5 Reasons to Visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument This Winter


Sara Sheehy

Once named America's most dangerous park, Organ Pipe has risen from the ashes...and you have to see it.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument may be the National Park Service's best kept secret. Reopened in 2015 after a lengthy closure, this park in the Sonoran Desert is flying under the radar, for now. Here are five reasons you should plan your trip immediately.

1. It's warm.

75 degrees Fahrenheit is the average daytime temperature in February and March, with the evening dropping into the mid 40's. This is mild for the desert, but a heavenly warmth to those living in the higher latitudes. 

Hike during the day without overheating (near impossible the rest of the year in the desert), then spend the evening snuggled up in a warm sleeping bag with the sound of coyotes yapping on the nearby hills.

2. It has an awesome campground.

Twin Peaks Campground sets the standard for park camping. Every site has a great view, the facilities are impeccably clean, and there are different loops for RV's, small campers, and tents. 

Rangers run programs every day and most evenings, including wildlife talks, night sky demonstrations with powerful telescopes, and chats with Border Patrol agents. 

And the best part? Camping is only $12 per night.

3. You couldn't visit five years ago.

Organ Pipe was once named America's most dangerous park. It shares a long border with Mexico and is used to smuggle drugs and humans. 

In 2002 a law enforcement park ranger named Kris Eggle was killed while pursuing a drug smuggler. The park was mostly closed soon after, and remained so until 2015. The park re-opened with a strong Border Patrol presence and signs warning visitors to stay aware of their surroundings.

The general advice I've seen repeated is that smugglers aren't interested in you, and have no desire to cross your path. Pay attention and explore within your risk tolerance, but enjoy this park before others discover how awesome it is.

4. The trails are gorgeous and empty.

The Sonoran Desert is nicknamed the "green desert" for it's lush vegetation. Park trails traverse washes, climb hillsides, and weave through dense forest of cacti. You might see another person...maybe. But for the most part, this wonderland will be all yours.

Peer into Mexico from the Estes Canyon Trail, or check out the hardscrabble Victoria Mine. The views will be worth it.

5. The epic skies

No matter if it's day or night, the sky above Organ Pipe is always putting on a show. Pastel sunrises start to creep over the horizon before illuminating the spikes on the saguaro cacti in your campsite. In the evening race up the Desert View Trail to catch the super saturated sun setting over Mexico.

Once the sun goes down grab your tripod to shoot the Milky Way stretching over the park, or go to a night sky program at the amphitheater to see the nebula in Orion's sword.

You won't regret a night, a weekend, or a week at Organ Pipe National Monument. Besides, the hashtag #organpipe only has 1000 pictures on Instagram. What are you waiting for?

Published: February 21, 2017

Sara SheehyExplorer

Writer | Nomad I Adventuress | Photographer

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

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