Vulture Peak hike

 

 

Anybody coming into Wickenburg can’t help noticing the highly recognizable landmark, Wickenburg's ‘house mountain’ volcanic Vulture Peak , soaring to an elevation of 3660 ft. Wickenburg itself is officially at 2093 ft.

Hiking the trail up to Vulture peak is one of the most favorite things-to-do in town for visitors and locals. If this sounds daunting to you from looking at it from town, don’t worry, you won’t be going up the vertical side facing town, but the easy backside.

 

You take 60 west out of Wickenburg ( West Wickenburg Way ) as far as the second traffic light after the center. You'll see a Safeway on your left. Make a left turn there onto Vulture Mine Rd and follow this for a bit over 6 miles. The turnoff into the parking lot at the trail head is on your left, in a turn, before the road leads down, between mileposts 20 and 19.

Vulture Peak from a distance

The trailhead is at an elevation of 2480 ft. The trail is 2 miles one way. If you have a high-clearance 4WD you can actually shake, rattle and roll to the upper trailhead (at 2640 ft.), which would put you more than halfway there. However, this is not recommendable, since you’d miss the spectacularly lush and gorgeous first part, a veritable ‘natural’ open-air botanical garden for the Sonora Desert . The first 1.3 miles or so is a wonderful and easy hike through most typical Sonora desert plants through washes and over small ridges, with cairns marking the way.

Fairly early on there’s a large population of Teddy Bear Cholla, aka Jumping Cholla for a good reason: mind those pods littering the ground as well as the trail. If you nudge one with one food it’s possible it’ll end up with its barbed hooks firmly embedded in your calf. They’ll also go through your soles if you wear light sneakers (solid shoes are recommended in any case). The whole backside of Vulture is a loose forest of the stately Saguaro, some very old and ponderous specimens among them. Then there are the other typical types of cacti and plants: palo verde, mesquite, barrel cacti, prickly pear, etc.

Towards the top it gets more exposed and rockier, and the last bit is a bit steep and arduous, but on a good trail. Many hikers only go as far as the saddle. The views from there are superb, but if you scramble up the last few 240 feet through the chute – you’ll have to use your hands – to the top you’ll be rewarded with an all-around stunning and breathtaking view to far horizons – it’s terrific up there, you feel on top of the world! There’s a more or less level plateau at the top, and just below the top there’s a small slightly grassy spot which is great for a well deserved snack and drink. There are enough rocks to sit down on. Very often you also get a nice breeze up here, and you can often watch soaring raptors and hear crows call.

on top of Vulture Peak - Wickenburg in the background below

If you do go there, don’t forget to leave your name and comment in the little book in the metal box!

After you’ve caught your breaths and taken in the overwhelming and breathtaking view, you might want to go and see the caves just below the rim. They’re facing roughly west, northwest and there’s nothing really to show them how to get there. So, once you’re at the level top, find an old rectangular concrete base where the metal box for the peak book used to be. Stand on that and sight on the largest palo verde you can see – the trailhead would be at roughly 5 o’clock behind you, the town at 1 o’clock. Walk to that palo verde and descend along the step-like ridges. It’s like a giant’s staircase and very easy to do. It’ll take you to a ledge, follow it to the right and you’ve found the caves (they’re not massive big caves, really, just neat overhangs – with shade!).

Once you’re back down and in town you can go to the Chamber of Commerce in what used to be the railroad station on Frontier Street , parallel to N. Tegner , which becomes 89/93 further out, and perpendicular to Wickenburg Way . You’ll get a ‘certificate’ there for having climbed Vulture Peak .

If you take this hike, take plenty to drink as well as some salty snacks. It’s really no big distance, but it is a bit of an effort to get to the very top. Also wear sturdy shoes that support your ankles and have a good, solid sole that have a good grip.

And take your camera of course!