It was the last weekend of Buddy’s Spring break and we decided to take a quick car camping road trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a beautiful and unique part of the Sonoran Desert. This park along the border is the only place in the United States where you can find organ pipe cactus! Desert camping and hiking here are unforgettable experiences! After an incredible weekend, Buddy and I are sharing 10 important tips for camping at Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The details: Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Twin Peaks Campground is located in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona. It is the main campground in the monument. The campground is a 4-minute drive and about a 30-minute walk from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. The campground is also a short walk to the Desert View Trailhead, Victoria Mine Trailhead, and the campground amphitheater. For more information, including camping fees, visit the website.
The campground is open year-round. There are tent only sites, RV sites, and group sites available. There is no electricity at the campground, but there are some generator sites only that have specific hours to run generators daily. Since we do not have a generator, we brought a Jackery to our non-electric campsite to charge our phones overnight. There is running water and flush toilets at the restrooms. The campground does have quiet hours from 10pm-6am. Cell phone service is spotty (more on that later!) and there is no WIFI.
Our camping adventure at Twin Peaks Campground
For our camping adventure at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we camped at a tent site in mid-March. Unfortunately, during our stay, the main water line was broken. For that reason, the water was out at the campground and our stay was a dry camping experience. This means that we did not get to experience the campground’s bathrooms, so we can’t speak to that. But we can say, the camp ground was cute and clean and we enjoyed our stay there.
We left Tucson for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at 10am on a Saturday morning and drove straight through to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. From our home in the east side of Tucson, it was a short 2 hour and 45-minute road trip to the monument. At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we did a few hikes, a scenic drive, and tent camped overnight before heading back to Tucson. It was a lovely weekend getaway!
10 Important Tips for Camping at Twin Peaks Campground
1. Book your campsite in advance
Book your site at Twin Peaks Campground early to ensure your spot. High season for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument and nearby areas like Ajo and Puerto Peñasco (also known as Rocky Point) is the spring. Spring is when a lot of snowbirds (the human kind! Usually retirees) from all over North America flock to the desert from their homes in colder climates. For this reason, the campground can fill up quickly!
If the Twin Peaks Campground fills up, tent campers also have the option of staying at the primitive Alamo Campground. And there are also same day reservations available for both the Alamo and main campground at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center.
When we camped at Twin Peaks Campground in Organ Pipe National Monument, I booked our site a week before the trip. I was surprised to see that there were sites available given that it was high season and accommodations in nearby Ajo, AZ were full. Perhaps we found a site because we tent camped rather than RVed. Either way, book early!
2. Stop by the Kris Eggle Visitor Center
On your way to the Twin Peaks Campground, you will pass the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. Before heading off to set up your campsite, stop by the visitor center. Here you can get information about hikes, the ranger programs, and the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. There I also a great display about the Sonoran Desert and the region’s five seasons (yes! There are 5 seasons in the Sonoran Desert!).
Another fun activity to do at the Visitor Center is to walk the Nature Trail. This short 0.1 mile (0.16km) paved loop trail is a great way to learn more about the monument’s desert plants and the iconic cacti including the Saguaro and the Organ Pipe. And if you’re lucky, you may even spot some of the endangered Quitobaquito Pupfish swimming around near the center’s pond! This trail is perfect for families of all ages, especially littles!
And be sure to bring your Passport To Your National Parks passport book to get it stamped at the visitor’s center.
When we arrived at Organ Pipe National Monument, our first stop was the Visitor’s Center. There we paid the park entrance fee, bought a keychain and Christmas ornament (yes, we are collectors!), and browsed the exhibit before heading out on the Nature Trail. After hiking the Nature Trail, we ate lunch at the Organ Pipe Cactus Family Picnic Ground. One thing Buddy did not do was collect his passport stamp. We forgot the book at home! Luckily, we got a paper stamped that we will staple to the book later.
Pay the entrance fee to the National Monument at the Visitor Center. There is no gate at the monument.
3. Beware of packrats at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Packrats are common at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. These native desert dwellers love to find dark and cozy places to build nests. And places like under the hood of your car are perfect for these little fellows! They can chew through the wires in your car if you aren’t careful!
During our stay at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, multiple rangers warned us of packrat activity. They advised use to leave our hood part way open and to keep the campsite clean by throwing trash our quickly and securing all food and scented items our car. They also advised to place a small light under the car if we had one. We did not. Luckily with the precautions that we too, we did not have any issues with packrats during our stay.
Fun fact! Packrats also live in Tucson too! We have had friends whose cars caught on fire in the city because packrats chewed through the wires. So, it is not just a campsite thing!
4. Check your cell phone service
Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is about 7 miles to the U.S.-Mexico International border. Because of the proximity to Mexico, depending on your cell phone service, you phone might think that you are roaming…in Mexico!
If you are concerned about being charged for international phone service while staying at the campgrounds, or visiting Organ Pipe National Monument in general, check with your cell phone provider prior to visiting. Or put your phone in airplane mode before arriving at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center to prevent any possible international charges.
