Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 32.26330°N / 113.5428°W
Additional Information County: Yuma
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Elevation: 2950 ft / 899 m
Sign the Climber's Log


The Sierra Pinta (Painted Mountains) are a remote mountain range located in southern Arizona near the Mexican border. The northern extent of the range lies within the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range, and is dominated by the "Point of the Pintas", a set-apart rocky summit that stands alone from the rest of the range. The main body of the range lies within the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Its remote location, proximity to the border (and possible negative issues arising from this fact), the extreme environment and the marginal roads combine to make this peak rarely visited and climbed. The register held names back to 1965, and often went years between visitors. In recent years, its profile has risen due to its status as one of Arizona's 2000-foot prominence peaks. Those who make the long journey to this remote and harsh corner of the state will be rewarded with a lovely climb and utter isolation.

The actual climb covers just over 1 mile each way up a rocky gully, but the climbing is generally class-2 rock hopping. Only a few spots could be class-3. The rock is usually solid, but as always, check each hold carefully. The approach, however, is an 8-mile walk along a desert track which is closed to vehicles. It's possible to cut off a mile by going cross-country in one case, but either way, the 14-16 miles of road walking may deter some people. The overall hike will be pushing 18 miles round trip. Fast hikers can probably do the round trip in 8 hours, but 10-12 hours is common.

I should state the obvious: summer is not the time to be poking out this way. Temperatures climb near 120 F (49 C) regularly. This is very remote territory, with no water sources. Winter can be very pleasant, but all visitors will need a permit, a beefy vehicle and provisions for a multi-day stay in case of an unplanned downtime.

The wilderness that includes the Pinta Mountains are closed every year from March 15 to July 15, for the bighorn calving season. Access into the range during that time is not permitted.
Sierra Pinta AZ
Approaching Heart Tank Canyon along the road, early morning,
Feb 10, 2013

Getting There

Sierra Pinta AZ
The summit as seen from the last rocky pinnacle along the ridge. 2-10-13

From Tacna along Interstate-8 in Yuma County (about 40 miles east of Yuma), drive 6 miles east on I-8 to milepost 48, then ease off to the shoulder and pass through an open gate immediately past MP-48. Although the sign says to close the gate, it has been open every time I have been here. From here on, the road is sand. Follow this road south then southeast. At 2.1 miles, you enter onto the Goldwater Range. At 18.2 miles, you come to a major 4-way road junction. By now the road has swung south again. Up to this point, the road is pretty good, and we were able to average 30 mph. The Mohawk Dunes lie to the east for virtually this whole segment.

Past the 4-way junction (staying south), the road narrows and becomes very washboarded. At 23.5 miles, you enter the Cabeza Prieta NWR. Sign in and proceed. At 32.1 miles, you'll see a rescue beacon to the left. Ease onto the flat patch of land beside this beacon. A side road branches southeast toward Sierra Pinta, but this road is closed to unauthorized vehicles. The elevation here is 917 feet. We averaged about 15 mph on this final 14-mile segment, and the whole drive took us 90 minutes.

The final 14 miles is rough and sandy. The road is sunk into a natural channel, with berms up to 4 feet high. Be careful not to yaw or fishtail, as you could swing your vehicle right into a berm. We did not use 4wd, but that does not mean you don't need it. You definitely want high-clearance, with the 4wd option. In wet weather, the roads could be impassable. There were some sections with a high center. I'd suggest to have a strong vehicle with 4-wheel drive. If you don't use it, that's fine, but if you come here without 4-wheel drive and you get stuck, you'll be in a real pickle of a situation. Sit tight and wait for a BP vehicle maybe in a couple days.

Mountain Conditions and Red Tape

Entry into the Goldwater-Cabeza Prieta complex is by permit only. The permit is free. It can be picked up at the BLM office in Phoenix, which is near a light rail depot. It can also be picked up at the MCAS in Yuma.

The mountains are stark and very rocky, with no significant tree cover and no forests whatsoever. Don't come here in summer!

