Picacho Peak Arizona

Picacho Peak


Mileage: 5.6
Elevation gain: 1967 feet
Time to complete: 3-5 hours
Stars: ★★★★½
Difficulty: 3/5 (Ratings explained)
Steep climb up cables to the peak

If you’ve ever driven between Phoenix and Tucson, you’ve no doubt seen the prominent shape of Picacho Peak next to the interstate. Rising 1500 feet from the desert floor, it offers outstanding views in every direction, even if Interstate 10 ruins it a little. There are two options for summiting the peak, but both will require you to use metal cables installed in the 1960s to get to the top. It’s an exciting adventure no matter how you do it.

Trail Description

Picacho Peak lies within Picacho Peak State Park, a park that is popular with winter visitors and showcases the history of the area, which was the site of the westernmost battle of the Civil War.

The park has a few short trails, but most people go there to hike to the peak, and there are two options for getting there.

Hunter Trail or Sunset Vista Trail?

Hunter Trail is shorter and a bit more strenuous, and it has some additional interesting parts of the trail that the most adventurous people won’t want to miss. It’s also in the morning shade, so if it’s hot out, Hunter Trail is the way to go.

Sunset Vista Trail is longer and meanders through the desert for a couple of miles before getting to the peak. If you want a longer hike, want to see more of the beautiful saguaro and cholla cactuses that adorn the area, or want to stay warmer on a chilly morning, Sunset Vista Trail is the best choice.

Sunset Vista Trail

If you’re going with Sunset Vista like we did on our last visit, head to the last parking lot in the park. The trail starts out in the foothills and soon crosses over to the back side of the mountain, giving you views of Picacho Peak in the distance.

The trail is easy and well-maintained, traveling across washes and wandering through a magnificent cactus garden with views of the mountains in the distance.

Desert views at Picacho Peak State Park
For Hillary because she loved the layers of mountains so much

The Cable Climb

But you don’t care about all that, do you? You want to know about the peak!

Well, I’d love to show you, but we were so busy taking videos that we kind of forgot to get pictures of all the cable sections. I know, what kind of blog is this?! All I’m saying is you should watch the video (link below) for many reasons.

Just one cable section before you get to this sign where the two trails merge into one right before the push to the summit.

Trail sign at Picacho Peak

I do have this one picture to give you an idea of what the cables are like.

Cables at Picacho Peak
Nice, rusty railing to keep you safe

Being that using the cables is pretty much mandatory, gloves are a great idea. The cables actually feel pretty safe, and only those with serious fear of sketchy things will want to back out.

The Summit

But don’t because look at that view from the summit!

Summit of Picacho Peak

Hunter Trail

If you want to take the Hunter Trail instead, you’ll want to turn left at the Barrett Loop after entering the park to get to the parking for Hunter Trail.

This trail uses switchbacks to get up to a saddle on the front side of the mountain, at which point you’ll be kind of disheartened to learn you have to go back down a little on the other side. But the going down is a bit adventurous, so if you like that kind of thing, you’re in luck.

Map & Directions

Location Picacho Peak State Park, Tucson, Arizona

From Phoenix, take the I-10 south until you see the exit for Picacho Peak State Park. No, not the exit for Picacho. That’s a town filled with nut orchards (don’t ask how I know).

Fees/Passes Entrance fee covers 4 adults, and each additional adults is extra

Trailhead Facilities Restrooms and water available, but not exactly right at the trailhead. Use your p-style with caution (watch for overly concerned rangers).

Download KML or GPX

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Disclaimer Outdoor activities have inherent risk, and we will not be able to tell you all the risks you may face. You are responsible for your own safety, so prepare as well as you can and know your limits. Follow this guide at your own risk. And have fun!

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