The 19 mile Apache Pass Road
is used to reach the national historic site. The eastern approach is paved, across the edge of San Simon Valley, becomes unpaved as it starts to climb into the mountains then arrives at the trailhead a mile further, en route passing the junction with the NPS access road which disabled visitors or those otherwise unable to walk may use, with prior permission. All of the west part of Apache Pass Road is unpaved, crossing private ranchland, and has a surface of hard pressed soil which is impassable when wet but nice and smooth if dry. There is no campground in the NHS though a few places along the road are suitable for overnight stays, on public land just outside the boundary. The trailhead has no facilities apart from a restroom and a small information board.
Map of Fort Bowie NHS
The 1.5 mile (2.4 km) trail to Fort Bowie is relatively easy, gaining just 350 feet in height, mostly towards the end. Distance markers record progress every quarter of a mile. South of the parking area along Apache Pass Road, the land rises gradually to undulating, grassy hills with bushy patches and a few rocky outcrops, but no visible signs of development. The path first crosses a wash, past the stone foundations of a 1860s mining cabin, enters a clump of trees around a smaller drainage then emerges into a wide valley. The next site is the ruins of the Butterfield Overland Mail Station
; the actual stage route runs by to the south, still recognisably a track. Fort Bowie Cemetery
is just beyond, enclosed in a picket fence which replaced the original adobe wall, the foundations of which are still visible. Contained within are about 25 graves, marked by replica headstones; the inscriptions are authentic but not much else. A booklet gives brief life histories of each person interred. The path now turns east, over another dry wash then runs alongside the streamway, passing a small, partly reconstructed adobe building and a modern, replica Apache dwelling. The last section follows a short, wooded ravine leading to Apache Spring
, still producing a reliable, year-round supply of water. The flow is now regulated, concrete walls enclose the actual source, and a notice warns against visitors drinking from the stream. The trees fade away just above the spring as the trail climbs slightly to the fort, where the main complex lies straight ahead, spread over 15 acres, while a 1/8 mile trail on the right climbs a little further to a low hill, location of the original Fort Apache - a temporary installation that was in use for just a few years.
An alternative path, intended for hiking only on the return journey, leaves from the north side of the fort and climbs a limestone hill (Overlook Ridge
) to a summit that has good views of the fort and the valleys below. Rocky ledges harbor a varied selection of desert plants including ocotillo
, cane cholla
, pink flower hedgehog cactus
, Arizona barrel cactus
, soaptree yucca
, banana yucca
and Palmer's agave
. On the far side of the ridge the path descends slowly via some too-gentle switchbacks, crosses a valley (Siphon Canyon
) and rejoins the entrance path just north of Butterfield Mail Station, half a mile from the trailhead on Apache Pass Road. In general the vegetation in this area is a mix of plants from the Sonoran Desert to the west and the Chihuahuan Desert to the east, as well as being influenced by Mexico to the south.