A Nomad's Guide to Exploring Copper Canyon, Mexico

In the north-western state of Chihuahua, Copper Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of six canyons. Get a feel for the local culture or go hiking and mountain biking with these tips from a nomad.

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Photo © Getty Images/jejim

El Chepe (Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre) is the most popular way to get around Copper Canyon. The train runs 418mi (673km) from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, making many stops along the way. Make the most of your time in Copper Canyon by hopping on and off the train line, stopping to explore the small towns and incredible canyon landscapes.

Most travelers start in Los Mochis and travel west to east. For the best views along the way, sit on the right hand side.

El Fuerte

El Fuerte will be the first stop if you've caught the train from Las Mochis. Stay a night or two in this authentic, colonial town to soak in the history while taking a few day trips. See the archaeological site of Cerro de la Mascara, where 300 petrolyphs have been found on rocks that were once used as a ceremonial center.

El Fuerte was founded on the banks of the Rio Grande, which winds its way to the Pacific Ocean. If you take a trip down to the river banks, come prepared with strong insect repellent, as bugs are an annoyance along the river.

Bahuichivo

Hop off the train in Bahuichivo for access to the Urique Canyon, one of the deepest in the region. The small community of Cerocahui is 9mi (16km) from the train station, where you'll find a number of budget hotels and campsites. If you've pre-booked accommodation, a car will be waiting for you at the station. Note there is no public transport that operates between Cerocahui and Bahuichivo.

Take a one hour hike to Cerocahuia Falls, or book a guided hiking tour in town to explore the Urique Canyon region.

Batopilas

A long, hair-raising, five–six hour bus from Creel to Batopilas will be well worth it. Deep in the canyon on the banks of the Batopilas River, the Indigenous Raramuri community bring this place to life, wearing traditional colorful clothing while roaming the streets lined with colonial buildings. Be warned: the bus journey is not for the faint hearted, so come prepared with motion-sickness tablets.

Divisadero

The train will stop here for 15–20 minutes, so everyone onboard has the opportunity to enjoy the views. Many travelers choose to spend a night or two here, and conquer a killer hike down into the canyon.

Accommodation is pricier here, especially if you opt for a room with a view on the rim of the canyon. 

Creel

Creel is another gateway town to Copper Canyon, sitting 7,350ft (2,240m) above sea level. While you're there, take the stairs from the corner of Gran Vision and Cristo Rey to the top of a hill where Escultura de Cristo Rey looks over the city. Take a day trip to the Recohuata Hot Springs, just 13mi (22km) from Creel. To get there, take a taxi, go by horseback, hire a bike or hike to the base of Tararecua Canyon.

Creel is home to the Indigenous Tarahumara, and many tours to see nearby sites such as Valle de los Hongos and Valle de las Ranas will include visits to the caves where some families live.

Basaseachi National Park

Take a two hour drive from Creel to Basaseachi National Park in Candameña Canyon, home to Basaseachic Falls – the second tallest waterfall in Mexico, dropping a whopping 812ft (246m). You can see it from various lookouts along hiking trails through the park.

El Chepe train passing through Copper Canyon. Photo credit: Getty Images/flocu

Copper Canyon Adventure Park

Between Divisadero and Posada Barrancas, the Adventure Park has four main attractions: a Via Ferrata, an Aerial Tram and the Zip Rider – which is one of the longest ziplines in the world, reaching terrifying speeds of up to 84mph (35km/h).

Take in the sights of the canyon as you hang from the 1,476ft (450m) high, 8,350ft (2,545m) long zipline. If you take a tandem zip with a guide, you won't need to control your speed or worry about crashing into the platform.

The Via Ferrata is more comparable to an adventure assault course. Abseil your way down the canyon wall, walk over suspension bridges and cross wires above the canyon.

The Aerial Tram is one of the most impressive cable cars in the world, at the tram's highest point, cabins are 1,475ft (450m), with a length of 1.69mi (2.73km). After the adrenaline rush of zip-lining, make your way back via the cable car to soak in the views at a slower pace.

Hiking in Copper Canyon

Unfortunately, trails aren't well marked and maps aren't too accurate, which makes booking a guided hiking tour even more important. The terrain is extreme throughout the system of canyons. In the past, travelers have fallen and injured themselves, but prevent an accident by wearing appropriate hiking gear, packing a wet weather jacket and fleece just in case the temperatures drop in the evening. Always take enough water and food with you to keep the energy levels high.

