Surrounded by wide-open spaces with no buildings in sight, Picacho Peak Wilderness is a perfect destination for RV lovers wanting to enjoy some peace and quiet in a desert environment. Located in Imperial County, California, Picacho Peak Wilderness is a relatively small wilderness area comprised of 8,858 acres that vary in terrain from desert washes to mountainous peaks.
Originally designated in 1994, visitors to the area are few and far between, but those who do are usually adventure seekers who are looking for dry-camping on BLM controlled land. Since the BLM manages this wilderness, you will be able to camp here free of charge, but vehicles must stay on areas that have already been disturbed in order to protect the environment.
You will have to bring all of your own supplies to Picacho Peak Wilderness but the effort is well worth it. There are many old hiking trails to explore, wildlife to view, stars to gaze at, and hunting to do. If you are looking for more activities you can also head to the nearby North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, the Salton Sea, or the Imperial Wildlife National Refuge. Picacho Peak Wilderness is open all year round, but during the summertime temperatures can be quite extreme.
Compared to many areas of Californian wilderness, Picacho Peak Wilderness is fairly easy to get to. There is one main entrance to the area that is found on the eastern side of the Ben Hulse Highway. Once you turn off the highway, all you have to do is follow Black Mountain Road until you see the signs for the wilderness area. There is no direct road access to the main area of the wilderness, so be prepared to park your RV and walk-in if you want to explore the majority of Picacho Peak Wilderness.
Ignore any of the unmarked roads in and around the wilderness as your RV could easily get stuck due to the soft sand. It is vital that you bring all of your own supplies for your trip as you will be quite far from any stores or amenities. If you need to get any supplies before you reach the wilderness you should consider stopping at Brawley (around 49 miles away), Yuma (around 50 miles away), and Blythe (around 53 miles away).
You are able to park anywhere that is near the road, but remember that motorized vehicles are not allowed in the designated wilderness area.
If you want to go dry-camping on BLM land, you can't beat Picacho Peak Wilderness. However, if you fancy some more amenities but still want to be relatively close-by you should consider staying at Picacho State Recreation Area.
Although it is quite the trek to get there (the road to the campground is mostly gravel), the main campground at Picacho State Recreation Area features 54 RV friendly campsites, all of which are primitive with no electric hookups. While most site pads will be sand, some do have concrete pads from years prior before it was designated as a state recreation area. Other amenities within the campground include a solar shower, pit toilets, composting toilets, and water collection points.
There are no reservations available at Picacho State Recreation Area Campground as all sites can only be used on a first-come, first-served basis. During the monsoon season be wary of staying here as flash flooding can be quite common.
If you want to have access to more luxurious amenities you will have to stay at one of the private campgrounds near Picacho Peak Wilderness. Most of the private campgrounds are located to the south in Yuma, but there are also some along the Ben Hulse Highway.
Most of the private campgrounds in the area will be equipped with level sites and electric hookups at the very least. Some will also have the option of staying at a full hookup site. However, these are usually more expensive.
No matter where you stay outside of the wilderness area, you will have to drive over 45 minutes as this is a remote area of the country. Make sure you are prepared to pack up your RV and not set up camp for days if you want to spend time in the wilderness area but not stay there.
Hiking is by far the most popular activity for visitors to Picacho Peak Wilderness. There are over 8000 acres for you to explore in the area, including many miles of old unmaintained trails that are still visible and useable despite being abandoned.
If you are feeling brave you can try and scale some of the peaks to get a stunning view of the surrounding area. If you do decide to go hiking, remember to pack water, food, and tell people your plans.
Out in this wilderness area, there will be little light pollution, which in turn means that you will be able to view the night sky perfectly during non-cloudy days. A telescope will be the best way to view the stars overhead, but if you don't have one then you can make do without.
The open skies over Picacho Peak Wilderness will also help you to spot shooting stars since there will be nothing obstructing your views. If you get the chance to see some incredible stars, make sure that you photograph them as a little keepsake of your visit.
The different environments throughout Picacho Peak Wilderness allow visitors to view numerous types of wildlife. During the brief rain periods, water is captured in the Carrizo Wash and eventually provides the animals of the park with water.
This is a great area to do some wildlife viewing when there is water around since animals such as bighorn sheep, burros, and wild horses will flock to the area to have a drink. Also, keep an eye out for desert tortoises as they are known to be seen within the wilderness area.
If you are looking for another wilderness area to explore during your time in southeast California, consider checking out North Algodones Dunes Wilderness. Located around 28 miles away, North Algodones Dunes Wilderness is most commonly known as being the home to the Imperial Sand Hills National Natural Landmark.
This extremely large dune patch is around 40 miles long and provides visitors with some fantastic OHV driving opportunities in over 118,000 acres of the wilderness.
For a completely different experience in nature, you can also head to the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike most of the area near Picacho Peak Wilderness, the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge on the lower Colorado River consists mainly of wetlands. This change in the environment can be a welcome relief from the harsh desert and it will also give you the chance to see some different animals and wildlife.
If you want to see the best views at the refuge check out The Painted Desert Trail where you can see a beautiful view of the Colorado River.
Once a naval base, Slab City is an area located near the Salton Sea that is known for attracting thousands of campers during the wintertime who squat on the land. Commonly referred to as "the last free place in America" there is no local government in the area.
There are many famous art pieces worth examining out here, including the Salvation Mountain art sculpture by Leonard Knight. If you are wanting to spend a bit more time in the area you can also park your RV and do some dry-camping like the many other visitors.