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Visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona

Text "Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument" overlayed on pink and purple sunset, silhouetting tall saguaro cacti and mountains in Organ Pipe

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the only place in the US where the cactus grows, and Sonoran Desert paradise. It is one of Arizona’s 22 national park units and borders Mexico, where the desert continues South. Hiking, biking and scenic drives are just some of the ways to enjoy the wilderness. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.

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Visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Part of the Sonoran Desert, showcasing myriad plants and animals, with over 28 species of cacti (most notably its namesake, the organ pipe cactus, and saguaro), Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a park encompassing 516 square miles of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. It was established in 1937 by Franklin D. Roosevelt and over 95% of the park is designated Wilderness, protecting the diverse and, in some cases, endangered species found in this part of Arizona.

In addition to being a National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, the area was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1976.

The organ pipe cactus grows mostly in Mexico, and in few locations in the US. The National Monument designation protects most of the range in which it grows in the country.

Organ pipe cacti bloom with lavender-white flowers in the heat of May, June and July, with the flowers opening after sunset. Many cacti flowers only open at night to protect from the harsh sun in the area.

Large green and yellow organ pipe cactus with 10-12 arms stretching up into cloudy blue sky

Visitor map of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Everything included in this guide is pinned to the map below. Note that many areas of the park are very remote and you will lose cell phone service; you may want to download the map for offline viewing.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument visitor information

Kris Eggle Visitor Center

The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is the hub for the park and near the northern boundary of the national monument. There are restrooms, services and rangers to help you plan your visit. The visitor center was renamed and dedicated in 2003 to honor National Park Ranger Kris Eggle, who was shot and killed in pursuit of members of a drug cartel along the border.

Basic visitor information

  • Entrance fees: $25 per vehicle or $15 per pedestrian/bicyclist; good for seven days. Free with Interagency Annual passes, Golden Age, Senior, Access lifetime and Military Annual passes.
  • Internet and cell service: Free public wifi is available at the visitor center; cell service is intermittent throughout the park area (and at times will switch to service towers in Mexico, depending on your provider).
  • Fires: Fires are only permitted at Twin Peaks campground and only in campground grills. They are prohibited elsewhere throughout the park, including the Alamo Campground.
  • Gathering dead or downed wood is prohibited.
  • Cacti and snakes are protected – do not touch or harm any.
  • Firearms are permitted, following state and federal law. More information is available here.

Accessibility at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The visitor center and visitor center trail are wheelchair and scooter accessible. Additional accessibility information is available at the visitor center itself and on the park website here.

Pets/dogs at Organ Pipe

Leashed pets are allowed only on the Visitor Center Trail, Palo Verde Trail and Campground Perimeter trails. They are allowed on roads, in campgrounds and picnic areas. They are not allowed (leashed or not) on other trails or in the backcountry. Be careful with pets and cacti, as they can pick up thorns as well.

Getting to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Here are the distances to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument from nearby locations.

  • Phoenix to Organ Pipe: 145 miles
  • Tucson to Organ Pipe: 143 miles
  • Ajo to Organ Pipe: 33 miles
  • Yuma to Organ Pipe: 190 miles
  • Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) to Organ Pipe: 68 miles

Nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Because Organ Pipe is so remotely located, you will need to rely on nearby areas for facilities. Here’s what you can find nearby, with the distance as measured from the visitor center.

  • Ajo, Arizona (33 miles): motels, laundry, food, gas and services
  • Why, Arizona (22 miles): gas, food, convenience stores, RV parks
  • Lukeville, Arizona (7 miles): convenience store, gas, post office
  • Sonoyta, Mexico (2 miles, plus border crossing): motels, laundry, food, gas and services

Street art style mural of "Why, Arizona" with southwestern landscapes

How long do you need for a visit to Organ Pipe?

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is big enough, with enough trails to keep visitors amused for at least a full day, if not several. If you have the time, you can cover a lot of the trails in three days. But there is still plenty to do, even if it’s just a stop along the highway.

Here are some suggestions, based on how much time you have.