Take the three to four day, 32mi (52km) hike from Cusarare to Divisadero. Trailheads can be accessed by public transport from Creel. Along the way, admire Cusarare Falls and take a swim in the Rio San Ignacio.

The most popular hike is from Batopilas to Urique, a 32mi (52km) trail that'll take three days. Start the hike in Batopilas, and catch a bus from Creel to get there.

Mountain Biking in Copper Canyon

The town of Creel is the gateway to Mexico's thriving mountain and road biking scene. Each year in July, the town hosts a major national cycling festival and race series.

At an elevation of 2,300m (7,600ft), just about every kind of trail can be accessed: world-class technical single-track, forest roads, Moab-quality slick rock, rocky desert landscape, challenging long climbs and descents on old mining tracks, and winding back roads.

This mountain biking mecca certainly isn't for newbies, although there are clear tracks to follow, a guide is still recommended. You'll no doubt meet some obstacles along the way, anything from rock slides to a donkey. Come prepared with repair kits and spare tires.

Trip Notes

Getting There

Fly: Travelers can fly into Chihuahua or Los Mochis. Chihuahua has a much larger airport than Los Mochis, as is serviced by domestic flights, as well as a few international flights from southern states in the US. Los Mochis is generally only open to domestic flights.

Bus: You could catch a bus from across the US border – Chihuahua is only 239mi (385km) from El Paso, Texas. If you can, avoid catching a bus that requires a change-over in Ciudad Juarez. Instead, search for an express bus that goes directly to Chihuahua from El Paso.

Drive: If you're taking a road trip, be cautious when driving through border regions, and avoid stopping in Ciudad Juarez. If you do stop there, try to visit during daylight hours and avoid traveling around alone. 

Getting Around

Train: The El Chepe train has first class and second class options. The main difference between the two is the second class train stops more often and there's no access to the dining car. Travelers will feel safe onboard, as there are armed guards on both first and second class trains.

Bus: There are buses available in Chihuahua and Los Mochis, although Chihuahua will have more services of offer. Buses also connect Creel and Chihuahuha, Ciudad Juarez and San Raphael – the route to take if you want to hop off at Divisidero.

Taxi: Taxis are available at Los Mochis and Chihuahua airports, but they don't use a meter (agree on a fare before setting off), and only use registered taxis. Inside Copper Canyon, you're not likely to find any taxis.

Weather

Spring in Copper Canyon (February–May) is when the weather is generally dry, but beware this is windy season and adventure activities could be cancelled.

Rainy season falls during summer (June–August), but despite the rain, this is a beautiful time to visit when waterfalls are at their peak and plants are vibrant green. Expect extremely hot and humid conditions, and carry insect repellent to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Autumn (September–October) is the most pleasant time to visit Copper Canyon, when it's generally hot throughout the region, but weather extremes aren't an issue.

Winter (November–January) can be fairly cold, so layers are recommended. There is also the risk of some transportation being cancelled due to ice and snow. With some research and careful planning, there is no reason why you can't still enjoy a trip in the Copper Canyon during the winter months.

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5 Comments

  • Brenda Sanchez said

    Very informative and helpful! Thank you!

  • Shirley said

    I have traveled the Canyon from 1992 one to 2 times a year
    and that is yearly with tour groups..
    until the cartels came along . the hotels on the rim are awesome.
    Things for the Canyon has been quite for some time and yes being with a local guide is a must not only for saftey but too know what you are seeing . Travel safe and with an open mind its an adventure.. these pic are so dark hard to see what a few of them are... not everyone has perfect eye site.
    Shirley - tour guide

  • ST said

    Hi! Thank you so much for the amazing information. May I know how did you get to the adventure park where the zip rider was located? Also, I'm travelling in a group of 5 on a friday and we are planning to get off at Creel and spend the next 1.5 days exploring the area + doing the zip line, before boarding the train on Sunday to Chihuahua. What do you recommend and do you have any contacts of local tour guides?

    Thank you so much!

  • Ken Hughes said

    5 days and 4 nites Insurance for 2 adults

  • Jeannette Ellis said

    What is the best way to get a local tour guide?. I am going during semana santa so if i can book someone ahead of time , i can rest assured.
    JE

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