Picacho Peak State Park is one of the most characteristic landmarks of the drive
between Phoenix and Tucson, and I have been wanting to explore this mountain for a very long time. However, the ~1.5 hour drive between Phoenix and the state park has been a bit of a deterrent for me. This spring I finally made it out there, and not only was the hike everything that I was hoping it would be, it really felt like an accomplishment to make it to the top.
Our first stop when we got to the state park, was the visitor’s center, where a friendly ranger told us about the trails that the park offered, and warned about Picacho Peak’s trail to the top- Hunter Trail. She told us the normal things first: bring water, wear good shoes, etc. All the things that experienced hikers are used to hearing before setting out, but then she also told us something that we scoffed at, that Hunter Trail was “extreme.” However, I would like to pause to say that she wasn’t wrong. This trail is very steep at several points, so steep in places that there are cables permanently secured to the mountain to make it safer to climb. It may be easy for some, but I do think it is worth coming to this trail with some amount of respect and caution. Also, bringing a pair of gloves for the cables would make things a bit easier, so consider it.
Anyway, the first section of the trail up to the saddle of the mountain is steep but not particularly surprising when it comes to Arizona trails. This means the trail is rocky, sometimes slippery, and surrounded by amazing views of the desert. The area around Picacho Peak is also quite breathtaking to look at, I think, because the desert stretches out, seemingly uninterrupted for miles, but for the highway and the farms to the west. If you don’t think you can make it to the top of the mountain, it is worth trying for the saddle. It is still difficult, but not nearly as hard as the second half of the hike. Furthermore, there is a more moderate trail that leads up to the saddle if the base of Hunter Trail is too difficult.
The way up from the saddle is very steep. It first drops down, and then weaves its way up the cliffsides of Picacho’s peak. The cables certainly do help with the ascent, but for anyone with a fear of heights I wouldn’t suggest it. There are a couple places near the end that are so steep, I would say that the cables are the only difference between
hiking and climbing, because they help you scale some nearly vertical sections of the path. Of course, the strain and fear involved with getting to the top make getting there an accomplishment (and getting home safely even more of one). The views from the top are beautiful, but I would say, not much better than from the saddle, although they are 360 degrees of amazing Arizona landscape. If anything, I think it is the trail itself that makes this hike worthwhile. It is dangerous, and although it sounds funny, it is “extreme.” But if you enjoy hiking and climbing, respect the mountain and the dangers it represents, and come prepared, I think it is a worthwhile journey. That being said, I would like to remind all my readers of something, thanks to the Hike Arizona warning: ” WARNING! Hiking, travelling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.”