We had no idea this might be an issue. And as soon as we arrived at the Visitor Center, both Sal and I realized that our phones switched to the Mexican cell phone service. Sal was able to switch his phone back to our US provider, and the service was spotty. My phone, however, stayed on the Mexican network and I was charged international fees for that day! The next morning, I put my phone in airplane mode to avoid these charges.
I am no cell provider expert, so perhaps not all phones will automatically switch over to an international network. For my day job as a choreographer, I often work on Agua Prieta, Mexico and do use the international plan on those days. So maybe it was just a us thing!
5. Take a scenic drive before you set up your campsite
The best way to experience the vast Sonoran Desert landscape is driving through the desert. Organ Pipe National Monument offers many beautiful desert drives.
Ajo Mountain Drive and parts of Puerto Blanco Drive are passable by sedans. Both scenic drives are loops and take a few hours to complete. Other scenic drives including Bates Well Road, Pozo Nuevo Road, Camino de Dos Republicas, and Puerto Blanco Drive beyond Pinkley Peak recommended four wheel drive vehicles.
Please note that some roads might be closed due to the national monument’s location on the border.
We recommend taking your scenic drives before setting up your campsite. This is so that you do not have to worry about pulling up stakes for a drive later, especially if you are in a camper van or RV!
After stopping by the visitor center and before setting up our tent, we drove Ajo Mountain Drive. Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile road that winds through some of the most beautiful desert scenery imaginable. It is a scenic road that takes around 2-3 hours to complete. There are picnic areas and trailheads on this scenic drive. Please note that the drive is not for vehicles over 25 feet.
Although we thought about it, we did not do the 4–5-hour Puerto Blanco Drive prior to driving home the next day. First, it would have added many, many hours of driving to our trip home. And secondly, as a born and raised Sonoran Desert dweller, Buddy was not enthusiastic about looking at cactus for that many hours in one day! If you take this drive, let us know!
And all these drives are great for biking in the desert! For any bikers out there!
6. Take a sunset hike on Desert View Trail
Both the Desert View Trailhead and Victoria Mine Trailhead are accessible from the Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe National Monument. But if you only have to choose one hike during your stay at the campground, hiking Desert View Trail at sunset is a must do! it’s absolutely stunning! Grab some friends or family and hike up to watch the Sonoran sun dip behind mountains dotted with desert plants, saguaros, and organ pipe cactus. You won’t regret it!
Desert View Trail is a short 1.2-mile (1.9 kilometer) loop trail is listed as moderate due to some climbing and uneven footing. For a sunset hike, it is recommended that you begin the hike an hour before sunset. There are benches on the loop trail overlooking the mountains facing east for the best viewing experience. The trail also has many signs sharing information about the desert flora and fauna.
We did the Desert View Trail at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in a counterclockwise direction. This direction seemed to be an easier climb, and it is closer to the sunset viewing area. Following the recommendations of the National Park Service, we left for the hike at 5.30pm, an hour before sunset. And because we went counterclockwise, we arrived at the westernmost point, and sunset viewing area, a bit early. We sat down and had a snack and took some photos. We also admired the wildflowers and Cholla cactus in the area.
After the sun went down, we completed the hike and headed to the amphitheater for the ranger program.
If you look southwest as the sunsets, you can see the lights of Sonoyta, Mexico turn on in the distance. You can also see the border wall.
A Teenager’s Perspective on the Desert View Trail Sunset Hike
Buddy says, “It was an okay and short hike. There are some very nice views of the sunset. I recommend taking a backpack with snacks and some water as well as a flashlight head lamp or flashlight in case it gets dark on the way down. There were not a lot of people on the hike as we only saw two other groups of hikers. I did not see any teenagers on the trial. I would recommend this for teens if they are not from the desert.“
The rocks on the trail are slippery. Make sure you take shoes with good grip.
I wore my trusty Merrell’s. And after Buddy was slipping and sliding down the trail during our sunset hike at Saguaro National Park, I bought him these Merrell’s and I am happy to share that he did not slip once!
7. Attend an evening program at the Twin Peaks Campground Amphitheatre
Organ Pipe National Monument offers a variety of evening programs. When you arrive at the visitor center, check the signs announcing the programs for the time you are there.
When we visited, the park offered evening programs every night of the week. We attended the Traveling Stories that focused on the geology of the park and how the area was formed. It was fun learning about rocks and salt trails!
There are petroglyphs in Organ Pipe National Monument. We saw this one on the Desert View Trail.
A petroglyph is a form of rock art that is common in the Southwest deserts. I grew up across the street from Petroglyph National Monument as was surprised when we were the only ones at the evening program that new what a petroglyph was!
8. Yes, you are on the international border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Twin Peaks Campgrounds at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is on the U.S./Mexico international border. The Visitor Center and Twin Peaks Campground are about 7 miles away from the border. At night, you can see the lights from Sonoyta, Mexico from the campground. It is surprisingly quite bright. And if you are journeying to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument from places like Tucson, you will pass through at least one, if not two, border patrol checkpoints on your drive.