Access to the Pinta Mountains is prohibited between March 15 to July 15.


You may car-camp within 50 feet of any legally-passable road within the range. You'll likely camp at the road junction leading to Heart Tank. There is plenty of room.

Sierra Pinta AZ
The rescue beacon at the road junction.

Route Information

From the road junction, start walking along the track toward the mountains. Eight miles later, you enter into a canyon. The road ends at a turn-around near a small weather station and a guzzler (hidden) for the bighorn sheep.

Walk into the canyon, and start trending right. You'll see a big overhang with water stains. This is (near) Heart Tank, and is not the way you want to go. Go right up the canyon, and hop from rock to rock, pushing through the brush as necessary. You come to a waterfall about 1/4 of the way up. It can be climbed by friction-stepping up the slick rock, or bypassed on the right by a brushy chute.

Keep going higher. About 2/3 of the way up, you come to a big rock in the main gully-course. While the left side seems better, the rock there is very loose. Instead, bypass it on the right by a chute.

Continue yet higher. Soon, you come to a choke point where a 5-foot "step" needs to by climbed. Option B is to angle left and up some solid class-3 rock, gaining about 25 feet. A cairn sits atop this segment, which is helpful for the descent. Above this, look up at the skyline and a rocky "prow" that cuts the gully into two halves. We went right, and it worked well for us. Going left probably works, but we had been told a small cliff is encountered.

Now on the skyline ridge, angle left and bypass the immediate rock outcrop. Toward the top, you'll have to cross over to the southeast-face and scooch along a small ledge with a little exposure, then shimmy down to a small notch. From here, it's an easy and safe stroll to the top. The top has two rock piles about 60 feet apart, so tag them both. The views are astounding, including big Volcan Santa Clara (Pinacate Peak ) in Mexico. To its right is the pink sands of the Altar Desert and beyond that, the waters of the Gulf of California.

Sierra Pinta AZ
The waterfall about 1/4 of the way up the canyon, Feb 10, 2013

Sierra Pinta AZ
The large rock in the gully (not the big one at the right of the photo) presents a small challenge. This is about 2/3 of the way up. We went right up a brushy chute. The left side looks good, but is extremely flakey rock. 2-10-13

Sierra Pinta AZ
This photo has glare, I know. However, note the rocky prow that divides the gully. We went right, then crossed the rock outcrop angling left to get to the summit. If you go up the left gully, I am told you hit a cliff, but I cannot be sure of that. Our way worked and was very safe. 2-10-13

External Links

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife RefugeArizona Prominence MapTrip report, Feb 10, 2013 (

Sierra Pinta AZ
A montage of views from the summit, plus the benchmark, 2-10-13

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

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Dundeel - Mar 1, 2011 9:31 pm - Voted 8/10

Red Tape

Each person must have a permit for all entry into the Barry Goldwater Military Range and into Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. It is one permit but you must call the appropriate officials before entering the different areas. Permits have to be picked up in person for the BGMR. For the western area, get the permit at the main gate for Yuma Marine Corp Air Station between 9am and 3pm weekdays. For the eastern area, search online for the BGMR to find out where and when to pick up the permit. Permits are all good until July of each year. We were checked by the Border Patrol repeatedly during this trip but they were always friendly.

neutscoot - Jan 19, 2021 9:25 am - Hasn't voted

Permit system has changed

As of January 2021, permits can be obtained completely online at You must register an account and watch a 13-minute video, and then you will be issued a permit valid until the next June 30. You are supposed to print two copies -- one to leave on the dash of your vehicle, and the other to have on your person while out on foot. You must also check-in and check-out online when you plan to visit. You can check-in the day of, or the day before. The permit is valid for both the Marine Corps and Air Force sides of BMGR, as well as Cabeza Prieta NWR. If you enter Cabeza Prieta, you must stop at the refuge boundary and fill out an additional slip that asks for your iSportsman permit number, intended activities, vehicle information, and length of stay.

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