The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Picacho Peak

Trail head at Picacho Peak

Located in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, Picacho Peak is a popular hiking destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Standing at 3,374 feet, this peak offers a challenging and rewarding climb for hikers of all skill levels. Here is everything you need to know about submitting Picacho Peak

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Where is Picacho Peak Located

Picacho Peak is located in southern Arizona, in the United States. Situated in the Picacho Peak State Park, the peak is located about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson along I-10.  The park is about 50 miles northwest of Tucson and about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix.

Picacho Peak is a prominent and recognizable landmark in the area, and it’s hard to miss when driving on I-10. It is a unique and beautiful natural formation that offers visitors a chance to experience the beauty of the desert and to challenge themselves physically

Saddle at Picacho Peak

When to Summit Picacho Peak

The best time to hike Picacho Peak is from October to April, when the weather is cooler and more comfortable for hiking. During this time, temperatures are typically in the 60s and 70s during the day, and can drop to the 40s at night. This makes for much more pleasant hiking conditions than during the summer months. Temperatures can easily reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the summer months, monsoon season starts and it can bring a lot of rain and thunderstorms, which could make the hiking conditions dangerous because of slipper weather. While I did not summit during the monsoon season I did talk to a park ranger that had reported the day before they had bad rains and had to end up helicopter a person out because they fell.

Essential Tips for Picacho Peak

  • You can bring dogs to hike in Picacho State Park, but they cannot go to the summit. If you opt for Hunter’s Trail, you can take dogs up to the saddle, but they are not allowed any further.
  • Bring gloves, these will be essential for the second half-of the hike for climbing up and down the cables and ladders. 
  • There is very limited shade. Especially on the upper half so bring plenty of water with you and try to avoid the hotter summer days.
  • Weather can change (rapidly) and be different on each side of Picacho Peak. When I was hiking one side had sunshine and the other side was raining. 
  • Picacho Peak is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. The earlier you can start the hike the less crowded it will be. 
  • Entry into Picacho State Park is $7 per vehicle. 
  • Not only is it worth summiting Picacho Peak, but there is a nice campground located there as well.
Beam at Picacho Peak

Civil War Reenactment at Picacho Peak

The Civil War reenactment at the summit of Picacho Peak is a popular annual event that is held in the spring.The Picacho Peak Civil War Reenactors Association organizes the event to commemorate the 1862 Civil War battle that took place at Picacho Peak.  The reenactment is an educational and entertaining experience that offers visitors a glimpse into the past and the history of the Civil War.

The reenactment typically takes place over a weekend and features several different events and activities, including:

  • Living history camps: Visitors can tour authentic Civil War-era camps and see how soldiers lived and fought during the war.
  • Military drills and demonstrations: Visitors can see soldiers drilling, firing muskets, and performing other military maneuvers, as well as demonstrations of Civil War-era weapons and equipment.
  • Battles and skirmishes: Visitors can watch realistic reenactments of Civil War battles and skirmishes, complete with authentic uniforms, weapons, and tactics.
  • Historical talks and presentations: Visitors can attend talks and presentations by historians and experts on the Civil War and the events that took place at Picacho Peak.
  • Food and vendors: Visitors can purchase food and other goods from vendors selling Civil War-era items such as clothing, books, and other memorabilia.

The event is a great opportunity to learn about the Civil War and the history of Picacho Peak. As well as see the peak and the surrounding desert landscape. It is a great event for families and history enthusiasts alike, and it is usually well attended.

Summiting Picacho Peak via the Hunter Trail

The most common trail to the summit of Picacho Peak is going to be via the Hunter Trail. The trail is 3.5 miles round trip and parking is located near the visitor center. There is very limited parking. Don’t be surprised if you have to park in a different lot or on the side of the road. I arrived around 8:30 am and the lot was already at capacity. 

The first half of the trail will seem like a breeze to most experienced hikers. It actually made me question some of the reviews I read online. The trail features steep elevation gain and includes some rocky areas, but it is well marked.

During the first half of the trail there are a lot of switchbacks until the saddle is reached. Once the saddle is reached is where the hike starts to take on a more challenging side. After the saddle you start to head downwards following a cable (always has to be down before going back up…). 

You will then curve around the backside of the mountain and start the upward journey to the summit. There is now a lot of elevation gain, and this is where I saw the majority of people turning back. Hiking up this section of the trail there were a lot of loose rocks so just be cautious.

View from the summit of picacho peak

You then get to a very steep incline you have to climb up (think a much smaller scale of half-dome) which can cause some traffic jams as people are going up and down. After this you are practically at the summit. Cross over one more little steel bridge, and some switchbacks and you will be at the summit.

The summit offers great views of the surrounding valley area, although most of it is farm lands. After about a 30 min break at the top I turned back around and headed back to my car. The hike took me just over 4 hours to complete and makes for a great day hike.

Final Thoughts

Overall, summiting Picacho Peak is a challenging and rewarding experience. The trail is well-maintained and offers stunning views of the desert and mountains. The Civil War reenactment at the summit is a unique and interesting addition to the hike. With a little preparation and the right mindset, hikers of all skill levels can enjoy the beauty and challenge of Picacho Peak.

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