Picacho Peak State Park is located in Arizona about 40 miles from downtown Tucson. It is right off the I-10, so it is easily accessible. It is $7 per vehicle to enter the park. The park opens at 5am and closes at 10pm, though the hiking trails are open from sunrise to sunset.
I have been to Tucson a number of times over the last few years, whether for vacation or job interviews. Picacho Peak is a landmark that shows the trip is almost over. It is very recognizable, and juts out very high over the desert. There is something in me that wants to stand on peaks when I see them. I am not any kind of intrepid mountain climber, but I want to see the world from up there.
A couple of weeks ago, I moved to Tucson to start work. I had the opportunity to go hiking yesterday, and chose Picacho Peak. There are many other places I want to hike here too, but why not start with the place I have been looking at for a few years.
This trail is rated difficult and it is actually difficult. I have been on trails that said difficult, but really was just a steep elevation gain. This one has steep elevation gains, rocky trails, loose rocks, and more. This is only for people who have some experience hiking and who are in at least decent physical condition.
This sign says to bring 2-3 liters of water. Depending on the time of year, I would say that is a minimum. Even on a cool day, this is Arizona and it is dry and sunny. About a month ago a group of Boy Scouts were hiking this trail and one of them died after they ran out of water. Personally, I bring enough for myself plus enough to share with someone who might have ran out.
The park website recommends bringing gloves. I tossed a pair of leather work gloves in my bag just in case, and I am glad I did. There are places on this trail where you will be pulling yourself up the trail using steel cables. Then on the way down you will need to use the cables to keep yourself from going too fast. The gloves are useful to keep your hands from getting friction burns.
There are currently bees on the trail due to the blooming Palo Verde trees. I heard many more than I saw. I only had one disturb me, and it just wanted to check out my backpack when I set it down. However, if you are allergic to bees you might want to take precautions.
The trail is about 2 miles long. It starts out at a fairly steep climb. It goes from about 1500 feet at the desert floor to 2900 feet at the “Saddle” which is about the halfway point. Then it drops down again from the Saddle at least halfway to the desert floor before climbing to 3374 feet at the Peak. There is this lovely but rather faded sign at the Saddle that gives that info, plus some history on the trail. In short, the sign says that Picacho Peak has been a landmark for centuries. It helped early explorers, and had a light beacon put on it in 1932 for aviation navigation. The trail was created to help service that beacon before it was removed.
There are plenty of “steps” put into the trail. They are somewhat helpful, but are rather irregular.
The trail itself isn’t always easy to see. In fact, I ended up taking a few accidental trips off the trail because I followed a rock slide or something that looked more trail-like than the trail. Some kind person has put arrows and other helpful markers at most of the difficult to see sections though.
You can also tell that parts of the trail were made by blasting rock that was in the way. It was never smoothed out by the builders. It is rough and can be slippery on the downhill parts. At a few points I had to use my hands to help me up the trail. A few people I observed had difficulties on these sections. I would recommend decent hiking shoes and not running shoes on this trail for the grip.
Remember how I mentioned gloves? There are helpful steel cables on the trail for the really bald rocks and the really steep areas. Without them the trail wouldn’t work.
There are a couple of particularly fun sections. This first one doesn’t really show well in pictures. You have to pull yourself up using the cables. There are not many great places to put your feet, but it can be done if you take your time. I thought it was a lot of fun, but I am also taller than average. Some of the shorter people I watched had a bit of difficulty.
Then there is a section where you are walking along the edge of a drop off. It isn’t a particularly tall drop off, but the steel cable comes in handy. Also someone put a handy little bridge to make it easier to walk.
There is certainly plenty to see on the trail. The plants are particularly beautiful right now. The Palo Verde trees are blooming, as are some of the Saguaro cactus. There are also many overlook points where you can see for miles. Many people do not like the desert, but there is a rugged beauty to it that I love.
Of course the point to this trail is to get to the top of the Peak. It does not disappoint and thoroughly makes up for all the work to get there. There is a 360 degree view of the surrounding desert, with views for miles and miles in all directions. I am still new to the area, so I wasn’t really sure all that I was looking at. It is still impressive nonetheless. I don’t think I got images that do justice to what I was seeing. The IPhone has a good camera, but I don’t know that it does well in this type of distance situation.
This is a great trail in all ways. However, its close proximity to the Interstate and railroad tracks makes it a noisy trail sometimes. It isn’t overwhelmingly loud, but it is definitely noticeable especially when trains pass by. This picture shows the Interstate and just past it is the train going by.
I will definitely hike this trail again. I need to get in better shape for the second time because my legs are telling me how much they hate me today. I am thinking I may try to take my oldest son with me in the fall so he can learn how to hike a trail like this. It may have been a lot of work, but the beauty made it all worth it.