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Name: Chiva Falls Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating:(based on four votes)
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (Demanding 4WD)
Time: 4 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 8.0 miles Elevation gain/loss/change: +881 / -595 ft / +286 ft (one way)
Type: Modified loop Avg Elevation: 4000 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter, summer after a big monsoon Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating:Low Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: November, 2010
Short Description: An awesome 4WD trail to a beautiful desert waterfall
Geocaches: Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Chiva Falls for the Fearless; Chivo Falls; Redington Rocks;King of the Hill
References / Contact Information: Arizona Highways, May, 2006;For Chiva Falls: Arizona Highways, May, 2006; Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-wheel Drive Trails, Wells, page 241; Expeditions West Chivo Falls Adventure
Points of interest: 75-foot waterfall. Challenging trail. Three Feathers (The Crack) and cool wash crossings.
Special Considerations: Popular trail. Will be crowded on nice weekends. Probably a good place to go if you drive alone (people to help you out if you get stuck).
How to get there: Take Tanque Verde road east, past the turnoff to Mt. Lemmon (Catalina Highway) for 8 miles, until it turns to dirt and starts climbing up through Redington Pass. The road is now called Redington Rd. You will pass a parking lot for Lower Tanque Verde falls (at 1.4 miles) on your left and then another parking area (on the side of the road) for Upper Tanque Verde falls up a little further. Tanque Verde falls is awesome and you should take a day to explore them. Redington Rd has green mile markers, pay attention to them, but don’t count on them being correct. Approximately 8 miles from where the Tanque Verde road turns to dirt is the trailhead (waypoint 001 and Forest Road 4417). There is a parking lot on the right. This is a good place to put it into 4wd, air down, drink some soda, etc. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

Chiva Falls is one of my favorite 4WD trails around Tucson. It’s a fun and moderately challenging trip that ends at a 75-foot waterfall smack dab in the middle of the desert—a true diamond in the rough.

I learned to four-wheel-drive on this trail as it was my first one I ever went on. I was only 19 at the time, had just moved to Arizona a few weeks prior and hadn’t owned my CJ-5 for more than two months. My “friends” told me Chiva was a beginners trail. I thought they were insane, but I drove it anyway, only acquiring minor body damage. It wasn’t until much later that I learned the truth. Chiva is definitely NOT a beginner’s trail. But it was a great beginning since many of the trails after Chiva would seem easy.

Almost all the pictures in the gallery show lots of water at the falls and in the creeks. This is not a typical situation. Most of the time (especially in the early summer months), Chiva is fairly dry, with only a trickle of water and the creeks and washes are completely dry. The best time to go to Chiva is after a big rain. Caution: flash floods are a real thing out at Chiva. I've seen damage from floods with water 15 feet high. Be very careful during monsoon season (or any other heavy rains).

General Information and History

I, and most people around Tucson, call this trail Chiva, not Chivo (with an a instead of an o. There is much confusion about this. On the topographical maps, it is called out as Chivo, though a tank nearby is listed as Chiva. Most people around here believe it’s real name is Chiva and you might get some strange looks if you ask for directions to Chivo trail. Therefore, I call it Chiva Falls.

Chiva Falls is located east of Tucson in the Redington Pass area. It is a relatively short trail with some difficult obstacles (some of which can be bypassed) that leads to a 75-foot waterfall. It’s set back in a secluded canyon, with big trees and cool water, and is definitely worth the trip.

There are three different trail heads which eventually converge on one trail leading to Chiva Falls and a few spur trails (The Pools and Chiva Falls Lower Loop).

The route in which I will describe is the route I usually take. Going in on the first trailhead (the most difficult, but the shortest route) and coming out the middle trailhead (less difficult, but slightly longer).

Mystery solved regarding the adobe ruins along the trail (see description below).

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The Trail

The trail starts out rough so you know what you're getting into. Drive through the cattle guard and begin your slow progress toward the falls. After about 3/4 miles (and a nasty downhill at waypoint 002), you’ll reach what is called “Three Feathers” and “The Crack” (waypoint 003). Most of the bad portions of this spot can be bypassed, but depending on conditions, this can be difficult. I routinely lift a tire on my Tacoma (one time about 2 feet in the air) in this spot. The Crack is a V-shaped trough on your left in which some of the more crazy, skilled four-wheelers use to descend this hill. If you take The Crack, body damage will most likely occur if you mess up.

After navigating Three Feathers, you’ll continue to wind your way up and down small hills. At one point (near waypoint 004) just before you descend down a hill near a large cattle pond (waypoint 005), you can see Chiva Falls off in the distance.

At mile 2.75 (waypoint 006), you’ll reach a T-intersection at FR 4426. To the left is the way you’ll take out, to the right, Chiva Falls. At waypoint 007 (after another 0.5 miles) there is the weathered remains of an old adobe home. Taking at right here (onto FR 4405) here takes you down the Lower Loop trail.

