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 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 staying at 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.
Getting to Picacho Peak State Park probably could not be easier. It’s just off Interstate 10 about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. 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. Interstate 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 park entrance. Picacho and Red Rock are the closest towns. 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, there is parking near the Sunset Day Use Area, the visitors’ center, and a few other places.
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. All the sites are paved and level. Some are back-in and some are pull-through. Each site has an electrical hookup, and Wi-Fi is available. In our opinion, if you have AC and Wi-Fi, you don’t need much else to be very comfortable. But there’s more. For your outdoor pleasure, each site also has picnic table and fire ring. A few sites have ramadas. Drinking water is available at the RV dump station. The campgrounds also have two restroom/shower areas and two large group picnic areas.
The Children’s Cave Trail is a wide and flat walkway that runs a quarter-mile through the desert near the visitors’ 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.
A very short loop trail goes around a number of monuments which 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.
If you do not own a dirt bike, ATV, or other off-road vehicle, you might 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.
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.
You knew we had to get to this one eventually. 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 visitors’ 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.
This part of the park is at the end of the 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.