check or use PayPal, and specify a project such as water harvesting, solar panels, womens' health, children's issues, or whatever; and get on our mailing list for updates.

  • Escorted Hikes and Burro Expeditions in Mexico's Copper Canyon