Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge


(520) 387-6483

Map Directions

Things To Do



A journey into the third largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states takes plenty of water and desert survival skills. Almost all of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is designated wilderness. Seven rugged mountain ranges cast shadows above valleys dotted with sand dunes and lava flows. The 1,000-square-mile refuge shares a 56-mile international border with Sonora, Mexico.

Temperatures may top 100 degrees for 90 to 100 straight days from June to October. Summer thundershowers and winter soaking rains average about 7.5 cm on the western part of the refuge and up to 20 cm on the east side, 60 miles away. The winter and summer pattern of rainfall in the Sonoran desert stimulates the growth of more plant species than in most deserts. You'll find creosote bush flats, bursage on the bajadas, mesquite, palo verde, ironwood, and an abundance of cacti, including ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro.

Endangered Sonoran pronghorn and lesser long-nosed bats call this parched land home, as do desert bighorns, lizards, rattlesnakes, and desert tortoises. Elf owls peer from holes carved in saguaros by Gila woodpeckers. Every plant and animal has adapted to life that would be uninhabitable. Far from a barren desert, Cabeza Prieta NWR harbors as many as 420 plant species and more than 300 kinds of wildlife.

Cabeza Prieta, Spanish for "dark head," refers to a lava-topped, granite peak in a remote mountain range in the western corner of the refuge.

Map of Cabeza Prieta NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 32.385340, -112.862881



  • Hiking

    A visitor center, short interpretive trail, and pupfish pond near the Refuge office offer an introduction to the ecology of the Sonoran desert. For the well prepared, the Refuge offers plentiful hiking, photography, wildlife observation, and primitive camping. Please do not linger near water holes. Wildlife depend on them for survival.

  • Hunting

    Cabeza Prieta NWR offers a limited desert bighorn sheep hunt each December under State permit. This high quality hunting experience in a desert wilderness setting requires long hikes just to arrive at the base of many of the mountain ranges. Hunters must carry in their own food and water. Please contact the Refuge for more specific information about the bighorn sheep hunt.



From Phoenix: Take I-10 west to exit 112, follow Highway 85 south to Gila Bend, continue south on 85 approximately 40 miles to Ajo.

From Tucson: Take Highway 86 (Ajo Way) west across the Tohono O'odham reservation to Why, follow Highway 85 north to Ajo.

From Yuma: take I-8 east to Gila Bend, follow Highway 85 south approximately 40 miles to Ajo.

The refuge office is on the west side of the highway at the north end of town.

Phone Numbers


(520) 387-6483