Picacho Peak (Arizona) 20-Feb-2020

Picacho Peak (3,370 feet / 1,027 m) sits hard up against Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. In all the years we’ve been coming to Arizona we must have driven past it dozens of times without once thinking it could be hiked. But after coming across a post by BIT|Hiker we put it on our to do list. After hikes in the Santa Ritas and Tortolitas, we headed for Picacho.

There are two trails to the summit, the Hunter and the Sunset Vista, that converge for the last push to the top. We chose the Sunset Vista because it’s longer and made for a nice stroll through the saguaros before the climbing began.

Picacho Peak juts up from the desert floor
The high point (arrow) on Picacho Peak comes into view

After rolling along through the desert for two miles, we came to a small clump of Palo Verde trees. Here the trail made a sharp turn and starting taking us up toward the peak on a series of switchbacks.

We start up toward the peak

The only “climbing” obstacle on the Sunset Vista Trail is a 50-foot cable ladder that we reached just below the junction with the Hunter Trail. Judging from the number of hikers we met that had come up the Hunter, it’s the more popular of the two – probably because it’s much shorter.

The cable ladder on the Sunset Vista Trail
At the trail junction

From the junction, the summit trail does a gentle climb beneath towering cliffs (swarmed by swallows and an occasional hawk) to the next “climbing” obstacle – a cable and mesh festooned ramp.

Beneath the cliffs
The next climbing obstacle
A little awkward but not hard

Getting past this obstacle brought us into a large bowl between the main summit and a subsidiary summit to the north.

In the bowl
The trail (arrow) climbs up inside of the bowl

The trail took us up around the inside of the bowl to our third obstacle – another cable ladder. By now we were dodging around groups that had come up the shorter Hunter Trail. These cables don’t look too steep until you’re actually going up them. 🙄

Up the cable ladder

Once up this cable ladder, we were faced with a traverse protected by more cables and bridged with some metal and wood planking.

Traversing toward the summit
Trusting ourselves to cables and planks
The LovedOne walks the plank

After the crossing the plank, we reached the saddle northwest of the summit and just hiked to the top.

We hike toward the summit
Looking back toward the lower peak
On top at last!

The view from the summit was obstructed only by the low smog banks infesting Phoenix to the north and Tucson to the south.

The Santa Catalina Mountains (1) near Tucson to the south
We could just make out Mount Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains (1) to the south
If you know where to look, Baboquivari is a prominent bump (arrow) on the western horizon

After taking in the views and a snack, we waited for a break in the other hiking groups and headed back. We were lucky in that we were behind a group that was clearing the summit as we arrived and ahead of one that was filling the cables below us.

Going back
Descending the plank
And the 50 foot cable on the Sunset Vista

Since almost everyone else had used the Hunter Trail to reach the summit, we had our return on the more scenic Sunset Vista Trail all to ourselves.

On the Sunset Vista
On the Sunset Vista
Farewell Picacho!

The weather was perfect for our 5.8 mile out-and-back (with 1,000 feet of gain) hike to the summit through this nice piece of the Sonoran Desert. It was hard to believe that a busy freeway was just over the ridge. We were also fortunate in that there weren’t too many other hikers and all of them didn’t seem to have any problems scrambling up and down the cable obstacles. We could only imagine what it’s like up here on a pleasant winter weekend. o_O

To and from Picacho on the Sunset Vista Trail
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4 comments

    1. As noted, we’ve driven by it many, many times without even bothering to check it out. It’s absolutely a LOT of fun. Pick a cool winter day and bring gloves.

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