  • 2 hours or less: If you’re visiting on the way to or from Mexico, you can spend a few hours by stopping in to the visitor center, where you can see the park’s 15-minute video and learn about the area. Small hikes are available from the visitor center and nearby Twin Peaks campground.
  • 2-4 hours: With a little more time, you can add in a drive to Quitobaquito Springs (from the 85, not the full loop), and a longer hike in Senita Basin.
  • Full day: You can start the day early with a ranger-led van tour (January-March), or take the full Puerto Blanco loop drive. If you’re up for a hike, take on the longer hikes, like Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon, Victoria Mine or Dripping Springs Mine. 
  • Multi-day (recommended): Camp in the park (or nearby) and you can spend a few days balancing scenic drives and hikes. In season (January-March), be sure to join a ranger-led night program (moonlit hike!).

Weather and when to visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

October through April sees temperate, sunny days with occasional rain and cold nights. It is the ideal time to visit the park, but while temperatures are cooler than summer months, you should still prepare for time in the arid air with extra water and pay close attention to hydration levels. Especially in the middle of winter, expect nights to be quite cold (the area can see freezes and frosts).

May through September is summer, with monsoon season towards the end, in which you can expect brief, but violent and sudden thunderstorms. These can become dangerous very quickly, with flash floods a notable problem. Temperatures can exceed 110°F, with little relief as the sun goes down.

Snow is rare and only seen in the Ajo Mountain ridgeline area.

Bright golden poppies blooming against green grass in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Mexican golden poppies in bloom; late spring and into summer is the ideal season to catch blossoms in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Flash floods in Organ Pipe

Flash floods are extremely dangerous and all visitors should use caution to avoid them. Severe storms bring incredible amounts of water in a short period of time, creating flooding through washes and across roads. Do not enter flood or moving waters, ever.

It doesn’t take much to be very dangerous and, often, deadly. Just six inches of floodwater can knock over an adult and 12 inches can carry away a small car (and two feet of water can take any size vehicle).

Things to do in Organ Pipe National Monument

Hiking in Organ Pipe

Depending on the season and advanced reservations, free hiker shuttles are offered (one-way) between the Twin Peaks campground and Red Tanks Tinaja or Senita Basin trailheads (hike back to the campground).

Even if you visit in the winter, Organ Pipe is still a harsh desert and you should prepare for hikes in this climate. Lots of water and sunscreen are musts, and you should always wear boots (not just closed-toe shoes). Learn more tips for hiking in the desert here.

Trails in Organ Pipe are categorized in three areas: visitor center/campground, Ajo Mountains and Puerto Blanco Mountains. All distances are round-trip.

Visitor Center and Twin Peaks campground trails – Hiking in Organ Pipe

Trail Length Difficulty Description
Visitor Center Trail

(wheelchair and scooter accessible)

.15 mile Easy This small, paved trail is at the visitor center, where you can take a quick lap and learn about the plants of the Sonoran Desert. It’s a good primer to the park so you know a bit more about what you’re looking for.
Campground Perimeter Trail .9 mile Easy Accessed from the Twin Peaks campground, this trail goes literally around the perimeter of the camp area.
Desert View Trail 1.1 miles Easy This is a loop route with views of the Sonoyta Valley and Mexico’s Cubabi Mountains (where you’ll see pink granite).
Palo Verde Trail 2.6 miles Easy This is an out and back (or could be done as one-way) between the visitor center and the Twin Peaks campground.

Ajo Mountain Trails – Hiking in Organ Pipe

Trail Length Difficulty Description
Old Pima County Road 16 miles Easy This is a long, easy trail following an old country road that was abandoned when the 85 was built. Views of Pinkley Peak and desert plants.
Alamo Canyon 1.8 miles Easy Great for birding. This trail is an old dirt road and follows a wash, which you can take to a historic ranch house and corral.
Arch Canyon 1.2 miles Easy Steady climbs on an easy trail with views of the arch; good for birding.
Bull Pasture 3 miles Hard This is a difficult out and back trail with steep grades and exposed cliffs. If you take it, you’ll be rewarded with views of the park and into Mexico.
Estes Canyon-Bull Pasture Trails 2.6 to 3.6 miles Moderate There are three trail options, including Bull Pasture summit (the hardest option). It is relatively flat, lest you choose the summit, with a switchback climb. Goes through several washes (use caution in flash flood season). Great for birding.

Puerto Blanco Mountain Trails – Hiking in Organ Pipe

This trail complex is a series of trails connecting mines and historic roads in the Puerto Blanco mountains. Talk to a ranger about options to combine and connect trails.