August 2012 Update: There's isn't much more than a few very short walls. When I first visited Chiva, these walls were about 4 feet high. For 30 years I've heard the rumors that this was part of a mail system (similar to the Pony Express) which made deliveries to Tucson, but this has never been proven.

Recently, I solved the mystery of the adobe ruins at Chiva Falls. Here's what happened: I found a 1904 Topo map of the Tucson areas and calibrated it so I could find the GPS coordinates of the locations noted. When I searched the Redington Pass area, I found a few old ranches and camps. To my surprise, I discovered that a place called Sheep Camp directly matched the location of the adobe ruins. Not a mail station at all. Myth busted!

Ornament Tree

August 2012 Update: We found an interesting and unique tree near Waypoint 007. There's a foot trail at this intersection leading to the largest tree in the area. People have hung ornaments and other strange items on the branches. Next time you head out to Chiva, you may want to bring an ornament and put it up in the tree.

Go to the map page for Google Earth images of the tree.

Click here for more pictures and to join the discussion at Offroad Passport.

To go to Chiva, take a left through the cattle guard, then a right down (at waypoint008) into the wash. Going straight takes you down to The Pools. Look for future posts on both of these side trips. For this trip, keep right through the wash (waypoint 009) and back onto the trail. Drive another 0.67 miles until you come to a small hilltop. FR 4405 continues up the hill (this can be taken to the other end of the Lower Loop trail). FR 4405A continues down the hill to Chiva Falls.

Depending on the condition of the hill, sometimes I park here and walk the rest of the way to the falls. The falls are only about 1/3 a mile away and the road doesn’t take you all the way there. It stops after about a ¼ mile and parking can be a little hairy if there are lots of vehicles at the end.

If you choose to drive the rest of the way, drive until the road ends and find a parking spot. Then continue on the foot trail to the falls (waypoint falls)! While at the falls, there is sort of a trail on the right which takes you to the top (though a lot of bushwacking is involved).

After enjoying the falls, retrace your path to the T-intersection (waypoint 006). Taking a left here takes you back to the original trailhead. Going straight on FR 4417 takes you on a different, slightly longer and easier way out (the middle way which is about 2.75 miles to Redington Rd). I like to go straight. At waypoint 014 there will be a road to the right (FR 4424 this also leads out to Redington Rd). For now, continue straight until you reach Redington Rd. (waypoint 015).

You are now at approximately milepost 11.5. Take a left and drive Redington Rd. out until it meets pavement.

I hope you had a great time visiting Chiva Falls!

Have fun and be safe.

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Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here. You can also rate this adventure by clicking here.

Member Comments

Trail more difficult

July, 2015: I wanted to give you a update on the Chiva Falls Trail conditions. I entered from WP015 (FR4417) and with in 100 meters at the creek the short climb up would rank a 3 of 5 currently. There are few spots along FR4417 to WP006 (intersection of FR4426/FR4417) that can be tricky and in the 3 range. From this intersection at WP006 to WP009 at the main creek really hasn’t changed much, but from WP009 to WP010 (FR4405) as gotten rough with many areas of a ranking of 3.5. From WP010 to WP011 is about the same, but the upper trail (above the main trail running parallel) is VERY chewed up and very sketchy side slope driving. FR4405A for the first 100 meters or so is brutal going up with a ranking of 3.5-4.0 in difficulty after that initial climb it’s not to bad. We exited out FR226 at Three Feathers WP002, this section from WP002 to WP006 has some challenges with a ranking of 3.0. But at Three Feathers is an entirely different story and NOTHING like your videos show except for the “Crack” which has changed little. Unless someone is driving a highly modified rock vehicle only the center line up is manageable for a capable operator with a modified vehicle. I remember Three Feathers when you took it down, which wasn’t long after the Forrest Service bulldozed it making it a 2 on the difficulty level on all three feathers. Routes 1(South Feather) and route 3 (North Feather) are a “Rock Solid” 5+ on the scale. Route 2 is a solid 3.5 (which is the route you videoed) for an experienced operator. Then once through Three Feathers you have a hillside to climb with two choices to take (left/right) side on your way to WP001 (Parking Area). The climb is fairly steep with both choices having their challenges of stair steps, deep ruts and rocky, left side is a solid 3.5 and the right side at a 3.75-4.0.

Difficult Trail

November, 2015: I think this trail should deserve 4 stars on difficulty. To everybody, don’t underestimate this trail. It requires a skilled driver to go through.

Tough, but Beautiful Trail

March, 2013: The Falls are absolutely beautiful, but the road (either way you go) is nasty, nasty, nasty. Park at Way Point 010 which is intersection of FR 4405 & 4405A. Do not attempt hill down to Way Point 011. We had a near tip-over with a skilled driver in a Rubicon being directed by a skilled spotter on the way back up. Beautiful trip and gorgeous destination. Just be warned that this one is a tough-y.


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