Picacho Peak State Park is relatively small at 3,747 acres, but it contains the iconic Picacho Peak, a lone craggy southwestern mountain peak reminiscent of something from a John Wayne movie that you can’t miss seeing from I-10 on a drive between Phoenix and Tucson. There are a couple of challenging trails here which will get you to the top: the Sunset Vista and Hunter trails. The Sunset Vista Trail is longer and meets the Hunter Trial just before the peak.
Hiking the Trail
The Sunset Vista Trail begins at the very end of the Picacho Peak Road – the road on which you enter the park. Simply enter the park, pay your entrance fee of $7 per vehicle (for 1-4 occupants) – and then drive to the end of that road where you’ll find parking near the trailhead.
As is evident from the distance/elevation chart below, the first part of the trail is relatively flat and easy going. That said, it is fairly exposed, so take care on a warm day to have plenty of water and electrolyte/energy supplements with you. This first portion of the trail takes you first through almost unbelievable stands of saguaro that give you a strong sense of the length of time this land has been left untouched.
When the trail starts to climb you know about it, and you are quickly faced with a virtually vertical face with cables attached. It’s actually pretty easy to ascend – you walk between the two cables, holding one cable in each hand, and the rock face almost acts as a staircase. No real rock climbing required.
As you proceed along the trail there are several sets of these cables to assist hikers along rock faces with varying incline, and though using these is not overly demanding physically for the average fit hiker, they do require a certain mental grit if you have a fear of heights. A couple of things to watch for: first, the cables are thin and are most easily handled with tough canvas or leather gloves. Second, they are not well maintained, so be careful about running your hand along a cable. It is possible to be cut by a rusty frayed wire. Towards the end of the Sunset Vista Trail there is wire fencing in a few places, which, in my view, is a bit unsightly, and doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of safety. Note that this is no criticism of the State Park – we know they’ve struggled for money for years, and were on the point of closing not so long ago. We are grateful for the upkeep they manage on the budgets they have!
The Sunset Vista Trail continues all the way to the peak, passing the termination of the Hunter Trail (the shorter way up), as well as a short trail to an additional lookout point. The views along the way up are great, and from the peak, spectacular. Well worth the journey.
|Total Distance||2.7 miles (3.4 miles return)|
|Configuration||Out and back|
|Elevation at Trailhead||1,860 feet|
|Highest Elevation||3,129 feet|
|Total Elevation Gain||1,979 feet|
|Trail and Trail Surface||Loose and embedded rock, occasional unevenness. Very steep in places with cables provided (also known as via ferrata). Fencing along steep areas and cables not well maintained.|
|Facilities||Water, restrooms, shade pavilion, picnic areas, camping, parking, visitor center|
|Location of Picacho Peak State Park||15520 Picacho Peak Rd, Picacho, AZ 85141|
|GPS Coordinates Files: click to download||GPX KML GeoJSON|
The hikes to Picacho Peak are not long, but they are strenuous, and if you allow yourself to become lightheaded due to dehydration or for other reasons, it can be dangerous in the steeper areas. Try to hike this one when it’s not too hot, and make sure you have plenty of water and energy replenishment.
You might want to consider carrying a few things with you in a backpack:
- Hydration system (eg. a CamelBak) in addition to water bottles.
- Snacks, preferably with some salt. The Sunset Vista Trail is not long, but it is fairly arduous. Make sure you’re prepared to re-energize if you need to.
- Hat, additional layer of clothing. High winds – which may come as a surprise at the top of a ridge – can cause you to loose body temperature quickly when you’re tired and sweaty.
- First aid kit.
Also, always be prepared for hiking in the desert. Be aware that even in cooler temperatures, dehydration can occur. For a full discussion, read Staying Safe on a Desert Hike – but here are a few quick tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:
- Bring plenty of water. As a rule of thumb, take one liter per anticipated hour of hiking.
- Hike with a friend or group. There are many hiking groups in the greater Phoenix area – including Early Rise Hikers!
- If you are hiking on your own, let someone know where you’ve gone, and take a cell phone.
- During the warmer months, hike during the cooler hours of the day to avoid dehydration and heatstroke.
- Stay on the trail. This is the best way to avoid encountering snakes.
- When encountering any animal, give the animal space. Do not attempt a wildlife selfie!
Arizona state parks recently revamped their template webpages into a much more user friendly format. The Picacho Peak State Park site has great information on the trails, facilities, events, and even history of the park.