Located in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arch Canyon Trail is a short, well-maintained path that turns to a Class 2 scramble after 3/4 miles. The trail begins in Arch Canyon, a deep canyon formed by a wash in the western portion of the rugged Ajo Mountains.
At 90-feet wide, the arch is sizable. It can be viewed from the trailhead 600 feet below, but is much more impressive up close. Here, it becomes clear that it is in fact a double arch, though the top arch is notably smaller.
As a bonus, the strenuous climb up the unmaintained portion provides grand views of Arch Canyon, Boulder Canyon, and the desert valley floor that the northern portion of Ajo Mountain Drive snakes through.
In order to access Arch Canyon Trailhead, you will have to take the one-way Ajo Mountain Drive. This scenic loop is mostly unpaved and in my opinion, a must do for anyone that visits Organ Pipe.
- Distance: 2.6 miles out and back
- Hike Time: 2-4 hours
- Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
- Fee: $25 per vehicle or buy an America the Beautiful Pass
- Dogs: No, but they are allowed in other parts of the park
- Difficulty: Moderate for some, hard for others
The road to Arch Canyon Trailhead (Ajo Mountain Drive) is a spectacle in itself and the most frequented section of Organ Pipe. Do not fret though; if you are looking for sequestered wilderness, this monument delivers. At a whopping 330,688 acres, it only received 260,534 visitors in 2017. The similarly sized Rocky Mountain National Park received over 4 million that same year!
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is named after its most notable resident, the bizarre and beguiling organ pipe cactus. With numerous stems that grow up to 16 feet tall, it looks similar to a pipe organ and only grows naturally here and in Northern Mexico along the Sea of Cortez.
As you navigate the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive, both on the approach to Arch Canyon Trailhead and after, take your time and make multiple stops to experience the desert splendor.
Once you reach the trailhead, follow the initial trail (which is in good condition) for 3/4 miles then bear right and begin scaling the steep and narrow path above. Portions of it are a bit tricky to follow, but it is marked by cairns so watch carefully and you will be fine. At the top, it is possible to climb right under the arch and get a good view from both sides.
From Phoenix, get on I-10 westbound and take exit 112 for Arizona State Route 85 south toward I-8. Continue for 112 miles then turn left onto Ajo Mountain Drive (across from Kris Eggle Visitor Center). Continue 9.4 miles to Arch Canyon Trailhead.
From Tucson, get on I-10 eastbound and take exit 260 for I-19 south toward Nogales. Continue for 0.8 miles then take exit 99 for Ajo Way. Continue west on Arizona State Route 86 for 118 miles, then turn left onto Arizona State Route 85 south. Continue 22.1 miles then turn left onto Ajo Mountain Drive (across from Kirs Eggle Visitor Center). Continue 9.4 miles to Arch Canyon Trailhead.