Picacho Peak: Hiking to the Summit via Hunter Trail

Several years back, we drove past Picacho Peak during our first visit to Arizona and wondered if it could be climbed. When we moved to Phoenix, we finally made the trip to Picacho Peak State Park and made the hike to the summit via Hunter Trail. The steep incline and bit of scrambling made this a challenging, but fun hike with incredibly rewarding views.

Early morning in Picacho Peak State Park
Early morning in Picacho Peak State Park

Getting to Hunter Trailhead

Picacho Peak State Park lies off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. You really can’t miss the jagged figure of Picacho Peak towering above the flat desert valley. When driving eastbound on I-10, the entrance to the park will be off to the right. It was well marked.

A short ways down the road, you’ll come to the park entrance where the visitor’s center and pay station are located. The visitor’s center is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. If you arrive before or after that time, there is a station where you can self-pay and fill out your pass. The cost is $7 per vehicle. Keep your permit displayed in your vehicle. Check the park site for additional information and updates.

If you look reaaaal close, you can see the ramadas and visitor's center below
If you look reaaaal close, you can see the ramadas and visitor’s center below

We arrived just as the sun was rising in order to begin our hike before it got too hot. After paying the entrance fee, we continued down the road into the park, turning left towards Barrett Loop and Saguaro Ramada. There are restrooms and trailhead parking there. If the lot there is full, Hunter Trail can also be accessed from Harrington Loop by taking Calloway Trail towards Barrett Loop.

The start of Hunter Trail
The start of Hunter Trail

Picacho Peak via Hunter Trail at a Glance

Cost: $7 per vehicle for park entry

Hike Type: Difficult out-and-back trail

Distance: 3.2 miles round trip

Duration: ­­2.5-4 hours depending on pace and time spent at the top

What to Bring: Sturdy shoes, gloves, plenty of water, camera, snacks, sunscreen/hat, credit card/cash (must use cash if arriving before the visitor’s center opens), camera.

Hiking Picacho Peak via Hunter Trail

The hike up Picacho Peak on Hunter Trail is short but rated as difficult. During hotter times of year and towards the middle of the day, the heat can make the trek up pretty brutal. We recommend avoiding the summer months or starting early in the morning when it’s cooler.

From the start, we ascended somewhat steeply up the rocky trail. As we neared the base of the peak, the switchbacks became steeper. We were glad that the sun was still behind Picacho Peak, casting a massive shadow over us.

After 30-ish minutes, we reached the saddle of the peak. The views were beautiful and there was a little bench perfect for a water break. After all the work to get up there, the trail from the saddle descends steeply down the southern side of the peak. This is where the fun really began!

The view from the saddle of Picacho Peak
The view from the saddle of Picacho Peak

From this point on, there is a series of cables, fences, and planks along the trail to assist hikers as they make their way up the peak. Some suggest bringing work gloves to prevent burns and blisters that may occur from holding the metal cables; however, we didn’t ever need them on this cool winter morning.

There are some sections that take some scrambling with your hands pulling you up and others that follow a narrow walkway close to the cliff edge. These sections may require you to take your time and use a little extra caution.

Some pretty steep drops along the trail! Thank goodness for the fencing!
Some pretty steep drops along the trail!

After a total of 1.6 miles, we found ourselves standing on the top of Picacho Peak. The 360˚ views were amazing! After taking in the views of the valley, we made our way back down the way we came.

Things to Keep In Mind While Hiking Picacho Peak

Wildlife: As with many desert trails in the Phoenix area, rattlesnakes, other snakes, and scorpions are present. Be aware and use a little extra caution if hiking with children or dogs.

Pets: Pets are allowed but must be leashed. Some sections of this trail may not be suited for your pet due to steep, rocky sections – use your best judgement.

Gloves: On hot days, the metal cables along the trail can become very hot. Some people and park rangers recommended gloves on hot days or if you feel the need for extra protection on your hands.

The cables along the trail helped us climb the steepest sections.
The cables along the trail helped us climb the steepest sections.

Facilities: The park is well-maintained with access to campgrounds, ramadas, trash cans, restrooms, playgrounds, etc.

Water: No matter the time of year, bring plenty of water per person for your hike. There are places to fill your water, but this desert landscape is frequently prone to water shortages, so filling is not always available.

Shade: Unless you are shaded by the peak in the morning or evening, there isn’t much shade along the trail. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and/or a hat to protect yourself from the sun.

Reaching the Summit: The proximity to the cliff’s edge and the scrambling required to reach the summit deter some hikers. Hikers can also reach the summit via the Sunset Vista Trail, which climbs a little more gradually, but does not bypass the last section that requires some scrambling. This other trail is 2.6 miles one way.

Picacho Peak Overlook

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