Outer Mountain Loop Route

Map of Outer Mountain Loop
Do not rely on this map as your trail guide. Purchase the detailed topographic map in one of the park's bookstores.

Suggested Itinerary
The following is a brief description of the most common itinerary used by Outer Mountain Loop hikers.
Note that this itinerary doesn't include popular side trips to the summit of Emory Peak, or to the South Rim. These side excursions will add approximately 5 miles to the trip.

Backcountry permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in the park and can be obtained at any Visitor Center during business hours.
Blue Creek Ranch

NPS Photo/Cookie Ballou

Day One
Chisos Basin - Boot Canyon - Juniper Canyon (approximately 11 miles)

Begin by caching water near the Homer Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch. This scenic overlook is located at mile 8.1 along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Hike down the trail and cache your water in the storage box. Ensure your name and date are written on your bottles. Caching water will make the difference between a dangerous experience and a fun backcountry excursion.

After caching water, head to the Chisos Basin Trailhead to begin the hike.

From the Chisos Basin Trailhead (elevation 5,400'), hike up the Pinnacles Trail 3.5 miles to Toll Mountain Pass (elevation 7,000'), then follow the Boot Canyon Trail. After one mile you will pass Boot Spring (usually dry). Along the canyon bottom you may see stagnant pools of water left by recent rains. In another 0.3 miles you willl arrive at the junction of the Boot Canyon and Juniper Canyon trails. Follow the Juniper Canyon Trail where you will soon leave the shade and descend steeply (3,000') for 6.2 miles to the desert below. After 2.6 miles you will arrive at Upper Juniper Spring (usually dry). Past the spring the trail drops into desert grasslands where there are many nice places to camp.
Fresno waterworks

NPS Photo/Reine Wonite

Day Two
Juniper Canyon - Dodson Trail - Blue Creek Canyon (approximately 10-11 miles)

The Dodson Trail is the hottest and most exposed section of the loop. While hiking the Dodson Trail it is important to keep an eye out for the rock cairns that mark the route. Most people who have trouble on the Outer Mountain Loop run into problems on this section due to lack of shade, and the climbing and descending from drainage to drainage. You will be climbing (and descending) ~2,000' along the way.

Follow the trail from the Juniper Canyon trailhead through Juniper Draw. After 3.6 miles you will reach the ruins of the Dodson Ranch and nearby Dodson Spring (usually dry). One mile further the trail crosses the Fresno Creek drainage. Any water collected should be treated before drinking. Please do not contaminate this water sourse as it is vital to wildlife in the desert.

In another 0.5 mile is the junction of the Dodson and Elephant Tusk trails. If you have the time a 1-mile side excursion here leads into the Fresno Drainage below Tortuga Mountain (another ephemeral water source).

From the Elephant Tusk junction the Dodson Trail climbs another 1.5 miles to a high pass then descends into the Smoky Creek Drainage. Look carefully for rock cairns that mark the trail through Smoky Creek. Be sure to watch for the junction where the trail leaves the wash or you may find yourself hiking down the Smoky Creek Trail.

Three miles further is the remnants of the Homer Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is only 0.25 mile away from this point. After rehydrating collecting your water continue up Blue Creek Canyon for at least 0.5 mile and begin searching for a campsite (remember, you must be at least 0.5 mile from the road, and out of sight of the road).
Red Rocks in Blue Creek

NPS Photo/Reine Wonite

Day Three
Blue Creek Canyon - Laguna Meadows - Chisos Basin (approximately 9 Miles)

The last day of your trek begins with the ascent up Blue Creek Canyon. The Blue Creek Trail climbs steadily 2,500' for 5.5 miles into the High Chisos woodlands. The beginning of the trail passes in and out of several sandy washes so watch for rock cairns marking the way.

After two miles you will enter an area of eroded red rocks folowed by a small pinyon-oak woodland. The evidence of the human-caused 1989 Blue Creek Fire is visible throughout the upper reaches of the canyon. Three miles past the red rocks, you will pass both Blue Creek designated backpack sites, and immediately after, the Laguna Meadow Trail and flat ground.

The Laguna Meadow Trail winds around the western flanks of Emory Peak. After one mile you will arrive at the Laguna Meadow Trail summit. The Chisos Basin will lies below and the rooftops of the Chisos Mountains Lodge will be visible. The remaining 3.5 miles of the hike is a gradual descent to the Chisos Basin.

Last updated: December 17, 2018

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