Trail Length Difficulty Description
Lost Cabin Mine Trail 8 miles Moderate Moderate trail along an old mining road, with ruins of the old stone mining house and prospecting holes. Views of the Sonoyta Mountains to the south.
Senita Basin Loop 2.9 miles East Easy loop trail with views of the Puerto Blanco Mountains and senita cacti.
Milton Mine 3.2 miles Easy Easy trail leading to a mine operated by Jeff Milton (a legend in Arizona). Great option for sunset views.
Red Tanks Tinaja 1.6 miles Moderate While this moderate trail ends at a natural water collecting basin eroded into the bedrock, don’t drink the water!
Dripping Springs 1 mile Easy Dripping Springs is one of the few natural water sources in the park, with wildlife abound. Do not drink the water. Trail to the ridgeline is difficult.
Dripping Springs Mine 2.8 miles Moderate The Dripping Springs Mine was used by bootleggers during Prohibition; the moderate trail to the mine is littered with saguaro.
Victoria Mine Trail 4.4 miles Easy Accessed from the Twin Peaks campground, this out and back takes you from the camp to the Victoria Mine (a historic silver mine and one of the oldest sites in the park) in the Sonoyta Mountains. Rolling terrain.

Driving in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Because of the sheer size of Organ Pipe, and its desolate nature, exploring by car is your best way to cover ground (and access trailheads). The roads are a combination of graded, gravel roads, and dirt roads suitable for off-roading.

High-clearance vehicles are recommended, and in some areas, 4WD is best. You can check with rangers at the visitor center to get any updates on current road conditions (and closures for border wall construction). Ensure you have a proper spare tire and communicate your plans as much of the park is out of cell service.

Scenic drives in Organ Pipe

There are two loop drives in the park area of Organ Pipe, both on graded gravel roads. But there are additional options for scenic drives in the park. 

Ajo Mountain Drive (21 miles; 2-3 hours round-trip)

Ajo Mountain Drive is the shorter of the two drives, and more suited for smaller vehicles. It goes along the Ajo Range, where you will be able to see desert landscapes and plenty of the namesake organ pipe cactus. There is a free interpretive guide available at the visitor center in English and Spanish.

Camino de Dos Republicas (9.6 miles; 1 hour round-trip)

This road takes you East from the 85, along several washed and to the Dos Lomitas ranch buildings. The road is closed to the public at this point.

Puerto Blanco Drive (41 miles; 4-6 hours round-trip)

The whole of the Puerto Blanco drive can take up to 4 hours, driving around the Puerto Blanco Mountains and portions are incredibly rugged. Some portions are one-way, but you can also drive smaller sections of the road (below). As with the Ajo Mountain drive, you will see all of the Sonoran Desert’s stunning landscapes, including organ pipe cacti and senita.

North Puerto Blanco to Pinkley Peak (10 miles; 45 minutes round-trip)

This is the two-way section of the Puerto Blanco drive in the north. At the turnaround, you can see Valley of the Ajo and Pinkley Peak. Beyond the turnaround, the road is one-way and becomes very rough (4WD and high clearance recommended).

South Puerto Blanco to Quitobaquito (28 miles; 3 hours round-trip)

The southern portion of Puerto Blanco Drive is a two-way road, so if you don’t want to take the whole drive, you can still visit Quitobaquito Spring, directly from the 85. There is a turnoff about a mile north of the Arizona-Mexico border.

Note: due to border wall construction, there is more than usual traffic; reduce speeds and be on the lookout.

South Puerto Blanco to Senita Basin trailhead (7 miles; 2 hours round-trip)

This area has the highest concentration of senita cactus in the park and this is the route to the Senita Basin trailhead, from which many trails can be accessed.

Tougher roads for high-clearance vehicles and 4WD:

Bates Well Road to Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge (26 miles; 2 hours one-way)

This road starts north of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and accesses Bates Well Ranch (and further to Pozo Nuevo Road). This is where you will access the El Camino de Diablo (in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge). This road requires high clearance.

Pozo Nuevo Road (7 miles; 2 hours one-way)

Pozo Nuevo Road is a hard road, requiring high clearance and 4WD. Along it, you can find views of the Cipriano Hills, the Growler Valley and the Pozo Nuevo line-camp. It connects Bates Well to South Puerto Blanco Road.

