The main drive from Phoenix to Tucson, is along Interstate, I-10. This long and straight divided highway, is a paved strip surrounded by desert landscapes. Off in the horizon the jagged and curved desert mountains rise, while below along the flat strip of land grow the mesquite and palo verde trees.
About halfway through this drive, the bold presence of Picacho Peak greets drivers passing by making them do a double take at this tall and bewildered peak .
This mountain is home to the Picacho Peak State Park, where there are numerous hiking trails, campsites, and picnic areas but the main attraction is the Hunter Trail, the most direct route up to the top of this striking peak.
This 5.5 mile hike up to the top is hard and requires gloves. There are numerous spot (especially along the last portion) where hikers will have to use the mounted steel cables along the side of the trail to pull themselves up and having gloves will come in so useful.
The thrill and fun of this hike is due to the fact that it is hard. With the trail layout and having to use cables for gripping action, the inner kid in you comes out as this feels like nature’s jungle gym.
This trail has four sections:
- Section One: Is a moderate hike, ending at the saddle.
- Section Two: Is a steeper section behind the mountain that lowers you back down. (so you loose most of the elevation you had gained in the first section)
- Section Three: Is a hard hike back up the requires gloves for holding onto steel cables due to such steep sections.
- Section Four: The top. The relaxing section.
The First Section
This trail begins easy enough as it heads towards the base of the mountain, along a gradual incline. The bright green saguaros stand proudly in between the dry scrubby desert bushes as this trusty dirt path weaves hikers through the landscape in a series of gradual switchbacks.
During the spring it’s common to see visitors hiking around this first section to enjoy the sweet smell of Arizona wildflowers as they blossom along this section.
Within about 15 minutes you’ll find yourself along a carved-out portion of the mountain. While the peak still stands tall behind you, you are along a section of the mountain, where a small rock opening is at.
The trail now begins to veer towards the right and within 2 minutes you’ll find yourself at the saddle.
The Second Section
From the saddle, as you look down at the continuing portion of the pathway, this trail drastically changes. The passage is now aggressively carved out the mountain side and is steep. Looking like a brown jagged uncovered tunnel the trail leads hikers straight down, undoing any elevation gained during the first section.
Here are two pictures of this section. On the left is what it looks like heading down. On the right is what it looks like coming back up.
The Third Section
Or what I like to call the Gauntlet and you will definitely want gloves for this section.
As you now are walking along the backside of the mountain, this path is going to start to feel like an adult size jungle gym and the views are going to become breathtaking. On this side of the mountain, that noisy and busy freeway can’t be seen. Instead, laid out before your eyes in nothing but the green land, blue skies and soaring turkey vultures gliding in the air.
The third section begins by ascending higher to the peak and has short switchbacks. In contrast to the first section, this side of the mountain is a lot rocker and steeper. At times, the trail is right at the edge of the mountain where the park has added fencing to keep hikers safe.
One of the adventurous sections of this hike occurs as hikers emerge out of an inner canyon portion of the trail. As hikers enter this canyon area, the only way out is by hiking up a tall section that is so steep, cables are on both ends, and requires hikers to pull themselves up, in order to continue.
Just about two minutes after this obstacle, the trail has one last remaining piece for you. Although, not as hard.
Along the side of the rock portion of the mountain, there is another steep and narrow section. In fact, this section is so narrow, that a plank of wood has been bolted down to the rock, for hikers to step on. This section is very small, only about one step or so…but you will be relying on that plank of wood as a support from not slipping down.
After this – all you have left is a small section that requires just a bit of scrambling, and before you know it, the trail curves up and leads you right up to the top!
The Fourth Section
This is the easiest of all sections, seeing as how it’s the top.
Time for all your hard work to pay off! Once at this spot, looking out at vast shades of green and brown that make up our Sonoraon desert, you will feel so connected to this land.
After making that unforgettable journey up, the appreciation for how special our home feels victorious. Spend some time here, relaxing and breathing in the fresh air.
You’ve definitely earned it!