Panther Peak And Picacho Peak

Spending one more day in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park just west of Tucson, Arizona, Zosia Zgolak and I hiked up Panther Peak on 10 April 2018.  Using the route description from, we started hiking from Panther Peak Wash trailhead which can be reached as follows:

If driving southeast from Phoenix along the I-10, take Exit 246 and drive southwest along North Cortaro Road for 3.1 kilometres before turning west onto West Ina Road.  If driving northwest from Tucson along the I-10, take Exit 248 and drive west along West Ina Road for about 3.7 kilometres to reach the same intersection with North Cortaro Road.  Continue west along West Ina Road for an additional 0.6 kilometres and turn south onto North Wade Road.  In about 1 kilometre, veer right (west) onto West Picture Rocks Road and drive for another 3.9 kilometres to a small pullout on the north side of the road.

We started hiking along Panther Peak Wash for about 1.5 kilometres before making a beeline for the obvious access gully on the south side of Panther Peak.  Despite having to avoid an abundance of cacti and prickly bushes, off-trail hiking was not too difficult here.  Upon reaching the access gully, we were delighted to find a good trail running up to the saddle between Panther Peak and nearby Safford Peak.  The trail actually continues all the way to the top of Panther Peak, and we had no issues getting there.

On descent, we returned to the saddle and followed the trail back down to the bottom of the access gully.  Instead of retracing our steps cross-country from there, we stayed on the good trail and found that it eventually intersects with Panther Peak Wash only about 800 metres further west of where we initially left it.  Turning left, we followed the wash back to the trailhead under an increasingly hot sun.
The temperature was nice and cool early in the morning. Panther Peak is visible at distant right as Sonny starts hiking along the trail.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Even though the wash was mostly flat, the loose gravel felt rather sluggish to walk through. The route to Panther Peak climbs up the obvious gully and the right-hand upper slope.
Safest place to rest or poop! Some crows are curiously perched on the tops of several saguaro cacti.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Here comes the sun...and the heat! The morning sun illuminates Wasson Peak (left) to the south.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Not terrible bushwhacking, but watch your step nonetheless! Zosia leaves the trail and makes a beeline toward the access gully.
Not that surprising to find a trail...this is the USA after all! Zosia finds a good trail going up the access gully.
This is one nasty mother-f**ker! Here is a close-up look at a jumping cholla whose segmented stems easily separate when an animal or person inadvertently brushes up against its barbed spines.

Very foreshortened view here--it's a longer hike than it looks!

Zosia climbs up the final slope before the top of Panther Peak.


We're standing as stiff as cacti! Zosia and Sonny reach the summit of Panther Peak (1034 metres).
The second peak still shows on my GPS map! A rock quarry lies to the west of Panther Peak.  The bump on the left side of the quarry is the sole survivor of what used to be known as Twin Peaks.
Had I done my research properly, we could have bagged Safford Peak later in the day but not from this connecting ridge. The silhouette of Safford Peak partially hides the city of Tucson to the east.
The encroaching development at right is a stark reminder of how small and precious is Saguaro National Park. Wasson Peak (right) stands out among the Tucson Mountains to the south.
Baboquivari Peak is over 75 kilometres away while Kitt Peak is about 59 kilometres away. Visible on the southwest horizon are Baboquivari Peak (left of centre) and the white observatories on Kitt Peak (right).
Even on this trail, watch where you step! Zosia follows the trail down from the access gully.
Ouch! Sonny stops to pick a cactus spine out of his foot.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

I just pulled one out a few minutes earlier...son of a b*tch! Pieces of jumping cholla have a tendency to get stuck on inattentive hikers.  The cholla's spines are incredibly hard to pull out once they become embedded.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Be careful trying to stay near the shady trees and bushes--they're nasty to touch as well! Under a hot sun, Zosia trudges back to the trailhead along Panther Peak Wash.
A very easy half-day hike. Total Distance:  8.6 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  4 hours 17 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  285 metres

GPX Data

Zosia and I had originally planned to visit Picacho Peak State Park on a subsequent day, but because we finished our Panther Peak hike so early, it made more sense to squeeze in an ascent of Picacho Peak later that afternoon.  After returning to our car, we drove to the small park which is located right beside the I-10 about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson (take Exit 219).  After paying the park entrance fee ($7 USD per vehicle), we stopped at one of the day use areas to have lunch before heading to the Hunter trailhead which is the shortest access to Picacho Peak.

