Founded as ‘Estación Creel’, or “Creel Station” on May 26, 1907 as a train depot on the Chihuahua–Pacific railroad, the modest town of Creel, Mexico has seen many people come and go over the years as they traveled through the breathtaking Chihuahua landscape. Originally named after the then Governor of the state of Chihuahua, Enrique Creel , this small, northern town has witnessed substantial growth now that the railroad no longer tends just to local passengers making their way across the state – but to visitors hoping to explore the state’s most iconic natural wonder – Mexico’s Copper Canyon.
Situated 600 miles (965 kilometers) to the south of the U.S. – Mexico border, Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon National Park, cuts across part of the country’s Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, forming an impressive canyon composed of six interconnected gorges. When these breathtaking natural formations combine, they are significantly larger – and in some places, even deeper – than the Grand Canyon in the United States. Talk about impressive!
With such remarkable natural attractions it’s no wonder why the region has seen such a significant rise in local tourism. However, one question remains unanswered for most visitors to the area – how do you safely maneuver the Canyon’s steep valleys, high peaks, and rocky trails?
Well, to answer briefly, it all starts at one modest, historic town that has grown substantially since its modest beginnings at the beginning of the 20th century. As you plan your trip to the truly stunning Copper Canyon, Mexico take a moment to learn more about the town you are soon to call your starting point. Below are five fun and interesting facts about the fascinating Creel, Mexico.
1. Creel provides easy access to Copper Canyon’s top attractions
That’s right – this modest yet vibrant town not only played an important role as a main train depot during the early and mid-twentieth century, but has evolved to become known as the “eastern gateway to the Copper Canyon”. Now, acting as one of Copper Canyon’s main tourism centers, Creel is a likable town, surrounded by beautiful pine forests and interesting rock formations while boasting several top-notch hotels and restaurants.
Most people, however, tend to spend just a couple of days here. Why, you ask? Well, the answer is simple – Creel provides easy access to some of Copper Canyons most incredible attractions. With its deepest canyon, known as Urique Canyon, reaching an astonishing depth of 6,136 feet (1,870 kilometers), and the most popular canyon, Copper Canyon, reaching depths of 5,700 feet (1,737 kilometers), it’s safe to say that visitors are guaranteed some of the most heart-stopping views and outdoor excursions that the world has to offer – including an unforgettable Copper Canyon hike.
With the canyon system comprised of nearly 25,000 square miles (64,750 square kilometers), visitors are offered any array of adrenaline-inducing activities, such as horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, bird watching, mountain biking, hiking, and even helicopter tours.
If being outdoors and experiencing nature first hand is your type of gig, this destination is sure to leave you feeling complete. Witness the amazing views at Divisadero, swim in the freshwater Rio San Ignacio (San Ignacio River), and experience the mesmerizing Cusarare Falls and Piedra Volada – one of the tallest waterfalls in Mexico and the 11th tallest in the world at 1,486 feet (452 meters). Whether by foot or train, the Copper Canyon is sure to capture your heart.
Some of the most in-demand Copper Canyon tours include trips to Valle de Hongos y Ranas (Valley of Mushrooms and Frogs), Cueva de Tarahumara (Tarahumara Cave), Mision San Ignacio (San Ignacio Church), Lago de Arareko (Lake Arareko),Valle de los Monjes (Monk Valley), and the nearby natural thermal waters known as the Recohuata Hot Springs.
2. Creel is a pivotal stop for the notorious Copper Canyon Train
While the majority of the Canyon’s landscape is inaccessible, in the mid-1960s – after nearly 60 years of on and off construction – the painstaking process of laying railway tracks through the Canyon was completed. Now, the Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon Train), popularly known as El Chepe, is an important form of transportation for locals and the absolute best way for tourists to explore some of the most stunning views Mexico has to offer.
As El Chepe chugs along its 405 miles (653 kilometers) of railway between the cities of Chihuahua, Chihuahua and Los Mochis, Sinaloa – a journey which takes anywhere from 9 to 16 hours – it crosses over 37 bridges and passes through 86 tunnels. It climbs to an elevation of 7,900 feet (2,400 meters) and descends all the way down to sea level, passing through diverse and stunning scenery along the way.
Whether you wish to enjoy the views simply from within the train, or you wish to get out and explore the innate beauty of the lands, El Chepe is your best option. With stops in at least five towns worth visiting, guests are given the opportunity to jump off the train and explore the impeccable natural surroundings.
