A U.S. National Monument as well as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located in southern Arizona, sharing a border with the state of Sonora in Mexico. The main attraction of the park are the organ pipe cactus, which grow wild within its confines. You can also view a number of other types of cacti, include the stately Saguaro and desert flora. The National Monument encompasses 517 square miles; land for the Monument was donated during prohibition to the federal government by the Arizona state legislature, with the knowledge that the north-south road would be improved and it would be easier to import contraband alcohol from Mexico.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is one of the few areas north of the Mexican border where its namesake cactus grow. Included in the preserved area are gentle valleys and craggy mountains, with more than 90% of the land designated as wilderness. Hiking, camping and scenic drives are popular things to do for those exploring the park.
A visit to the National Monument will introduce you to desert life and offer you the chance to view some incredible scenery as you take in the area’s natural beauty.
From Tucson, take I-10 to I-19 S, proceeding for 0.8 miles. Proceed to exit 99 for Ajo Way. After 0.4 miles, turn right onto AZ-86 W/W Ajo Way. Continue for 118 miles. Next, turn left on AZ-85 S and proceed for 4.7 miles to the park entrance.
Parking is available throughout the park.
Public transportation is not available to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
If you are looking to enjoy camping in Organ Pipe National Monument with a group, you are in luck. The National Monument has five camping sites that can accommodates groups of 18-45 people. While the sites do not have electricity or RV hook-ups, there are restrooms with running water and an electrical outlet for personal appliances.
Offering 34 sites that are tent-only and 174 sites that can accommodate RV’s and trailers, Twin Peaks Campground is an excellent option for those looking to spend a night or more in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Equipment of up to 45 feet can be accommodated in certain sites and the campground includes restrooms with running water and even a few solar showers. There are no hookups available at the campground, however there is a dump station with potable water found past the last row of sites. During the park’s peak season, which is January through March, advance reservations are required. Sites are first-come-first served during the rest of the year.
For those looking to tent camp and have a more primitive camping experience, Alamo Campground is a great option. The campground includes four tent-only sites located within the gorgeous desert landscape. Each site includes a charcoal grill and picnic table, and pit toilets are available. Camping at Alamo campground is quiet (no generator use allowed), and while there is no water and fires are not permitted, you will find it to be a great place to relax and get away from it all. Sites are first-come, first-served.
Not far from Organ Pipe National Monument to the south is its sister park, El Pinacate y Grand Desierto de Altar. Located in the Mexican state of Sonora, the parks have some resemblance, along with some significant differences. While you will encounter saguaro and ocotillo in the park, they will ascend from crunchy black cinders and be near the edge of volcanic craters. The park, which is also designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, is named for the Pinacate beetle.
Seeking to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument from your bike? While bikes are not allowed on hiking trails, they are allowed on all roads that are open to vehicles. The Ajo Mountain Drive, in particular, is popular among bikers. It is recommended that those that are biking along the road bike defensively, as drivers may be so focused on the amazing scenery that they miss a biker that is sharing the road. Note that the road is only open for bicycling during daylight hours.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument offers a number of Ranger Programs that will help you to get to know the monument and what you find within its confines. You can learn more about why the Organ Pipe and Saguaro cacti grow where they do (and why they don’t grow elsewhere). Van tours are available, as well as patio talks and evening presentations at the Twin Peaks Campground amphitheater on topics like natural and cultural history. Guided full moon hikes are also offered. The ranger programs are great for those who want to learn more about Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Perfect for folks of all abilities and any weather conditions, scenic drives are an easy way to explore the park. The most popular drive is Ajo Mountain drive. Twenty-one miles long, the drive is on a mostly gravel road that is typically passable by a regular passenger car. The road twists and dips, so RV’s that are over 24 feet long are not allowed. A guidebook regarding the road is available at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. Puerto Blanco Drive is the park’s other popular road. Offering a 37-mile drive, the road is offers excellent views and information on the ecology and culture of the Sonoran Desert.
During your visit to Organ Pipe National Monument, exploring the park on foot will allow you the opportunity to get a close-up view of the park’s succulents. The National Monument offers “The I Hike for Health” program which is a virtual scavenger hunt. You will be rewarded for your efforts and accomplishing certain distances. Information about the rules and a hiking log can be found at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. The National Monument has a number of trails to explore, offering plenty of opportunity to enjoy the area.
A popular activity for visitors to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is to go horseback riding on some of the park’s trails. While not all hiking trails are open for equestrians, there are plenty to choose from. For example, you can enjoy a short walk along the Campground Perimeter Trail, which is a one mile loop. Seeking a longer adventure on horseback? You can check out the eight mile Lost Cabin Mine Trail or the 16-mile Old County Road Trail. During your journey, enjoy the amazing scenery of the park. Be sure to drink plenty of water to remain hydrated.