Ajo Mountain Drive is the most popular scenic drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Over its 21 mile course, visitors are treated to classic Sonoran Desert views and the rugged Ajo Mountains. We spent two days adventuring on this scenic drive. On the first day, we took the truck and spent most of our time hiking the trails located along the route. On the second day, we rode our ebikes which gave us time to slow down and enjoy the scenery.
The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile graded, one-way dirt road. The drive is maintained such that a carefully driven passenger car may be taken over it safely. Trailers, buses and RVs over 25 ft are prohibited due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road. For those wanting some good views and photographs of cacti, the drive provides ample opportunities to see large stands of the monument’s namesake cacti, the organ pipe cacti, as well as saguaros, cholla, and barrel cacti. A free Ajo Mountain Drive guide can be picked up at the visitor center. Numbered stops located along the drive correspond to pages in the guide. You can also download a PDF version of the guide here.
There are four picnic sites available along the drive. Stop #6 has a shaded picnic area and Estes Canyon (just after stop #11) has a ramada and backcountry restrooms. Water is not available anywhere along the drive so carry plenty with you. Ajo Mountain Drive also provides access to the trailheads for Arch Canyon, Old Pima County Road, and Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture trails.
According to the National Park Service, the drive itself takes approximately 2 hours (no stops) to complete. I would encourage you to plan at least half a day to ensure you have sufficient time to experience the picnic areas, scenic views, and enjoy the short hike into Arch Canyon. Allow the better part of a full day if you are also wanting to hike the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture trails.
A few rules and safety tips from the National Park Service: Fires and camping are not allowed on the drive. Pets are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry. They must be leashed at all times. Do not cross washes when flooded. Do not pick up hitchhikers. Report any suspicious activity to park staff immediately. Do not contact any suspicious persons. If you see them in distress, contact a ranger for help. Remember, you are just a few miles from the US-Mexican border.
Ajo Mountain Drive Hikes
One of the most photographed sites along the Ajo Mountain Drive are the double arches carved into the mountains of Arch Canyon. Walking the 1.2 mile Arch Canyon trail provides wonderful opportunities to see wildflowers and gaze upon these rhyolite arches. Note that this trail does not lead up to the arches and the official trail ends part way into the canyon. There are unofficial social trails that lead up to the arch, but these trails are strenuous and not maintained.
We hiked the official trail into Arch Canyon and then turned around once the unofficial trail started heading up a steep and rocky incline. I would like to complete the entire trail sometime, but on this day we purposefully made this a quick stop to allow plenty of time for hiking the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture trails. I’ll cover those trails in our next post.
Biking Ajo Mountain Drive
We returned to the Ajo Mountain Drive on a second day so that we could enjoy the route from our Aventon Sinch ebikes. The 4″ fat tires were perfect for the off-pavement ride and the pedal assist was greatly appreciated on the steep inclines as we climbed into the Ajo Mountains. We left from the campground making it a 25 mile day. We saw very little traffic on the road that day (no more than a dozen cars total) and this was a fantastic way to enjoy the scenery at a more leisurely pace. Being on bike, it made it super easy for me to pull over anywhere I wanted to take photos. This came in especially handy on our quest to locate several cristate saguaro and organ pipe cacti that are identified in the Organ Pipe Cactus Desert Ranger Guide available at the visitor center. For those wondering what in the heck a cristate cactus is, I discuss that in more detail in my previous post.
The Adventure Continues
Be sure to join us on our next adventure as we continue our Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument explorations, this time on the spectacular Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture trails. And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase (even things as simple as toothpaste!), you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain this website and is much appreciated!
4 Replies to “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Ajo Mountain Drive Adventures”
Thank you for sharing this Lusha. The organ pipe cacti are marvelous.
Thank you Toni! We marvel at all the variety in the different species. Such beautiful creation.
Yay Desert Rangers! I still need to sew my patch on.
I sure was grateful for you telling me about that program! That brochure is the only reason I was able to find all those cristate cacti!