Although the trip can be completed in just one day, it is well worth extending the journey to last a few days or even a few weeks, as you stop and explore towns along the way. This is what truly makes a visit to the Copper Canyon so special. That said, disembark along the route and explore the amazing canyons and local towns while being introduced to multiple trails, views, and local cultures.
3. Creel is home to a vibrant indigenous population, the Raramuri
After the release of the 2011 National Bestseller “Born to Run”, a local Mexican tribe that to this day resides within the Copper Canyon’s steep valley walls, gained quite a bit of attention – and rightfully so. Known famously as the Tarahumara, the Raramuri are people that have called the Copper Canyon home for centuries. By living their traditional lifestyle of dressing colorfully, herding native animals, and living in wooden huts and stone dwellings, the Raramuri have been able to survive in an environment deemed by others as inhabitable.
Sure enough, when exploring the surrounding landscapes it is very possible that guests will capture a glimpse of this famous indigenous community. If fact, regardless of how they maneuver through the canyon’s steep walls, guests will eventually arrive to the town of Creel, Mexico, where many of the Raramuir set up camp to sell handcrafts and interact with visitors. With tours to the nearby sites of Valle de los Hongos (Mushroom Valley) and Valle de las Ranas (Frog Valley), lucky visitors may even be granted the opportunity to visit present-day cave homes inhabited by these remarkable individuals – by far one of the most rewarding things to when visiting in Creel.
Keep in mind, while it may be fascinating to learn their traditional ways of life, they are everyday people just like each and every one of us – it’s critical to be respectful and aware of personal boundaries when visiting their homes. As with Mexicans in general, you will quickly fall in love with these incredibly kind, open, and generous individuals.
4. Creel, while small in size, offers guests a diverse culinary experience
Upon realizing that this modest, northern town is quite small in size, you may begin to wonder if it will meet your hunger needs – especially after a days worth of exploring the miraculous surrounding landscapes. However, there is no need to worry – Creel is home to a surprisingly decent culinary scene, despite its simple presence.
What helps is that Creel is located in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. While tourists are usually more acquainted with traditional Mexican plates such as tacos, enchiladas, rice, beans, and yes, even burritos, this is actually a very small representation of Mexico’s overall culinary traditions. On top of that, most visitors have never tried truly authentic Mexican dishes – but ones steeped in Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex cultures if you’re coming from the United States.
Luckily for visitors to Creel, northern Mexican cuisine is some of the heartiest and tastiest you can find in the country. As a part of Mexico’s “cowboy country”, Chihuahua offers a local cuisine steeped in delicious meats and vegetables.
With incredibly savory meat being the region’s culinary claim to fame, one can expect to experience a number of dishes consisting of different cuts of steak, poultry, pork, and even goat (cabrito) accompanied by freshly cooked vegetables including carrots, onions, beans, and tomatoes, to name a few.
Some region favorites that you are sure to find during your stay in Creel: Carne asada (grilled steak meat with a tasty combination of spices and served with a variation of rice, beans, grilled onions, and potatoes), Arrachera ( a Mexican favorite, coming from the abdominal muscles of the cow, tenderized and marinated, prior to being grilled), and Machaca (dried, spiced pork or beef grilled on the barbeque, chopped or shredded, then mixed with eggs, tomatoes, chopped onion, and salsa). One thing is for certain – there is no shortage of flavor here!
With other traditional dishes such as Gorditas, Cochinita Pibil (a traditional Mexican dish consisting of slow-roasted pork and commonly used in tacos), burritos with stuffed peppers, empanadas (a baked or fried stuffed pastry), and pork carnitas, the options are limitless.
Head over to Tio Molcas for your traditional Mexican dishes, especially for their famous guacamole and refreshing micheladas, or to Restaurante Veronica where both the menu and portions are larger than your stomach can probably handle.
For a quick, but delicious meal, head to La Terraza for a tasty quesadilla or taco (or both), or to Restauarante Luptia, where you can get a break from all the meat based dishes and enjoy some good ol’ vegetarian meals.
Simply put – you don’t have to worry about going hungry during your stay. Creel has you covered.
5. Creel encapsulates history and adventure through local culture
As you can probably see by now, Creel is a truly special place that combines both ancient and recent history with thrilling and spectacular nature adventures – coming together to create quite the unique local culture.
Whether you come to witness the awe-inspiring views, endless natural landscapes, historical sites, or to submerge yourself in local culture – including the mystic culture of the Raramuri – Creel, Mexico and Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon are sure to leave you speechless.
Full of romantic sites, exciting excursions, and even fun activities for kids, planning your visit to this incredible natural wonder is a must.