Picnic areas

There are picnic areas throughout the park along the drives, offering shade, parking and tables. Some have pit toilets, but none have water. Water is only available at the visitor center.

Ranger-led programs

Ranger-led programs are available in the park from January through March. You can consult the visitor center for more information on what programs are running and how to participate. Many have limited capacity and require advanced registration.

  • Ranger talks: Ranger-led talks include location talks (by van), patio talks and evening programs; see the visitor center for current talks and to make reservations where needed.
  • Ajo Mountain Van Tour ($5): This is a 3-hour van tour and presentation, limited to 10 passengers, departing daily at 9:00 am from the Twin Peaks campground.
  • Night sky programs: Both moonlight hikes and star parties are offered to experience the desert at night; advanced reservations are required.
  • Hiker shuttles: One-way shuttle from the Twin Peaks campground to Red Tanks Tinaja or Senita Basin trailheads; hike back to camp, advanced reservations required.
  • Special programs: Additional programs included lectures, guided hikes and border patrol presentations.

Equestrian trails in Organ Pipe

Horses are allowed in the park, but in designated areas only and some of the developed trails. They may only be fed certified weed-free hay, digestion systems purged. Water is very scarce and must be planned for. Horse camping is available at Twin Peaks group campground.

Biking in Organ Pipe

Bicycles are allowed on many of the trails in Organ Pipe and on all roads, but are NOT allowed in wilderness areas. Popular choices for cyclists are the Ajo Mountain Loop (21 miles), North Puerto Blanco Drive to Pinkley Peak (10 miles) and South Puerto Blanco Drive (28 miles).

Many of the areas do not have facilities or water; be prepared to pack everything you need. Updated road conditions are available at the visitor center.

Birding in Organ Pipe

With over 270 bird species documented in the park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a great place for birders to spend a visit. Spring and fall, the park sees birds on their way north or south, while winter is a home for some, and in summer you are likely to only see the year-round residents.

Places in the park that are best for birding are the Alamo Canyon Trail (especially along the wash), the ponds being the visitor center, Twin Peaks campground, Estes Canyon and Quitobaquito.

Camping in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Campgrounds

There are two campgrounds in Organ Pipe, Twin Peaks and Alamo Canyon.

Twin Peaks Campground is open year-round, with water, restrooms, showers, grills, tables, a dump station and an amphitheater. Fires are only allowed in grills and wood gathering is prohibited. YOu can get more information and reserve here.

Alamo Canyon Campground is a primitive, first-come, first-serve campground for tent and truck campers and small vans. Trailers, motorhomes, wood fires and generators are not allowed.

Backcountry camping

Backcountry camping is allowed in Organ Pipe, but only in select areas and a permit is required. You can get the permit and any more information at the visitor center.

Life in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Plants at Organ Pipe

Saguaro, ocotillo, brittlebush, organ pipe cactus, Engelmann prickly pear, teddy bear cholla, creosote bush, palo verde, saltbush, senita cactus, mesquite, chainfruit cholla

There are two plant communities that merge in this part of the Sonoran Desert, the Lower Colorado Valley Community and the Arizona Upland Community. While the desert can look homogenous to a visitor, these areas are ones of hot and dry climates, along with wetter bajadas and slopes. They can be viewed as distinct, but also converge, which is a delight to train your eyes on the areas where the landscapes change.

The Lower Colorado Valley Community represents the hottest, driest parts of the Sonoran Desert and is characterized by mixed scrub (brittlebush and bursage, with Palo Verdes on the dry volcanic slopes).

The Arizona Upland Community is the wetter part of the Sonoran Desert, characterized by evergreen scrubland (jojoba, agave, rosewood and juniper) in the canyons and higher elevations. The rocky slopes and bajadas feature cacti and Palo Verde, with a mix of organ pipe, saguaro, prickly pear and cholla cacti.

