Back in the 19th century, the area around Picacho Peak was something of a desert transportation hub. The Bufferland Overland Stagecoach had a stop near here, and the first Transcontinental Railroad passed not far from here. Additionally, in April 1862, there was a Civil War battle here. Union cavalry from California skirmished with Confederate scouts from Texas, and three men died.
Today’s visitors to Picacho Peak State Park will not find Wild West stagecoaches or people in uniform carrying muskets. But they will get an up-close look at the fragile and beautiful Sonora Desert. Other popular activities include hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and enjoying a ramada. More on that later.
Picacho Peak State Park is also a good place to take your RV. There are over 80 campsites at the foot of a towering peak. The sites have no water hookups because camping in the desert with a handy and endless water supply is just wrong. However, the RV loops do have electrical hookups, because camping in the desert without AC is just excruciating.
While you are in the area, take some time to visit some of the other state parks in the area such as McFarland State Historic Park about 30 miles away and Catalina State Park about 48 miles away. In addition, Saguaro National Park is 33 miles away and features some of the most impressive sections of the Sonoran Desert.
Getting to Picacho Peak State Park could not be easier. It’s just off I-10 about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. In fact, Tucson is just under 40 miles to the southeast and Phoenix is 75 miles to the northwest. So, although the park is in the desert, it’s not in the middle-of-nowhere desert. That’s a nice bonus when you are in your RV. I-10 is a six-lane divided highway, and since the nearest tree is across state lines, visibility is excellent.
Gas and groceries are available at the store near the park entrance. Picacho and Red Rock are the closest towns. Picacho is 11 miles to the northwest and Red Rock is eight miles to the southeast. However, if you want to stock up on RV camping supplies, you’ll need to do so in Tucson or Phoenix.
Inside Picacho Peak State Park, the roads are not difficult to drive on with a large rig, but it takes some maneuvering to get in and out of some of the smaller campsites. However, most of them are made for RVs and trailers over 50 feet long, so there should not be an issue with any motorhome.
The park has plenty of parking near the Sunset Day Use Area, the Visitors Center, and a few other places.
Take advantage of the sunny, temperate climate when you choose the spectacular Picacho / Tucson NW KOA for your next adventure. The campground is located between the cultural centers of Phoenix and Tucson with plenty of green space, outdoor adventure, and mountain scenery. Your options in and around the area run the gamut from casinos, shopping, wining and dining to hiking, biking, birding, golf, and other recreational activities and much more. There’s also plenty to enjoy directly at the campground including restrooms and showers, laundry facilities, a heated pool and clubhouse, a pet area, and a fantastic on-site steakhouse.
Gila Bend, Arizona is right in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, so if you’re on your way to Phoenix, or to Theba to see the ancient petroglyphs, you might consider breaking up your journey and stopping at Gila Bend KOA off I-8 and AZ-85. Deluxe patio sites welcome rigs up to 80 feet and feature full hookups, a gas BBQ, an outdoor fireplace, and up to 50-amp service. Water/electric sites are available for smaller motorhomes. Cook healthy meals at the Kamping Kitchen and lounge by the heated pool while gazing at the stars. Cable TV and Wi-Fi are available, and pets are welcome.
These three loops are just off the main park road and on the opposite side of the park from the Visitors Center. So, the 85 sites are both easily accessible and very quiet. Four of these sites are ADA-accessible. Length limits range from 53 to 109 feet long so make sure to check the site’s length limit when booking your reservation. All the sites are paved and mostly level. Some are back-in and some are pull-through. Each site has an electrical hookup, and Wi-Fi is available.
For your outdoor pleasure, each site also has a picnic table and fire ring. A few sites have ramadas. Drinking water is available at the RV dump station. The campgrounds also have two restrooms with hot showers as well as two large group picnic areas. Each campsite can accommodate up to 12 people with four vehicles, so these are larger than most campgrounds. Dogs and cats are welcome as long as you keep them restrained at all times during your stay.
Picacho Peak State Park also has four group sites for larger families or groups larger than 12 people. The Raven Group Area and Roadrunner Group Area are near the Family Campground and can accommodate from 10 to 40 people. Both of these have three campsites, each with a picnic table and campfire ring with a grill for cooking on. There are no utilities and they are for tents only, so you have to leave your RV in the parking lot. Restrooms and showers are within walking distance.
The Quail Group Area is just to the west of the Family Campground and can accommodate up to 100 people with eight to 12 tents. There are eight campsites with tables and fire rings as well as four ramadas with four tables each and a large BBQ grill. There are two pit toilets and water spigots as well. The Jackrabbit Group Area is just to the west of the Quail Group Area and is divided into East and West sections. Each section has ramadas, tables, fire rings, and barbecue grills as well as space for at least a dozen tents. Each section also has a pit toilet and water access. Reservations are needed and can be made by phone up to a year in advance.
This part of the park is at the end of Park Road. It features ample parking and about a half-dozen sheltered picnic areas. Most of these picnic areas have multiple tables and at least one outdoor barbecue grill. The parking and relatively flat land make the Sunset Day Use Area an excellent jumping-off point for people who want to explore nature on foot or in an off-road motor vehicle. Portable toilets and the Sunset Vista trailhead are here as well.
There are four of these group picnic areas in Picacho Peak State Park, and reservations are available. Each area has four sheltered picnic tables, outdoor grills, electric lights, several 110-volt power outlets, and a drinking water spigot. The Ironwood Ramada, which is near the Visitor Center, also has a fire ring. Parking, restrooms, and other facilities are all close by. Altogether, these ramadas are a nice place to have a party with the Sonoran Desert and Picacho Peak as the backdrop.
Picacho Peak State Park has several hiking trails for you to explore during your RV vacation. Even in fall and winter, the sun is hot here during the day. As a rule of thumb, take one quart of water per person per mile. The nearly three-mile Sunset Vista trail is pretty nice. It is flat until hikers reach Picacho Peak, then it gets quite steep. It ends in a nice scenic overlook. If you want more of a challenge, try the two-mile Hunter’s Trail. It goes almost straight up Picacho Peak and ends at the Sunset Vista scenic overlook.
If you do not own a dirt bike, ATV, or another type of off-road vehicle, you might want to consider renting one and towing it behind your rig. Desert off-roading is a lot of fun. The Picacho Peak area has a nice combination of flat desert floors and elevated areas. Check with park rangers before you set out. The Sonoran Desert has a very delicate ecosystem, so some areas are off-limits to humans or vehicles.
This is a lovely, short loop that goes around a number of monuments that commemorate the area’s past. Some are quite impressive, like the towering rock Barrett Memorial. Others are controversial, like the plaques regarding the aforementioned Battle of Picacho Pass, which was the westernmost Civil War Battle. A short nature trail is adjacent to the Memorial Loop. Wildflowers are pretty here in early spring, especially following a wet winter. Also, look for coyotes and other small desert animals.
The Children’s Cave Trail is a wide and flat walkway that runs a quarter-mile through the desert near the Visitor Center. The Children’s Cave itself is about halfway down that trail. This “cave” is actually a rock outcropping which is just high enough for a child to walk underneath without ducking. There’s also a very nice playground nearby, along with restrooms and other facilities. Grown-ups might like exploring some of the short, unnamed, and unmarked trails which branch out from this location.