Arizona has one of the world’s largest protected arid ecosystems, made up of saguaro cactus, silent volcanoes, ocean life and river deltas with almost all open to the serious hiker and backpacker for exploring. Below is a few areas we recommend you visit and reasources to find more info on the many places to explore.

Recommended Wilderness Areas to Visit

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established by Presidential Proclamation by Franklin Roosevelt on April 23, 1937, to protect the rare Organ Pipe Cactus and 26 other cacti species. The uniqueness and importance of this landscape is attested to by the rarity of the Organ Pipe Cactus itself, and the even more rare Senita Cactus, both of which are found nowhere else in the US. Encompassing approximately 330,000 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert, the Monument was established as a Biosphere Reserve in 1976.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to an extraordinary range of animals that have adapted themselves to the region's extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and infrequent rainfall. Six varieties of rattlesnakes, as well as Gila Monsters and scorpions, can be found at Organ Pipe. Other residents include the roadrunner, western diamondback rattlesnake, red-tailed hawk, coyote, cactus wren, javelina, desert tortoise, Gila monster, Gila woodpecker and white-winged dove.

  • Getting There: 34 miles south of Ajo Take State Route 85 from Phoenix or State Route 86 from Tucson.
  • Fees: $4.00 per vechicle entry; $8.00 per site per night for camping
  • Miles of Trail: 10
  • Lodging: 200 camping spaces for motor homes, trailers and tents; four spaces for primitive camping. Other accommodations outside the monument can be found at Ajo, Gila Bend, Lukeville and Why, as well as in Sonoita, Sonora, Mexico.
  • Advisory: A permit is required for backcountry camping. Spring and fall are the most popular times to visit.

Additional Information: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (520)387-7661 or 387-6849 or visit the National Park Service website for more details.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1939 for the conservation of natural wildlife resources, including the endangered Sonoran pronghorn and lesser long-nosed bats, desert bighorns, lizards, rattlesnakes, and desert tortoises. The refuge encompasses over 860,000 acres of some of the most pristine tracts of Sonoran Desert remaining, making it the third largest refuge in the nation. The 1990 Arizona Wilderness Act designated over 90 percent of the refuge wilderness.

Cabeza Prieta, Spanish for "dark head," refers to a lava-topped, granite peak in a remote mountain range in the western corner of the refuge. This rugged landscape is home to as many as 391 plant species and more than 300 species of wildlife. Visitors to Cabeza Prieta can enjoy plentiful hiking, photography, wildlife observation, and primitive camping opportunities. Visitors, however, are asked to avoid lingering near water holes, as wildlife depend on them for survival.

  • Location: Cabeza Prieta Refuge Wilderness Park
  • Getting There: From Tucson, take Highway 86 (Ajo Way) west across the Tohono O'odham reservation to Why, follow Highway 85 north to Ajo.
  • Fees: Permits are required from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Miles of Trail: No marked or maintained trails
  • Advisory: Winter is the ideal time to visit when day temps range in the 70’s. If you plan to drive across El Camino del Diablo, prepare carefully-this is not a trip for the inexperienced!

Additional Info: US Fish and Wildelife Service website for more in-depth details.

The Arizona~Sonoran Desert Museum

Founded in 1952, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a non-profit educational institution focusing on natural history and dedicated to fostering public appreciation, knowledge, and wise stewardship of the Sonoran Desert region. The Desert Museum offers educational programs along with field walks and lectures for people of all ages. Visit their extensive website for research, on-line bookstore, program schedules and upcoming workshops

More Links to Great Resources
International Sonoran Desert Alliance

For more info on the wilderness areas to visit, pick up the book Arizona’s Wilderness Areas by Tom Dollar