Copper Canyon

Copper Canyon, also known as Barranca del Cobre, is located in Northwestern Mexico and is easily one of the most spectacular natural sites in North America. As its name suggests, it is a canyon, but unlike Arizona's Grand Canyon, it is not a single one, but a system of several canyons, carved by six rivers that eventually flow into the Rio Fuerte. It is also several times larger in area than the Grand Canyon and at some points just as deep. Copper Canyon National Park encompasses much of this area, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site provides the opportunity for visitors to explore the natural wilderness of the canyon system—visiting is one of the best things to do in Mexico if you'd like to spend some time outdoors.

Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon

For those interested in Copper Canyon tours, many companies offer tours varying from large groups to small adventure groups. Even you are skilled at orienteering and an experienced hiker, it is advisable to secure the services of a trained guide to explore the backcountry and many of Copper Canyon's remote attractions, unless you plan to stick to limited day hikes. Many companies offer Copper Canyon tours that include hotels as well as meals. Tours by bike, jeep, and vans, as well as other modes of transport, are available. One of the best ways to gain an overview of the area is to take the train that runs through the park, the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad, known as El Chepe. The entire trip runs about fifteen hours long and allows you to see much of the natural beauty of the park as well as stopping at several interesting towns along the way, including Creel Mexico, the town with the highest altitude in Copper Canyon. Many Copper Canyon tours include a ride on this train, though usually not for the entire length of the railroad.

Nature lovers are particularly drawn to Copper Canyon as it is the home of many pristine lakes, geological features, forests, and waterfalls. Several of these attractions happen to be located near the town of Creel Mexico, which is at an elevation of about 8,000 feet above sea level. Just fourteen miles south of Creel are the Cusarare Falls, a beautiful cascade of water falling from 100 feet into the river. Nearby, the Recohuata Hot Springs are a popular destination; these scalding hot natural springs flow into a river, cooling down somewhat and allowing tourists to bathe in some well-maintained pools. Inside the town of Creel Mexico itself are several interesting rock formations, including the Valley of the Frogs, the Valley of the Monks, and the Valley of the Mushrooms—you can likely guess what the rock formations resemble at each of these sites.

On your trip across Copper Canyon you may cross into Tarahumara lands. The Tarahumara are one of the largest Native American groups in Mexico, and retain their traditional lifestyle living in the Sierra Madre, often called the Sierra Tarahumara in their honor. If you take the El Chepe train through the canyon, you will likely encounter some Tarahumara communities and get the opportunity to purchase some handicrafts from them. Keep in mind, however, that the Tarahumara are deeply traditional and may resent picture taking unless you have their express permission. Be respectful, and you'll be sure to have a good time at Copper Canyon.

Top image: Emma T photography (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
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