Updated: Mar 8
The Devil's Road, a staple trail in the Sonoran desert for at least the last 1,000 years. The indigenous foot travelers of the past have been replaced by modern day explorers seeking out adventure in this corner of the unforgiving Sonoran desert.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 124 miles, 2-4 days
Season: October through April
Technical Rating: Green
Typical Terrain: Graded dirt roads with numerous sandy sections, some with deep sand.
Recommended Vehicle: 4x4 with all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Yes. Sprinter 4x4s are good to go!
Alternative Routes: Yes! See bottom of route details. Permits & Fees: The Barry Goldwater Range and Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refugue requires filling out a waiver (covers both BGR and CPNWR) before you can enter these government managed lands. Permits can be obtained through iSportsman .
Tracing its roots back at least 1,000 years, el Camino del Diablo was originally a footpath and trading route used by various indigenous groups in the area southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. El Camino del Diablo translates as "The Devil's Road", and for good reason, many of the migrants that traveled the trail and perished due to unforgiving and harsh realities of the Sonoran Desert. The original trail once reached all the way to Caborca in the Mexican state of Sonora. In 1540, a detachment of the Coronado Expedition traveled portions of the route. Jesuit priests used the trail to reach California, and in the 1860s Sonora prospectors used the trail to reach newly found gold along the Colorado River. Today, the trail is primarily used by off road recreation crowd and US Border Patrol, who happen to actively maintain portions of the track.
The route can be traveled in either direction, but this particular rendition travels West to East, starting in Yuma and reaching its terminus in Ajo. The western portion begins in the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range, with the picturesque Gila Mountains bordering the trail to the east. The Sonoran desert is bursting with plant life, which includes the mighty Saguaro cactus, various types of cholla cacti, and as you make your way east, organ pipe cactus. Like many places in the desert, this corner of the Sonoran has its fair share of mines, but perhaps the best preserved along the route is the Fortuna Mine (DP2), with numerous concrete foundations and mining remnants. If you're seeking for a bit of adventure outside of the vehicle, considering taking the dirt road to Spook Canyon. Eventually you'll need to leave the vehicle behind and head out on foot into an increasingly narrow rock gorge full of all kinds of cool rock outcroppings and a plethora or nooks and crannies. Continuing east, Cipriano Pass (aka Smuggler's Pass) provides a nice little side trip to Raven's Butte, a stunningly black mound of volcanic rock that stands out from the pale khaki and desert brown landscape. South or Raven Butte, the Tinajas Atlas mountains rise from the surrounding desert plains. It is within these mountains, that the High Tanks (Tinajas Atlas DP5), a series of natural pools store groundwater throughout the year. You'll need to scramble up the canyon to reach the "tanks". This corner of the Sonoran desert is favorite among local travelers-- because its breathtakingly spectacular, and there's some great camping at the base of the mountains as well.
Dozens of gravesites line the trail, but Circle 8 Gravesite (DP6) and Dave O'neil's Grave (DP10) are two of the most popular and well preserved. As you pass Circle 8 Gravesite, take note of the massive lava flows and volcanic rock all around. These lava flows are part of the Sierra Pinacate. A series of massive volcanic craters lie across the border in el Pinacate Biosphere Reserve (consider checking out the Craters & Cacti Trail if you'd like to visit the park). Between two lava flows sits the old adobe homestead of Tule well. It's impressive to imagine early pioneers toiling away under the intense desert sun sans any modern amenities like air conditioning! Those seeking a bit of adventure may want to check out the trail to Christmas Pass (more details below under Alternative Routes). As you make your way deeper into the various lava flows, the sand becomes more frequent and deeper. The pinkish colored Pinta Sands (DP9) stand out against the burn maroon hues of the volcanic landscape-- just make sure you've aired down before you hit this section! There are a number of Border Patrol posts in this section, which may or may not be staffed, but make sure you've got your papers in order. The far eastern section of the route travels into Organic Pipe Cactus National Monument where it begins to turn north departing from the US-Mexico border. Bates Well (DP12), another old homestead is another favorite stopping point before the route eventually reaches its terminus in the quaint and charming town of Ajo. If you've got some time on your hands, consider spending sometime exploring town of Ajo. Ajo Mountain Drive is another worth local attraction in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is a short dirt loop bursting with views of the surrounding Ajo mountains.
Those seeking a bit more technical terrain (mild blue) may want to consider the 13 mile out-and-back to Christmas Tree pass, which also happens to have a great campsite at the end of the track. Sprinter 4x4s may struggle with this section due to some of the tighter sections and off camber rockier portions of the track.
Camping Recommendations There's a ton of great dispersed camping along this site. Don't be afraid to explore the various side tracks (as long as you're adhering to permitted areas within the Barry Goldwater Range), many of which lead to fantastic campsites at the base of mountains and various rock outcroppings. Some of our favorite sits along this route include the campsites near the Tinajas Atlas trailhead, dispersed camping on the western flank of Raven Butte, and Christmas Pass.
DP1 - Gila Mountains
DP2 - Fortuna Mine
DP3 - Spook Canyon & Tanks
DP4 - Raven Butte
DP5 - Tinajas Atlas
DP6 - Circle 8 Gravesite
DP7 - Tule Well
DP8 - Pinacate Lava Flow
DP9 - Pinta Sands
DP10 - Dave O'Neil's Grave
DP11 - Papago Well
DP12 - Bates Well
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (Gaia base layer)
Download GPX files