Crystal Cave Trail

Important Note

Crystal Cave is gated and locked due to extensive vandalism and theft of crystals in the past. The key can be obtained from the Forest Service with a $100 deposit. The cave is closed to all access between April 15 and August 31 for bat mating season. Groups are limited to a minimum of three and maximum of six people. Contact the Douglas Ranger Station at (520) 364-3468 for more information.

Length: 0.33 mi

Difficulty: moderate

Condition: good

Elevation range: 5510 ft – 5675 ft

Elevation gain/loss: 170 ft ↑ / 10 ft ↓

Average slope: 9.3%


The Crystal Cave Trail is accessible from the Crystal Cave Parking Lot along the Herb Martyr Road (FR 42A).

Heading west out of Portal, follow the paved road as it turns southwest into Cave Creek Canyon. After three quarters of a mile you will cross the National Forest boundary and the road becomes Forest Road 42. Continue on the paved road 3.3 miles, at which point you will cross a bridge and the pavement ends. After an additional two thirds of a mile on the dirt road you will pass the Southwestern Research Station. Just beyond, turn left onto the Herb Martyr Road (FR 42A). (31.88461, -109.20631) Remain on this road for 0.55 mile. The Crystal Cave Parking Area will be on the left side of the road. (31.88296, -109.21506) A trailhead sign for the Snowshed Basin Trail is at the southeastern edge of the parking lot. The Crystal Cave Trail is not marked by a sign but begins on the northwest side of the road (across from the parking area) immediately east of a rock wall.


Crystal Cave was discovered in 1869 by individuals harvesting bat guano. Forest Rangers and other individuals subsequently explored the cave and discovered a multitude of passages, one leading deep underground to a river. 1 2

Miners, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and many others over the years stole many of the crystal formations from the cave, leading to the installation of a locked gate which allows bats to pass through but prevents public access without a key.

Trail Description

After heading northwest away from the road for 75 feet, the trail drops to the edge of Crystal Creek (usually dry) and makes a sharp turn to the left, staying on the left bank for about 50 feet before crossing to the right side. (31.88304, -109.21540) There is a sign here, but its surface is missing and there is no indication of what it once said.

For the next 0.16 mile the trail roughly parallels the creek to its northeast, occasionally drifting further away as it passes through a pleasant forested stretch. The terrain here is very flat and easy walking. At the next creek crossing, however, (31.88397, -109.21782) it suddenly becomes very steep, with the next 120 feet of trail steeply ascending a dirt slope. Stone steps have been put into place occasionally to make it easier to walk here as the trail bypasses a waterfall in Crystal Creek. After another 75 feet, you will come to a fork in the trail. (31.88438, -109.21821) Along the left fork, a faint trail climbs higher on the bank for 200 feet before fading out entirely. The right fork drops to another creek crossing before beginning the final climb to the cave entrance. 25 feet after crossing the creek (31.88458, -109.21822) a sign indicates that Crystal Cave is closed to the public.

The trail heads north for 90 feet before switchbacking to the west and contouring around the terrain for the remaining 350 feet. The entrance to Crystal Cave is set into the rock cliff (31.88518, -109.21911) and sealed off with a steel gate. A sign 30 feet south of the entrance can no longer be read. An excellent view of the Cave Creek Basin can be enjoyed from this location.


  1. Coronado National Forest, Chiricahua Crystal Cave History
  2. Charles T. McGlone, "The Forest Cave", The Paradise Record, 1906

Last updated February 1, 2014.