Picacho Peak Hike Arizona: The Ultimate Hiking Guide (2023)

By Anna

If you’re somebody that likes a challenge, then we have one for you – the Picacho peak hike.

You may have heard of it before and it’s somewhere that you’ve always wanted to hike to but don’t know much information about it? Well fear not, whether you’re a hiking beginner or hiking pro theres a trail at the Picacho peak hike to suit everybody so there’s really no excuse we’ll accept about not giving it a go.

In this article we’ll reveal everything needed to know about the Picacho peak hike from the time it takes to hike it to the best time to visit, plus much more, so you can be comfortable knowing all about Picacho peak hike before arriving in sunny Arizona.

But before we get in to the nitty gritty, let’s find out why the peak is a worldwide celebrity!

Why is Picacho Peak Famous?

Picacho peak is famous for the Battle of Picacho Pass during the Civil War. Confederate and Union scouting parties met here which was the largest Civil War battle to take place in Arizona.

Picacho peak state park is located between Casa Grande and Tucson in Southern Arizona and has been used as a landmark by travellers since prehistoric times – yes, we’re talking about the time that dinosaurs were around!

The peak has a unique shape that is 1,500 feet and its main summit that rises to 3,374 feet above sea level. It has been said that what is left over of the peak was once a volcano which is now believed to be a tilted and eroded piece of rock overlain by a lava flow – of course this is completely safe today and there’s no chance of lava erupting.

Picacho peak gets its name from the Spanish for Picacho which simply means ‘peak’. In 1775 the peak was referred to as Cerro de Taca by Francisco Garcés who was a Spanish friar and, in the past, the mountain was referred to as Picacho del Tucson ‘Tucson Peak.’

Picacho Peak at sunrise

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How do I Get to Picacho Peak?

Depending on where you’re travelling from, Picacho peak state park is a relatively easy place to find, as with any place, when nearing the destination, road signs will show up and you’ll be able to follow it from there. Google Maps is always a handy thing to have on in the car so you know you can’t get lost and it will take you via the quickest road.

Picacho Peak is located in the Sonoran Desert and as it’s 1,500 feet, it’s pretty easy to spot from other areas including Tucson and Phoenix as you drive along Interstate 10. Once you have arrived you will then be asked to pay a park entrance fee (a fee for the car parking which isn’t very much) and you can also reserve different picnic areas up to a year in advance! This will be added on to the entrance fee.

The park is open all year round (apart from Christmas day from 5am all the way up to 10 p m! There is also a gift store located inside the visitor center where you can buy water bottles, magnets, books and souvenirs etc.

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Photo credit: Kristjan Kotar via Unsplash

Picacho Peak: The Trail:

There are a range of different trails that you’re able to hike at Picacho and all for different age ranges and levels. As Picacho is in the desert and there’s lot of hiking to do, water is a must and it’s recommended that each person has at least two – four litres of water or even more if attempting the difficult hikes.

Wearing sensible clothing and footwear also goes without saying. The weather can be unpredictable but remember to wear hiking boots and gloves and be safe once attempting the more advanced trails! Let’s have a look and see what trails you could be hiking at Picacho Peak.

Easy Trails:

Children’s cave trail: If there are children with you then we suggest that you start with the children’s cave trail, this is an easy trail that is 0.2 miles and it includes interpretive signs so the children can explore a well as understanding more about the hiking trails.

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Nature Trail: This trail is 0.5 miles, so this is another great one to do with children after the children’s cave trail. This includes interpretive signs again and you’ll be able to see lots of trees and flowers.

Moderate Trails:

Calloway Trail: This trail is 0.7 miles and is a good starting point for anybody that hasn’t hiked before as it will allow you to know whether or not you want to go onto the other more advanced trails. Calloway is on the rocky side and once near the end it can get a little steep and will require you to step over some rocks, but nothing too extreme. If hiking in the spring then you’ll get to see beautiful wildflowers including poppies, lupine, brittlebush and much more as well as some small desert creepy crawlies. Once near the end, Calloway leads on to an overlook so you can enjoy a lovely view of the Tortolita Mountains and the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Picacho Peak

Sunset Vista Trail: This is longest trail out of all five and is 3.1 miles long, but it is not recommended when temperatures are high. You will travel along the south side of the park and when you start your hike on the Sunset Vista trail, in the first two miles you may think that it’s pretty easy and the Hunter trail will be a walk in the park? Well unfortunately, after the first two miles it gets difficult from there. The path becomes steep and twisting with steel cables anchored into the rock in places where the surface is bare so don’t forget gloves! Just like the Calloway trial you will see a range of different wildflowers including lupines, globe-mallow, Mexican gold poppies, desert chicory, desert belles and brittlebush.

