Picacho Peak State Park

Everyone should visit the desert after a wet winter–wild flowers abound! I decide to hike to the top of Picacho Peak this weekend, after thinking about it for almost 20 years. I have driven I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson hundreds of times, and always looked at the peak and thought one day. Well, wait no longer, I was turning 41 the next day, and no better time than the present.


Picacho Peak in the center

Picacho Peak is about 60 miles south of Phoenix right off the I-10, take exit 219 and follow the signs to the park.  There are several potential hikes to the top of this ancient lava flow: Sunset Vista Trail which is 6.2 miles round trip, Hunter Trail which is 4 miles round trip, Calloway Trail which is 1.4 miles round trip and a 0.5 mile nature trail. The long hikes to the top should not be done in the summer months, and the park notes this in many places. Make sure to bring about 3 liters of water with you on the long hikes.

I decided to hike Sunset Vista Trail and started out at about 8:15 am.  It starts at the west side of the park and you travel south around the peak. The first two miles are moderate desert trails. It is relatively flat, but lots of places with loose rocks and shale.

The great thing about this hike is seeing all the different types of cacti! Here is just a few of them.

Of course Arizona is famous for it’s Sonoran Cactus. A little know fact about cactus and the desert: Sonoran cactus only live in the Sonoran Desert. These cacti are the largest cactus in the United States and can reach average heights of 40 feet tall. The tallest saguaro measured 78 feet! Saguaro grow very slow, and it can take one 10 years to reach a height of 1 inch and it can take 70 years to grow to 6 feet! The famous arms on a saguaro do not start to grow until the cactus reaches a height of 15 feet at the age of 95-100 year. When the cactus reaches 200 years old, it has usually reached it’s full height. It is illegal to disturb or remove a saguaro cactus from public land.


It was a great two miles to hike taking pictures! However, I did arrive at the switchbacks! This last 1.1 miles is strenuous with switchbacks and climbing with cables (park maintains the cables) even for those of us in shape. I kept my trekking poles out for the switchbacks. And the path gets a little confusing, so watch out for the white dots and paint to keep you on the right path!  Note, there are areas along the trail with wooden steps but this is rare.


After the switch backs, you get to the first of about 6 sets of cables. Might as well put your trekking poles away now and get out your gloves. I highly recommend gloves for this last section as you will see from the pictures. Up until the switchbacks, this trail could be good for kids who are in shape. Once you get to the cables, I do not recommend children on this part under the age of 13. And even for kids that age and older, they need to be in good shape. I am in shape and stand at 5’8″ but there are several places where you climb up with the cables and you need to find foot holds and pull yourself up. A slip and fall can be deadly, in some areas you could fall back down 30 feet or more onto rocks.


This last mile takes about an hour at least due to the climb and waiting for others to climb up or down in front of you. Yes, you are walking/climbing/hiking….whatever you want to call it between the rock face and the cables in this next picture! It is hundreds of feet down as the cables round the corner at the top of this point.


I thought about getting better pictures of the cables when I was up there, but I only could visualize my phone dropping out of my hands into oblivion. So, these pictures will have to do!

So after you get passed these 6 sets of cables, you have a short hike left to the top! The 360 degree view is worth it!

It took me till 10:30 to get to the top. I stopped and ate a snack and drank more water. There were a few others on the trail ahead of me, and more were arriving once I started to head back down. Only one trail bandit on the top, and some beautiful Harris’s Hawks.

The hike on the way down was much better and it felt good to accomplish a climb of 1500 feet! We are lucky this year to have had a good wet winter. And with a wet winter brings out desert flowers! Definitely a beautiful hike and the view is worth the climb!


Categories: Arizona, Day Hikes, State Parks

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