Off one of the most boring drives along I-10 in between Phoenix & Tucson sits an iconic peak. It sorta marks that halfway point along the drive and rises up 1500′ quite triumphantly in the distance. It’s a popular place for RV’s and campers alike with some great trails for all different levels of abilities and interests.
The first time I hiked here was with my sister. I was around 10 years old and super excited to tackle this challenging hike! Too bad we didn’t pack water…it wasn’t like it is today with hydration packs and bottles galore! We did have the best tasting and juiciest peaches, though! Thirst quenching and sweet…I remember licking my fingers and hands as the juice ran down with each bite!
I also remember watching a shirtless runner in short black shorts run past us as we hiked up. I remember thinking, “People run this?” I had never seen that before. It obviously made quite an impression on me, especially when I found our hike challenging enough!
If you hit this trail in early spring, and if the desert has received ample winter rains, the desert will be an explosion of colors from the wildflowers! Predominantly the Mexican Gold Poppies! The hillsides will take on that Arizona green and there will be pockets of orange, yellow and purple flowers too! If you make the hike up to at least the saddle, or beyond, you’ll be rewarded with all the colors and views!!
So let’s talk about the main hike up to the peak! Since I’m usually just making a quick stop here as I drive between Phoenix and Tucson, I do the shorter Hunter Trail. It’s rated at difficult and is 1.6 miles one way to the top and starts off of Barrett’s Loop. Use the bathroom on your right as you first turn onto this loop, as there will be nothing else available from this point on!
The lower portion of the trail is easy to navigate and not too steep. As you approach the saddle there are caves and wildflowers all around. There are usually vultures circling around overhead, too. It’s fun to be so close to them as they float in the breeze and circle overhead.
At the saddle, there is a bench and a sign with some of the history of the peak. It’s a bit worn, but still readable for the most part. Many hikers reach this point and just stop to enjoy the remarkable view.
However, if you choose to go on, be ready for some serious steepness! Cables included!! It is recommended to wear gloves, although I’ve done this hike twice without them. The cables are smooth, but it’s the frayed little wires at the ends that will get you! You won’t feel it initially, but they bleed and you’ll definitely feel them the next time you use hand sanitizer or squeeze a lemon!
If you have a fear of heights, this may not be the trail for you. Especially on your way back when you have to look down! Good hiking or trail running shoes work well for traction. The trail is mostly rock and it is very smooth in some parts so you’ve got to find the right cracks and crevices to use for footing and grip. The park does a wonderful job in maintaining the cables and little wooden steps to assist you on your climb or descent. I’ve encountered people who become terrified at this point and decide to wait for their groups near the saddle and I’ve also seen older kids do just fine on this section. It’s steep, so caution is necessary and no need to rush it.
Once you make your way through this cable section, it’s back to the rocky trail and to the top! This peak tops out at 3,374′ and gives you a full 360° view, a nice breeze, a rewarding snack and a perfect picture opportunity at the top!
On the way down, use the same caution as before. It is steep and maybe a little scary to look where you’re going. However, I always remind myself of how many people have done this before me and lived to tell! Younger ones and older ones too! Stay focused and take it one step at a time!
Prepare for this hike by carrying enough hydration and some snacks if you anticipate being out there for a while. The western part of this hike is exposed and gets very warm! The rocks really soak up and emit some serious heat from the sun! I would never recommend doing this hike when it’s hot or in the summer, unless you got a really early start. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen!
If you’re running it, don’t be afraid to stop and enjoy the view. Take a picture of two to remember the beauty and adventure of this little peak. Also, be courteous of those either heading up or coming down the cables. I always wait for big groups to come through and then continue on. Some portions of the trail are very narrow and not easy to get around people. Look up and look ahead to see if there are people coming the opposite direction and if you should yield. Yes, hikers coming up have the right of way, but use common sense and wait if someone is on their way down.
This peak has some cool history, too! Did you know that there was a Civil War battle fought here between the Union and Confederates? It’s the furthest west any battle was fought! They do a re-enactment of the Battle of Picacho Peak each March.
If you would like to make the hike to the top a little longer, take the Sunset Vista Trail. It’s 5.2 miles round trip and starts at the Sunset Vista Trailhead at the end of the road.
There are plenty of kid friendly options available at this state park, too! The Children’s Cave Trail is short trail (0.2 miles) and great for younger children. There is a playground and also plenty of ramadas to use or rent for larger get togethers.
Picacho Peak is the perfect pit stop to break up a boring drive and have a little adventure! Again, plan your trip according to the weather and follow all the park rules! The trails close at sunset!!
This trail is so inviting from the get-go!
To get to Picacho Peak, take Exit 219 off I-10
For more information visit https://azstateparks.com/