Family Desert Adventure in Copper Canyon, Mexico

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Copper Canyon

Four times the size of the Grand Canyon, Mexico's Copper Canyon is an adventure traveler's paradise—though visited by far fewer people than its northern neighbor. Made up of six separate canyons rather than one and possessing unique geological, ecological, and cultural assets, Copper Canyon is certainly worth the trip south. 

Most visitors experience the canyons by riding the Chihuahua al Pacifico railway between the cities of Los Mochis and Chihuahua, a 387-mile journey through some of Mexico's most dramatic wilderness. Several companies run pricey luxury rail tours along the line, but you can also ride el Chepe, the local train that traverses the route daily. One-way fares start at as little as $61. You can do the whole journey over one long 18-and-a-half-hour ride, but it's much better to get off in some of the towns along the way and take a few days to explore. 

Try spending a night or two in the town of Creel, a ranching town set in pine-covered mountains where you'll find lots of hiking and have the chance to see how the local Tarahumara Indians live. You can spend the night in the Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge, a comfy mountain retreat with easy access to hiking and mountain biking trails. Nightly per person rates, which include lodging, three meals, and a dinner drink, start at $92.

Since most Copper Canyon tours involve stays in multiple towns and activities that can require advance reservations, it's helpful to book with a tour company that can make all the arrangements for you. The adventure company Nichols Expeditions can put together affordable custom trips for individuals and groups based on your interests and timeline. As an example, a weeklong trip including the rail journey, hotels, and some meals starts at $455 per person.

(Photo: Mexico Tourism/Edgardo Melgoza)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 8, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Alaska, Albania, arts and culture, Benin, British Columbia, Chihuahua, Colombia, diving, eco travel, family travel, hiking, India, Laos, Molly Feltner, mountain, Philippines, Scotland, sports, Togo, trekking, wildlife.

Provider: REI Adventures
Length: Nine days
Price: $1,999 ($1,699 for kids)

With its deep canyons, red and gold painted deserts, and fascinating Native American and Western culture, the American Southwest has long been a popular destination. However, few Americans realize that this landscape and a similar culture extends across the border and deep into Mexico, where it gets even more interesting. Even fewer people actually visit. If you go to the heart of Mexico's wild northwest, Copper Canyon, you'll discover a sprawling canyon system four times larger than the Grand Canyon, a Native Mexican culture still practicing ancient traditions which were long abandoned by Native Americans, and few trappings of mass tourism.

REI Adventures' new Copper Canyon trip, which was designed specifically with families in mind, showcases many of the region's highlights through a variety of activities. The journey begins with a train trip into the canyon on the famous Chihuahua al Pacifico line. "'El Chepe' is an awe-inspiring rail journey over bridges, through tunnels, and incredible canyon scenery," says Maureen Seeley of REI Adventures. "In less than 180 miles we gain nearly 8,000 feet while passing through coastal shrub, pine forest, and high desert."

Inside the canyon area—which is composed of not one but six separate gorges—you'll ride on horseback to a waterfall, hike along the rim of Urique Canyon (which is more than a mile deep), and go mountain biking through white rock pinnacles known as the Valley of the Monks. You'll also have the chance to interact with the native people. "The cultural experience is that of the indigenous Tarahumara tribe who still practice a traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small cabins of wood or stone," says Seeley. "We take the opportunity to visit a local boarding school for a brief look into the lives of modern day Tarahumaran kids."

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Trip Planning

Departures include June 27, July 18, and August 1. The trip price is $1,999 ($1,699 for children ages eight to 17) for REI members; nonmembers pay $2,249. If you're not already a member it's worthwhile to get a lifetime membership as it only costs $20. Prices include accommodations, meals, activities, ground transportation, and guides. Airfare is extra. Late-June airfare from Los Angeles to Los Mochis, and Chihuahua, back to Los Angeles starts at $706, including taxes, through Orbitz.

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