Places We Protect

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve


Creek running through wooded area, with trees arching over the water.
Sonita Creek Sonita Creek at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. © Chris Chappell/TNC

Home to one of Arizona’s few permanently flowing streams, endangered fish, butterflies and birds.



In a verdant floodplain valley between the Patagonia and Santa Rita Mountains of southeastern Arizona, within the watershed of Sonoita Creek, lies some of the richest of the remaining riparian (streamside) habitat in the region. One of a few remaining permanent streams, it provides for a wide array of diverse species from endangered fishes to butterflies and birds.

This site contains the first two miles of permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream. The site contains very high biodiversity values that are primarily focused on the riparian habitats along Sonoita Creek.

As the first project for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, it contains much of the biological diversity associated with these habitat types. The watershed is mostly undeveloped, and the natural processes of flooding are mostly intact and functioning.

The 873-acre preserve protects a magnificent example of the rare Fremont cottonwood-Goodding willow riparian forest. Some of the trees are among the largest (more than 100 feet tall) and oldest (130 years old) Fremont cottonwood trees in this country. This is one of the few remaining sites in Arizona where this once-common forest type still persists. Arizona black walnut, velvet mesquite, velvet ash, netleaf hackberry, and various willows are found in slightly different habitats throughout the preserve.

Here are remnant wetlands, or cienegas, a once-common feature of the Sonoita Creek floodplain and the most endangered natural community in Arizona. A significant number of rare and sensitive plant species are found in the Sonoita Creek watershed, including Huachuca water umbel, Santa Cruz striped agave, and the Santa Cruz beehive cactus.

Today, the preserve is visited by thousands of people every year seeking to see and experience some facet of its rich natural diversity. The preserve has been actively engaged in hydrologic research and monitoring and is the site of some of the first community-based activities seeking to build understanding and support for conservation in southern Arizona. It has been a platform for promoting the work of TNC and a site of several innovative environmental education activities.



Closed Mondays and Tuesdays and on the holidays listed below, under Hours.


April-September: Wednesday-Sunday, 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; October-March: Wednesday-Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays all year and on Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days.


Hiking, walking, wildlife watching, birding


873 acres

Explore our work in Arizona

The elevation at the preserve is 4,000 feet. The best months for birding are March through September. Late April and May, and late August and September, offer the greatest diversity of species, including migrants and spring/summer residents. Winter is the season for sparrows and occasional southern vagrants such as the rufous-backed robin.

Download a list of birds at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.

A New Trail

A one-mile-long trail connecting the preserve to Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds is now in use. Built entirely by volunteers, the trail is a joint venture between the preserve and the Paton Center. Highlights of the walk include access to upland habitat, a stroll through a dense mesquite bosque, canopy views of the cottonwoods along Sonoita Creek, and a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains from the top of the vista point.

Visitors may learn about the preserve, its wild residents, viewing interpretive exhibits at the Visitor Center.


  • General Public: $8 per person.
  • Conservancy Members and Cochise County Residents: $5 per person
  • Ages 17 and under: FREE!
  • Annual pass to Ramsey Canyon Preserve and Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve: $55

Group visits require prior arrangements. Please call 520-394-2400.

Admission fees support their operation and The Nature Conservancy’s conservation projects across southeastern Arizona.


Sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen, binoculars and plenty of water.

Nature Walks

Nature walks are offered on an irregular basis. For the most current information, call the preserve at 520-394-2400 and leave a message. Special arrangements may be made for groups, so call the preserve to learn more.

Preserve Regulations

In consideration of our sensitive wildlife habitats, we ask all visitors and guests to observe the following regulations:

  • All visitors must remain on established trails. Smoking is allowed in parking areas only.
  • No dogs, horses, or other domestic animals. Service animals are permitted. No radios, tape players or electronic calling devices, swimming, wading, hunting, fishing, picnicking, camping, fires, firearms, alcoholic beverages, motorized vehicles or bicycles are permitted. Do not feed or disturb wildlife or damage or remove any plants, animals, wood, minerals, or artifacts. Collecting of any kind is prohibited.
  • To preserve the natural character of our lands for our wildlife and the privacy of our visitors, we restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), whether amateur or commercial, anywhere within this preserve.
  • Masks are required for restroom use.


For information please contact Aaron Mrotek, the preserve manager, at 520-394-2400 or email

Volunteer at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Become an RV site host and live on site at one of the preserve’s two RV pads. Assignments will include opening and closing the preserve, staffing the visitor center, fee collection, visitor orientation, filling feeders, and trail and garden maintenance.

Photos from Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Tag @tnc_arizona on Instagram and share your photos with us when you visit!

Creek flowing in the foreground with lush trees in the background.
Closeup of a red flower.
A trail through a lush riparian landscape.
Orange and black butterfly perched on a purple flower.
Cottonwood forest with green grass in the foreground and mountains in the background.
Yellow bird perched on a tree branch with its beak open.
Mountain lion mother and cub laying in a tree.
Deer with antlers standing in a field.
Riparian corridor with green trees in the foreground and peaks in the background.
Black bird with white wings and red belly perched on a tree branch.