Difficult Trails:

Hunter trail: If you’re an expert in hiking and think you can handle the picacho peak hike then we will challenge you to the most difficult trail to hike out of all five of the trails. This trail really is for experts so if you’ve not done much hiking before then this won’t be for you. The hunter trail has a name that’s a bit scary so we take our hat off to anybody who has/will hike/ed this peak.

The trail is 2.0 miles long and it begins on the north side from Barrett Loop and goes to the top of the peak. When looking at Picacho from the ground it doesn’t look very difficult at all, it’s not until you start the hike that you realise it’s a very steep and challenging climb.

Just like the Sunset vista trail you will need gloves for this hike as the path becomes very steep and there’s lots of twists and turns so you will find steel cables anchored into the rocks, so it becomes easier to make your way up to the peak. The Hunter trail is difficult climb so if you’re climbing on a hot day then remember to stay safe and hydrated. If it’s a wet day then take extra care and remember to have appropriate footwear on.

Getting to The Difficult Bit:

Once you’ve got past the ‘easy’ bit, you’ll reach a saddle with a bench so you can have a bit of a rest before the hard part begins. From there onwards you’ll be climbing a very steep vertical slope so make use of the steel cables with gloves on of course. Once you’ve gone past the steel cables, you’ll then reach another saddle and climb a series of switchbacks until you reach the summit.

Once at the top of the Picacho peak hike there will definitely be an opportunity for a photograph after taking in the stunning panoramic view of the desert and mountains. All that hard work that was put in will be forgotten about – until climbing back down the from the peak.

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Picacho Peak
Photo credit: kelly sikkema via Unsplash

How Long Does It Take to Climb Picacho Peak?

The average time taken to climb Picacho peak is two and a half to four hours as a round trip. The reason why this varies so much is because on a busy day you will more than likely have to wait for other hikers to climb up before you can so there might be a bit of a queue waiting to use the steel cables.

How Long Does the Easy Trail and Moderate Trail Take to Climb?

If you’re wondering how long the easy trail and the moderate trail take to climb, then you’ve come to the right place! The children’s cave trail will take about 15 minutes to walk with littles ones. If you’re wanting to do this for fun and are an adult, then it will probably take about five – eight minutes. For the nature trail it’s most likely that you can add on another five minutes when walking with children.

As the Calloway trail is only 0.7 miles this should only take 20 minutes to walk which is why it’s recommended for first-time hikers at the Picacho peak hike. If children are joining in on this climb, then double the time it would take for an adult to walk around.

The Sunset Vista trail is the longest trail in the park so if you’re wanting to do the all the moderate and difficult trials then it’s a good idea to get the park as early as possible. As the trail is 3.1 miles long a round trip will take around two hours on a good day (depending on weather and how busy the park is). The reason why the Hunter trial takes longer is because of how steep it is, which means allowing extra time to hike up to the steep peak.

What is The Hardest Hike in Arizona?

The hardest hike in Arizona is camelback mountain in Phoenix. You might have guessed from the name, but this mountain is shaped like a kneeling camel and offers two main trails which are the Echo Canyon and Cholla.

Both of these trails are considered extremely difficult so they should only be climbed if you’re a hiking pro. The Echo Canyon trail is a 1.2-mile round trip which will take roughly 40 minutes. The trail is steep and rocky throughout and there are steel cables to hold on to in the difficult parts so make sure gloves are packed in the bag. Once you reach the top, you’ll be able to take a breath as you experience the 360-degree panoramic views.

The Cholla Trail will take 1.5 miles to climb there and back which is approximately just over an hour- one hour twenty depending on how fast you walk or how busy the trail is. The Trail is a slightly longer and steadier climb than Echo Canyon, but that doesn’t mean it’s not tricky!

Lower parts of the mountain are easier to follow, but the last third of the climb is a challenging scramble over large boulders so be careful not to fall or trip over.

Camelback mountain
Photo credit: Olly Levine via Unsplash

And Finally:

If you’re lucky enough as you’re hiking, there’s a possibility of seeing some of camel mountain’s native species which includes the desert tortoise, chuckwalla lizard, cottontail rabbits and rattlesnakes – if you do see a rattlesnake then don’t go near it or attempt to touch it as it will get irritated.

Native species don’t just mean animals! Camelback mountain is also home to native plants which include the saguaro, cholla and prickly pear cacti, as well as native trees such as the mesquite and palo verde.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, then please leave a comment in the box below. If you’ve read this and thought that hiking isn’t going to be for you, then how about seeing if Hawaii is for you in the article below.

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James Ardimento has spent the last 12 years journeying around the globe ! With its precious experiences and tips he gained around Asia, South America, Europe and the US he is a precious asset for this blog and for its readers