About 40 miles north of Tucson, Picacho Peak abruptly rises 1,500 feet above the flat desert landscape typical to many other parts of Southern Arizona. It’s among the most prominent landmarks along the highly traveled stretch of Interstate 10 connecting Tucson and Phoenix.
Attractions at Picacho Peak State Park
Picacho is the highest peak among a cluster of rugged rock formations shaped by an ancient volcanic flow. It serves as the cornerstone of Picacho Peak State Park, which boasts 3,700 acres of recreational opportunities that aren’t visible from the highway. In addition to numerous hiking trails, the park has campgrounds, ramadas, picnic areas, grills and a LEED-certified visitor center.
According to Arizona State Parks, this region was frequently traveled by Mormon settlers and forty-niners throughout the mid 1800s. It was also the scene of the westernmost battle of the Civil War. In April 1862, a couple dozen Union and Confederate troops clashed near the base of the mountain while scouting. Three men were killed.
History buffs continue to honor this page from the history books. Every March, several thousand visitors swarm the park to witness elaborate Civil War reenactments.
Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak
Hunter Trail is the park’s most popular trek, luring outdoor enthusiasts in search of a challenging and somewhat unconventional experience.
On this two-mile hike, the arms get just as much a workout as the legs.
Several sections of the trail are lined with steel cables that visitors must rely on to maintain their balance. Gloves are essential, preferably a pair with reinforced padding in the palm. The visitor center also sells utility-type gloves to individuals who don’t heed the warning.
Hunter Trail starts off relatively steep, and it doesn’t level off until the midpoint at the saddle. From here, the trail loops around the back side of the mountain. This is where the gloves need to come on. Hiker must grasp parallel rows of steel cables in order to safely navigate the peak’s steep facades.
More twists and turns may give the illusion of false peaks as the summit nears. Additional sets of cables are in place to guide trekkers over these steep boulders. The cables may wobble a bit, but don’t worry. They are secure.
Those who summit are rewarded with 360-degree views of the Sonoran Desert. To the north, a steady stream of cars and trucks round the Interstate. Some hikers may catch sight of a cargo train heading to Phoenix on the opposite side of the roadway. The southern view is quite different and lacks all signs of city life. The peaceful desert landscape quietly fans out into distant farm land.
Picacho Peak’s Hunter Trail, Facts at a Glance
- How to get there: About 40 miles north of Tucson, take exit 219 to Picacho Peak State Park
- Trail length: 2 miles, one way
- Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
- Level of difficulty: Strenuous
- What to bring: Water, light snacks, gloves, sturdy shoes and sun protection
- Parking: $7 per vehicle (1 to 4 adults), $3 per bicycle
- More Information: Picacho Peak State Park, (520) 466-3183