Welcome to Picacho State Recreation Area
California State Parks

How to Make Reservations
California State Parks Home Page
Other Colorado Desert District Parks
Call our Sector Office
at Salton Sea SRA, (760) 393-3052
or write to:
Picacho State Recreation Area
P O Box 848
Winterhaven, CA 92283


100 years ago Picacho was a gold mining town with 100 citizens. Today the site is a State Park, popular with boaters, hikers, anglers and campers. The park offers diverse scenery, including beavertail cactus, wild burros, bighorn sheep and thousands of migratory waterfowl. (The park is on one leg of the Pacific Flyway.) Eight miles of the lower Colorado River are the recreation areaís eastern border.

Visitation: Approximately 60,000 visitors annually.

Location-Directions: Take the 24-mile Picacho Road (the last 18 miles are unpaved) north from Winterhaven, California, which is just across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona.

Telephone: (760) 393-3052 (Sector Office at Salton Sea State Recreation Area)

Seasons/Climate/Recommended Clothing: Seasonal climates can be extreme: Layered clothing is always advised.

Camping: The main campground, located in the eastern section of the park, has 54 campsites, a group campground, and two boat-in group sites.  The sites have picnic tables and fire rings with drinking water and chemical toilets located nearby as well as a solar shower.  Up river there are five smaller campgrounds, but there is no drinking water at these locations.

Access: The road to Picacho from Winterhaven is paved only for the first 6 of 24 miles.  The last 18 miles is over a dirt road that is usually passable to cars and vehicles with trailers and motor homes. At times during the summer thunderstorms are likely to cause flash flooding in the washes, temporarily making short sections of the road impassable.

Caution: As in any desert country, travelers on this road should carry extra water and other essential supplies. All motor vehicles are required to stay on the authorized routes of travel in the recreation area. In case of trouble it is best to remain calm and stay near your vehicle and in the shade until help arrives.

Weather: Temperatures at Picacho range from a wintertime low of 20 to a summertime high of 120. The most popular time of the year is between mid-October and the end of April, although hardy adventurers enjoy the park's remoteness, water sports, hunting, and fishing on a year-round basis.

The autumn and early spring months are the most popular time to float down the river. Warm, sun-washed autumn days combine with the moderate current to make cruising down this scenic stretch of water a very peaceful, idyllic and rewarding experience. The best fishing is for black bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, striped bass, and bluegill.

Flora: From a distance the rugged mountains and washes of the Colorado Desert look stark. The land seems to be entirely devoid of life, and baked dry by the sunís relentless heat. However, throughout the area dominated by Picacho Peak you will find even the most barren places are filled with life. Plants seem to sprout from the very rock itself, and in the springtime the delicate beauty of wildflowers is everywhere. Beavertail cactus and ocotillo put on the most consistent display, but the variety of equally colorful, smaller flowers is endless. Near the river the numerous backwater lakes are lined with carrizo cane and marsh tule. Feathery-leafed tamarisk trees, an import from Africa, have taken over many of the oasis-like flats near the river, while desert ironwood, palo verde, cottonwood trees, mesquite, and other shrubs, as well as succulents, and three kinds of cactus, are native to this landscape.

Wildlife: The handsome and musical Gamble's quail is found at Picacho in considerable numbers along with cliff swallows, sparrows, towhees, cactus wrens, roadrunners, white-winged doves, and many other desert-dwelling birds. Turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks live here year-round, while in the spring and fall, thousands of migratory waterfowl can be seen, including ducks and geese as well as blue herons, snowy egrets, ibis, cormorants, eagles, osprey, and others.

Wildlife in the back country includes wild burros as well as desert bighorn sheep, coyote, bobcat, raccoons, striped skunk, southern mule deer, and smaller animals such as the antelope ground squirrel and various kinds of mice.  If you know where to look you may also find a large variety of insects, lizards, snakes, and amphibians. Muskrat and beaver can occasionally be seen in or near the river.

History: Archeological evidence indicates that Indians have lived along the Colorado river and throughout the vast reaches of the Colorado Desert for thousands of years. In historic times it was the Quechan people who lived along this part of the river. Picacho Peak played an important part in their myths and legends. They crossed the river on logs and rafts. The Quechan also planted and harvested maize, beans, squash, gourds and other crops in the moist silt of the river bottoms. Legend, general mythology and certain kinds of moral instruction were passed along from generation to generation by means of narrative song-cycles. The historical record notes that the Quechan gave great importance to dream experience, were generally outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic, and capable of great feats of endurance.

Spanish explorers, under the command of Coronado, penetrated this part of the Colorado River Basin in 1540. However, the first attempt to establish a permanent settlement and mission, La Purisma Concepcion at Yuma, met with disaster when Indians rose up in 1781, destroyed the mission, and killed all of the Spaniards including Father Garces.

Gold is said to have been discovered along the Colorado River as early as 1862. In 1890 a large stamp mill was built close beside the river at Picacho. Shortly afterward, the Picacho Mine was opened in the Picacho Basin area and a narrow gauge railroad began hauling ore from the mine to the mill. In 1904, the town of Picacho boasted a population of 2,500 people.  Throughout this time the river itself was the major transportation route into and out of this desert country. A number of large, steam-powered, paddlewheeled ferryboats continually worked their way up and down the river. Today little evidence of this epic, early-day activity is visible. However, just east of the campground and park headquarters the ruins of the Picacho Mill building can still be seen. A one-mile trail takes visitors on a self-guided hike to this historic site.

© 2007 Picacho State Recreation Area