Organ pipe cactus fun facts

  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the only place in the US to see the organ pipe cactus naturally growing.
  • The cactus gets its name because when settlers first encountered dead cacti, they were reminded of organ pipes.
  • Organ pipe cacti can live up to 150 years.
  • Organ pipe cacti first produce flowers at 35 years old.
  • Flowers of the Organ Pipe Cactus blossom at night and close by mid-morning the next day.
  • Organ pipe cacti produce fruit, which splits open during summer rains.
  • Desert dwellers eat the fruit of the organ pipe cactus, spreading the seeds throughout the desert.
  • Organ pipe cacti are columnar cacti, and can produce unusual growths called cristates.

Animals at Organ Pipe

White-winged dove, Gila woodpecker, Gila monster, western diamondback rattlesnake, desert tortoise, javelina, Gambel’s quail, roadrunner, cactus wren, coyote, red-tailed hawk, elf owls, kangaroo rats, jackrabbits, bighorn sheep, coyotes.

Snakes are protected. Be cautious of them, but do not harm. Rattlesnakes will let you know you’re close.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to an incredible variety of birds, with over 270 species documented in the park. The Gila woodpecker and cactus wren are permanent, year-round residents of the park. Gambel’s quail are usually found in groups and on the ground, while it’s common to see hawks perched on the top of cacti.

Gila monster slinking through Organ Pipe Cactus national monument

People of Organ Pipe

Spanish explorers and missionaries followed El Camino del Diablo (the Devil’s Highway) through the harsh environment as they explored west. In the 1900s, ranchers and miners took on the task of “developing” water sources. They did this through digging wells in search of underground water.

Organ Pipe National Monument and the US-Mexico border

Border wall construction at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is currently disturbed by border wall construction. This construction is harming the environment and may have serious implications to come. You can check with rangers at the visitor center for the most up-to-date information on the construction and any road closures.

Here’s more about the current state of the border wall construction in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

Border control near/in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument shares 31 miles of border with Mexico. You can expect to see signs warning of dangerous border activities and reminding you of safety behaviors, like locking cars and reporting anything suspicious.

Pink, orange and purple sunset behind a road sign "International Border 1 mile"

Other places to visit near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge borders Organ Pipe Cactus to the west and is dedicated to preserving wilderness.

Tohono O’odham National Museum and Cultural Center

The Tohono O’odham (also known as the Pima) are one of the most historic communities in Arizona. The museum and cultural center is a great place to start to learn more about their history and culture.

El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar (Sonora, Mexico)

El Pinacate is Organ Pipe’s sister park in Mexico, with an expanded range of the diverse ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert and large extinct volcanoes.

Saguaro National Park (Tucson, Arizona)

Saguaro National Park flanks Tucson, east of Organ Pipe. It is home to the giants, the saguaro (many of which can be seen in Organ Pipe as well).

Where to stay in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The two campsite options in Organ Pipe accommodate different forms of camping, whether tent, car, or RV. You will want to look to Ajo and Why for more accommodation; note that there is a motel and RV park in Lukeville, but it is very close to the border and you will likely deal with border patrol checkpoints more (so maybe not a preferred option if you aren’t crossing the border).

Camping near Organ Pipe

In addition to the camping options inside of Organ Pipe, there are many campgrounds nearby. You can look for space at Gunsight Wash BLM area, Coyote Howls Park and Hickiwan Trails RV Park (both in Why); Boy Scout Campgrounds is on the edge of Ajo.

RV parks near Organ Pipe

If you are traveling by RV or camper, you have a lot of options. Here are a few options, sorted by location:

  • Why: Hickiwan Trails RV Park, Coyote Howls Park
  • Ajo: La Siesta Motel & RV Resort, Shadow Ridge RV Resort, Ajo Heights RV Park, Belly Acres RV Park
  • Lukeville: Gringo Pass Motel and RV Park

Hotels near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The best place for accommodation options near Organ Pipe (hotels and motels) is in Ajo, about 33 miles north of the visitor center. The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is the most robust option, while there are many low-frills choices like the Marine Motel.

Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center

Marine Motel

La Siesta Motel & RV Resort

Other options to stay near Organ Pipe:

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Visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona

Founder of How Dare She, Jessica is on a mission to visit every country in the world, and bring you along with through photos, video and stories. 6 continents and 104 countries in. She has a BA in journalism and Master's in innovation and change, but her real skill is plugging in a USB in 2 or less tries (most of the time). She believes daring isn't about being fearless, but choosing to opt in, in spite of fear. She dares to see, taste, experience and meet the world as she goes.

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