Temperatures were soaring by the time we started hiking up Hunter trail, and I was already feeling weary just from the heat.  We got a bit of a reprieve from the hot sun as we climbed up along the shady base of Picacho Peak's north-facing cliffs.  Unfortunately, we were back in the sun again for good once we reached a high saddle a little west of the summit.  Strangely, the trail descends very steeply down the south side of the saddle before traversing to a junction with Sunset Vista trail which is a longer and probably less popular approach.

Beyond the junction, the trail resumes its climb to the summit, and there are at least three steep sections where cables and fencing (ie. via ferratas) have been installed to assist hikers who may be spooked by the surprising exposure at these locations.  Overall, the via ferratas had the same feel as some amusement park rides, and I could not help thinking that the park might have saved itself (and hikers) a lot of work by simply building a single via ferrata going up the cliffs back near the high saddle.

In any case, Zosia and I reached the top of Picacho Peak without any mishaps, but with the hot sun bearing down on us, we stayed only long enough to snap a few photographs before retreating to a shady cliff just below the summit to take a short break.  Other than enduring sweltering heat, our subsequent return trip via the same route was largely uneventful.

Upon returning to our car, we drove to one of the park's campgrounds and enjoyed a much-needed and refreshing shower before hitting the highway.
I'm already sweating hard! Sonny starts up the trail to Picacho Peak early in the afternoon.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

The good thing about the temperatures being so hot? The trail isn't crowded! Newman Peak can be seen across the interstate highway (I-10) in this view looking back toward the park headquarters (left of centre).
Still very warm here, but the shade helps! Zosia finds some relief from the hot sun while hiking below the north-facing cliffs of Picacho Peak.
This will be the last bit of shade until just below the summit... Zosia hugs another set of cliffs as she climbs up to a high saddle (centre).
They shoulda just built a via ferrata up these cliffs! A bench and interpretive sign are situated on the high saddle.  The summit of Picacho Peak is visible above the cliffs.
Climbing back up this way later in the afternoon is gonna suck big time! Sonny drops steeply down the far side of the high saddle.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

But the cables do get hot in the sun--bring gloves! The steel cables help immensely with the descent of this steep section.
This is where the "hike" starts to get interesting... The trail resumes climbing upward on the south side of the peak.
Not quite aid-climbing...but it's close! Steel cables and wire fencing provide a measure of safety as Zosia climbs up this steep section of the route.
I shake my little tush on the catwalk... It is hard to see in this photograph, but near the top just right of centre is a catwalk leading to easier terrain below the summit.
There's some exposure here, so this ain't for novices! Aided by fixed cables, Zosia ascends a steep cliff band.
It's insane to be up here when it's this hot! Zosia and Sonny stand on the summit of Picacho Peak (1023 metres).

The shower facilities in the park sure look appealing right about now...

The summit provides an aerial view of the park's facilities at bottom.  Newman Peak sits to the north across the I-10.


Hmmm...I wonder what they grow on these farm lands... Farm land and the Santa Catalina Mountains are the most remarkable features to the southeast.
Got nuts? Or ice cream?? An antelope squirrel appears to be curious about a couple of intruders just below the summit.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Why didn't they build a zip line from the summit to the trailhead?? Zosia carefully descends the steep cliff band with the fixed cables.

The showers were well-worth the $7 entrance fee!

Here is a final look at Picacho Peak from near one of the campgrounds.  The summit is on the far left.