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U.S. Forest Service

Canelo Hills

Canelo Hills banner scene. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Canelo Hills The Canelo Hills are known for their lush grasslands, encinal woodlands, and cienega wetlands. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

View from one of the higher “peaks” of the Canelo Hills. This is a view from one of the higher “peaks” of the Canelo Hills. Photo by Brett Tucker at

Pinos Altos fameflower (Phemeranthus humilis) The Pinos Altos fameflower (Phemeranthus humilis) is a rare plant that grows in bedrock soil pockets in the Canelo Hills a few other places in New Mexico and Mexico. Photo by Russ Kleinman at

Canelo Hills ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes delitescens) The Canelo Hills ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes delitescens) is a rare orchid that grows only in cienega wetlands. It is an endangered plant. Photo by Jim Rorabaugh, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

High Points: Mount Hughes, 5,861 feet; Lookout Knob, 6,171 feet.

Elevation Change from Base: 1,357 feet.

Vegetation at Highest Elevations: evergreen oak woodlands and grasslands.

The Canelo Hills are a long low ridge of rounded hills extending about 20 miles from northeast to southwest. The hills connect the Santa Rita Mountains to the northwest, Patagonia Mountains to the southwest and Huachuca Mountains to the southeast. Although the Canelo Hills rise relatively little above the desert floor when compared to many Sky Island mountain ranges, there is still enough elevation change to create a dramatic change in vegetation. The Canelo Hills support some of the best evergreen oak woodlands (encinal) and grasslands in the Sky Islands region.

Special Places:

  • State Highway 83 Scenic Drive: Arizona State Highway 83 is a paved route that winds through the Canelo Hills from Sonoita to Parker Canyon Lake. This is an area of rolling hills and shallow canyons vegetated with evergreen oak woodlands and grasslands. In years with a wet winter, the spring wildflowers (late February to early April) can be spectacular.
  • Cienega Wetlands: A cienega is a desert wetland that forms where a spring spreads out and flows slowly creating a broad marsh. Cienegas attract all sorts of wildlife and support numerous rare plants. Because sources of surface water are scarce, cienegas were usually homesteaded and many of them are now privately owned. Some privately owned cienegas in the Canelo Hills are now being managed as nature preserves.

Special Plants:

  • Browallia eludens
  • Coursetia glabella
  • Lilaeopsis schaffneriana ssp. recurva
  • Pectis imberbis
  • Spiranthes delitescens
  • Phemeranthus humilis
  • Tragia laciniata