A century ago, Picacho State Recreation Area was a gold mining town with a population of 100. Today, the area preserves a look at the unique desert scenery of southern California. The Colorado River winds through the park and offers a beautiful venue for boating and fishing.
The park is home to diverse wildlife. Campers often catch glimpses of wild burros, bighorn sheep, and migratory waterfowl. Bald and golden eagles frequently soar overhead.
Visitors can hike throughout the park and see many natural formations like the plug dome volcanic outcropping — formed by volcanic lava as it hardened on top of a volcanic vent — at Picacho Peak. They can also explore the remains of Picacho town’s stamp mill where ore was crushed at the height of mining operations.
Because of its desert location, the climate at Picacho State Recreation Area varies to different extremes. In the winter, it can be as cold as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, temperatures can reach highs of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Rangers suggest that the best time for a temperate visit is mid-October through the month of April.
Picacho Main Campground features 54 primitive family sites without hookups. Each site includes a fire ring and picnic table with access to drinking water, chemical toilets, and solar showers.
Picacho State Recreation Area is located in the Colorado River Basin 25 miles north of Yuma, Arizona, on California’s southeastern border.
If you are traveling to the park using GPS, choose the route via Picacho Road from Winterhaven, California. The alternate route from Ogilby Road is unpaved and accessible only by 4x4 vehicles.
The trip into the park begins on Picacho Road and weaves through 24 miles of beautiful desert landscapes. Only the first six miles of this road are paved. The remaining 18 miles are dirt but are typically navigable by car and by vehicles towing small trailers. Those traveling in the summer months should be cautious of sudden flash floods due to summer rains that temporarily wash out portions of the road. Park rangers suggest drivers carry extra water, fuel, and other essential supplies.
A speed limit of 15mph is strictly enforced throughout the park property. Vehicles may only park in designated camping and parking areas. Overnight parking for boaters is available at the Lower Boat Dock across from the group canoe campsites.
Off-highway vehicles are not permitted within Picacho State Recreation Area. All vehicles operating in the park must be licensed and street-legal in the state of California.
Mountain bikes are allowed on park roadways. As per state laws, all bikers under the age of 18 must wear a helmet at all times.
Picacho Main Campground features 54 family campsites. Sites do not offer hookups, but a sanitation station is available. Generator use is allowed from 10am-8pm. The campground does not accept reservations and is first come, first served. Each site includes a picnic table and a fire ring with access to drinking water, chemical toilets, and a solar shower. Sites are limited to eight people and three vehicles. Pets are allowed on leash and must be kept in your vehicle at night.
Fishing in the Colorado River is the perfect activity year round at Picacho State Recreation Area. Anglers of all ages can spend the day chasing the perfect catch. The most frequent finds are black bass, striped bass, bluegill, and channel and flathead catfish. Find a place to set up along the shore or fish on the water by canoe or powerboat. All fishermen over the age of 16 looking to sink a line require a valid fishing license.
Its remote location makes Picacho State Recreation Area an ideal venue for viewing native wildlife. Look for bald and golden eagles overhead as well as thousands of varieties of migratory waterfowl like ducks, geese, ibis, and cormorants, on the river. As you hike through the park trail system, keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, mountain lions, wild burros, bobcats, coyotes, and raccoons. Beavers and muskrats live near the river, and snakes, lizards, and amphibians live among the desert rocks.
It’s always a good time for a picnic at Picacho State Recreation Area. If you’re visiting the park in the summer months, it is best to go early in the day when temperatures are cooler. Mosquitoes are normally active from early March through late October, so park rangers recommend wearing protective clothing and using an insect repellent. Enjoy the use of picnic tables at the campground, Upper Dock, and Lower Dock areas as well as at boat-in campgrounds along the river.
The park trail system has a hike and view for every visitor. The Stamp Mill Trail guides hikers to the former site of Picacho town and to the remains of the stamp mill where ore was crushed at the height of mining operations. Along the way, enjoy views of the Colorado River and volcanic scenery. For a unique desert formation, hike the trail to Red Rock Canyon where you’ll find a dry waterfall with eye-catching red and yellow volcanic tuff. For an easy hike, explore the Railroad Canyon Trail to join with a historic narrow gauge railroad bed.
Visitors to Picacho State Recreation Area can explore the Colorado River by shallow draft powerboat, canoe, and kayak. The river is also a popular destination for water skiing. Be mindful of the river’s shifting sandbars. Park rangers recommend autumn and early spring as the best times for a quiet trip down the scenic river. Five boat-in group campgrounds are located at various points along the river shore. Overnight parking for boaters is available at the Lower Boat Dock across from the group canoe campsites.
The Colorado River provides the perfect location for a cool dip into the water on a hot desert day. Swimming is permitted anywhere along the river shore, but visitors should be advised that lifeguards are not on duty. Swim at your own risk. A dirt road provides access to 4S Beach which offers a venue for water play along with access to restrooms. Campers can walk or drive from the campground to the Upper and Lower Dock area for river access.