Craters & Cacti Overland Trail

Updated: Nov 3


Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 299 miles, 3-5 days

Season: Recommended October - May to avoid excessive heat during warmer months.

Technical Rating: Green

Typical Terrain: 70% dirt, 30% pavement. Most dirt roads are graded and in relatively good condition.

Recommended Vehicle: Truck/SUV w/ 4x4 and AT tires.

Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s are good to go.

Alternative Routes: Yes! See bottom of route details for info. Passports, Permits & More: You will need a passport and Mexican vehicle insurance to cross the US-Mexico border. Be prepared to pay entrance fees at both Organ Pipe Cactus NM and El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve. Camping and driving the self-guided crater tour at el Pinacate requires filling out paperwork at the Schuk Toak Visitor Center. Occasionally the crater tour is closed to the public. Please call ahead or check el Pinacate's website to confirm the status of the self guided crater tour.

Route Details

- Route hits two unique parks in the Sonoran Desert

- The El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve and Organ Pipe Natoinal Monument, the former is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

- El Pinacate sits on the massive Santa Clara Volcanic shield, which can be seen from outer space. Parks visitors can travel by vehicle to the largest craters in the park.

- Pinacate comes from Náhuatl language word pinacatl, for the Pinacate beetle, a stink beetle endemic to the Sonoran Desert.

- Despite its proximity to the US border, few Americans have ever heard of Pinacate, which remains a hidden gem.

- Organ Pipe NM is the only place in the US where the OP cactus grows in the wild.

- Unlike portions of el Pinacate Biosphere Reserve which are desolate and covered in volcanic rock and sand, Organ Pipe NM is filled with cacti and other green plants which paint a green canvas over the red rocks and desert soils.

- Puerto penasco, means rocky beach, referred to as Arizona's Beach.

- Tourism and fishing staples of this once quiet fishing village

- Popular among the RV crowd, with over a dozen venues around town

- Check out the Malecon, the Fish and Shrimp Market. Tons of great restaurants and shops around this area of Puerto Penasco.

- Bahia la Choya is one of the last places in the PP area where you can still camp on the beach, other options are RV parks

- Take highway to el Pinacate's Schuk Toak Visitor Center and fill out forms for the crater tour

- 45 min walk to the sand dunes from Schuk Toak, some of the tallest in N. Amer at over 650 feet

- Burn highway over to the Craters route (80km of dirt, no including the trail to rojo cono), turns to dirt. Explore the various craters and volcanic formations in the park. Feels like you're traveling on an alien planet. crater elegant the largest at 1 mile wide and 800 feet deep

- cerro colorado distinguished from the other craters by its red volcanic rock

- cross the border into the stats and Organ Pipe Cacti NM-- make sure you have your papers together.

- trace the dirt road along the border wall and up to the senita basin,hiking opportunities

- check out the old adobe dwellings at gachado line camp and dos lomitas ranch

- Next to the most scenic portion of the route, the popular ajo mountain loop

- check out the double arch, craggy unlike the smooth sandstone arches of Utah

- burn pavement back to alamo canyon

- burn pavement south back to puerto blanco drive, skirt the outer boundaries of the park and check out historic mines and other remnants of the past >> golden bell mine, bonita well, bates ranch

- final stretch follows the historic el Camino del Ciablo trail back to Ajo. Dispersed camping is permitted once you leave Organ Pipe NM.

Alternative Routes

Those seeking a shorter adventure and who may not wish to cross the border can easily do the Organ Pipe Cactus NM portion of the route. We recommend setting aside 2-3 days for exploring the park and traveling the route. By cutting out the Mexican portion of the route, the mileage is cut in about half.

Camping Recommendations

Dispersed camping is not permitted in either Organ Pipe Cactus NM or el Pinacate Biosphere Reserve. For Organ Pipe, we highly recommend making your camping reservations in advance, while at el Pinacate, you will need to fill out paperwork (no advance reservations) if you'd like to stay at one of their campgrounds. Dispersed camping is permitted on el Camino del Diablo north of Organ Pipe NM.

  • Alamo Canyon Campground

  • Rojo Cono

  • el Tecolote

  • Bahia la Choya (beachfront camping)

Discovery Points

  • DP1 - El Malecon Fish & Shrimp Market

  • DP2 - Bahia la Choya

  • DP3 - Schuk Toak Museum

  • DP4 - el Pinacate Sand Dunes

  • DP5 - Rojo Cono

  • DP6 - Crater El Elegante

  • DP7 - El Tecolote

  • DP8 - Crater Cerro Colorado

  • DP9 - US-Mexico Border

  • DP10 - Gachado Line Camp

  • DP11 - Dos Lomitas Ranch

  • DP12 - Victoria Mine

  • DP13 -Double Arch

  • DP14 - Ajo Mountain Drive

  • DP15 - Mt Ajo

  • DP16 - Alamo Canyon

  • DP17 - Dripping Springs

  • DP18 - Golden Bell Mine

  • DP19 - Bonita Well

  • DP20 - Pozo Nuevo

  • DP20 - Pozo Nuevo

  • DP21 - Bates Well Ranch

Maps + Navigation

>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.

Recommended Maps

  • Google Maps

  • Gaia GPS (Nat Geo Trails Illustrated, Gaia base layer)

Download GPX files

TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.


Land Managers

Other Resources


Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by Overland Trail Guides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

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