There are signs in the monument warning of possible smuggling and immigration at some places in the park. The notice says be aware of surroundings and to not travel alone in remote areas. However, we did not see any of these signs at the campground.
In general, always be aware of your surroundings, especially if exploring back country or remote areas of the park. And bring a hiking buddy for safety. I would not hike alone in this area.
We felt completely safe camping at Twin Peaks Campground. We did not see any border patrol or coyotes (the humankind) during our visit. And we even hiked the unmaintained portion of Arch Canyon Trail, which was very isolated. Chances are, visitors to the park will not encounter any illegal activity as those engaged in it stay off the beaten path as they don’t want to be seen or heard.
For the most up-to-date border safety information, visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument website.
9. When to visit Twin Peaks Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The best time to camp at Twin Peaks Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is in the Spring. It is high season for a reason!
In the spring, the temperatures are warm during the day but chilly at night. These moderate temperatures make it perfect weather for desert hiking, biking, and exploring. There is also bird watching and, of course, the wildflowers!
If you visit in the winter, it may be warm during the day, but the temperatures will drop by 30 degrees at night and lows can be around freezing. I would not recommend tent camping in the Sonoran desert in the winter because of the cold. And I definitely do not recommend camping in the desert in the summer. It is hot! And even if the temperature does drop 30 degrees at night, the desert never really does cool down . Plus, there is not a lot of shade in the Twin Peaks campground to protect yourself from the heat and sun.
9. What to bring to Twin Peaks Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
These suggestions come from our own experience at the Twin Peaks Campground. We include items that we brought with us on our trip, as well as some of the items we wish we would have brought with us. Please note that these are just a few recommended items. Feel free to personalize this list, adding to it what you see fit and what makes the most sense for you and your family.
- Your tent (or RV!)
- Sleeping bags and/or blankets.
- Sleeping pads. We use these Coleman self-inflating sleeping pads that we love. We bought them in 2021 for our tent camping South Dakota road trip and have been using them ever since! However, we don’t recommend using the blow-up pillow as we found them very uncomfortable.
- Flashlights, lanterns, or headlamps. Our go-to flashlights are these Black Diamond SpotLite 200 headlamps that also have red light settings. We have been using these both camping and around the house since 2021. They come in handy for home repairs as well as camping! It is one of our top recommended items for family camping!
- Lots of water and a refillable water bottle. It is the desert after all, and it is hot and dry. Even in the spring with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s, it is still very dry. Bring lots of water.
- A hat
- lip balm
- Allergy medication, for those of you allergic to the desert like me!
- Layers of clothing (most of my stuff is from Stitch Fix) for chilly spring nights
- Collapsible buckets (these are the exact ones we use!) and camp soap for your hand washing/dish washing station
- Trash bags
- A Jackery or generator if you need power
- A mesh laundry bag for dirty clothes
For your camp kitchen:
- A cooler
- Lighter Fluid
- A lighter
- And a S’mores kit! Thank you to Buddy’s grandma who gifted us our the S’mores kit last Christmas! We use it every time we camp, and with our backyard firepit!
Cooking at Twin Peaks Campground
Twin Peaks Campground has above ground grills. In ground fire pits are not permitted.
In case you are curious about what I cooked for our overnight camping trip at Twin Peaks Campground, I am happy to share!
For our lunches, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served with oranges and grapes. On the trail we shared apples, oranges, trail mix, and chomps. For dinner, I grilled some asparagus and made this foil wrapped baked sweet potato and chili recipe from Fresh of the Grid. It was delicious! And for breakfast, I made campfire pancakes using a gluten free pancake mix and my cast iron pan from home! They were good too!
A teenager’s perspective: Camping at Twin Peaks Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
I liked camping at Twin Peaks campground. The hiking and ranger program was fun. The clear desert night sky was nice to look at. It was nice watching both the sun and the moon set over the mountains.
People at the campground take the quiet hours seriously. I think we were the only ones at the campground up past nine, as we ate a late dinner. There were many of elders here, so maybe that is the reason.
When you come, make sure there is water as well as bringing layers, including warm jackets because it gets cold when the sun goes down. I also recommended that you bring food.
I moderately recommend Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for teenagers. There is not much to see here, but if you just want to camp out then yes, I recommend it.
And we didn’t film a Movement Postcard. We just haven’t been doing those lately. Maybe next time.
Your camping adventure at Twin Peaks Campground
Camping at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument can be an unforgettable experience! With our 10 tips for camping at this stunning national monument, we hope that your trip will be safe and enjoyable from start to finish! So what are you waiting for? Grab those tents and let’s hit the road!
Are you planning on camping at Twin Peaks campground? Or are you visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument? If so, let us know in the comments below!
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
If you enjoyed reading this, check out these blog posts!
- Hiking Arch Canyon Trail in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Everything You Need to Know
- 10 Small But Important Tips for Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park
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Visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument?
And don’t forget your headlamps!