This trail's appearance on most maps as an insignificant, isolated squiggle leading to an abandoned lookout is truly deceptive. As far as trails are concerned, it may be one of the best kept secrets in southeastern Arizona. Some who have come here describe the views from this soaring desert butte as enchanting. Others have said that Atascosa Peak rises high enough above the surrounding landscape to provide a panorama, but not so high that the landmarks making up that view fade into insignificance.
That may be the secret of this spectacular little stroll into the sky above the buttes, bluffs and canyons that lie just north of Arizona's border with Mexico. The trail itself climbs steadily, even steeply in places, but neither so long nor so relentlessly that it is exhausting. The view expands steadily as the trail switchbacks higher, first parading past nearby buttes and cliffs that thrust above grassy foothills, then providing magnificent panoramas that stretch to distant horizons. Trailside vegetation is stunted by the desert conditions and puts little between you and the sublime views.
Castle Rock, Montana Peak, the spires and cliffs of Sycamore Canyon, the corduroy cañoncitos around Nogales catch your eye to the south. To the west, there is Baboquivari Peak, sacred to the Tohono O'Odham, and the white buildings of famous Kitt Peak Observatory. The Santa Ritas and Huachucas are just a few of the landmarks visible to the east. On a clear day, you can see the Piñacates of Mexico and, some say, even the glint of the Sea of Cortez. A final flurry of switchbacks takes you to the peak's summit. Take lunch and stay awhile.
Restrictions: The lookout at the top of the mountain is not staffed by the Forest Service, nor is it being maintained for public use.
Directions: Turn west off Interstate 19 at the Peña Blanca/Ruby Road, AZ Highway 289, Exit 12. Follow the road 9 miles west to Peña Blanca Recreation Area where the pavement ends and becomes the Arivaca-Ruby Road, Forest Road 39. Continue 6 miles further west to where the trailhead is marked by a parking area turnout on the south side of the road. This is easy to miss, so watch closely. You can also see the trail zigzagging up from the road toward Atascosa Peak.
Day Hiking: Enchanting vistas, Views start at the trailhead, No crowds, Desert grassland setting. USGS QUAD: Ruby