Family Weekend Near Tucson: Picacho Peak State Park and the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch
For families that like to camp but still appreciate the small luxuries in life, Picacho Peak State Park campgrounds are a fantastic option. The plots are snug and tidy, and equipped with an electrical outlet, picnic tables with benches, and fire pit with a small grill on top. The areas where the tents go were surprisingly rocky, but it didn’t cause us too much trouble because we use bed rolls and an air mattress.
Another reason this state park was the perfect location for us is that we were having a family campout with relatives that live in Tucson. Picacho Peak is almost exactly a half-way point for our two families to meet. Having cousins close in age to ride bikes and scooters with around the campsite loop gave the kids something easy and safe to do while the adults were setting up the tents and food.
Also of note, the bathrooms were pristine! They were spacious and clean, air conditioned, and even had hot showers. The bathrooms were also plentiful enough that it was always an easy walk to get to one. They have also done a great job making the campsite and restrooms handicap accessible.
Entrance to the park costs only $7 per vehicle, and campsite reservations are $30 per night per vehicle October through May, and $25 per night per vehicle June through September. Reservations can be made online.
Being on this site gave our family the feeling of really experiencing some of the best of the Sonoran desert. Even though we live in Chandler and are surrounded by desert every day, the campground terrain has been purposefully kept in a natural state, outside of the few paved roads and parking lots. When you pitch your tent and the sun starts to go down, the desert sights and sounds completely engage your senses. From where we were, the highway was clearly visible. However, It was far enough away that it wasn’t loud, and we found that the glow of the cars quietly sweeping by could be hypnotic, and often during conversations our gazes would inadvertently turn toward the lights.
Close to the park entrance is a small covered picnic area and park called the Ocotillo Pavillion. The playground is small, but gave the kids a great area to run, climb, and swing off some energy! Just off the same parking area is a two tenths of a mile easy hiking trail called “The Children’s Cave.” We made that hike with five kids in tow (actually they towed us). You get to cross a cute little bridge, and then climb mostly uphill through a clearly marked, easy trail to get to an outcropping of rocks with a small hidey hole just big enough to call a cave!
The kids felt like mountaineers as they crawled around the boulders, then climbing on top for a better view. The good news is the way back is all downhill, and there is a water fountain by the restrooms that has really cold water!
Just about one mile east of the park is the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, a unique hands on animal experience that will please customers of all ages! This was our first visit, and we did not know what to expect. But I can say I was pleasantly surprised! We all had a lot of fun interacting with the animals.
When we entered the main building the kids were immediately drawn to a shiny LED target shooting range, one of those silly kinds that makes something funny happen when you hit the bullseye.
After a few minutes of shooting stuff, we got our cups of animal feed and walked outside. The first animal we were greeted by were donkeys! They were adorable and quite eager to suck those little green food pellets out of our hands.
Off to the left was a house of colorful parakeets. In each food cup we had been given a stick with bird seeds stuck to it. We poked them through the slats towards the birds and made instant friends! The little birds couldn’t wait to get their beaks on those sweet tweets… uh… treats.
To the left of that was the deer pen, where graceful heads peered out through the square openings in the fence. Although very shy creatures in the wild, these deer were more than happy to get up close and accept some feed from the squealing children. We even saw a baby fawn!
I feel like goats are naturally funny creatures. They are goofy and kinda dumb, especially the ones that faint when they get scared. However, the Ranch has gone above and beyond to make an already goofy animal into something beyond absurd. Enter the uphill feeder conveyor belt. Yes it’s as strange as it sounds! There are small whiffle balls attached to a conveyor belt, in which one is expected to place feed pellets, then turn the handle to deliver the pellets to hyperactive goats waiting on the top of a tall structure. The whiffle ball dumps the pellets into a feed stations, and said goats are happy.
Not to be outdone, there is another goat feeding station just off to the right called – I kid you not – The Kissing Booth. Yes, my friends, another life goal has been checked off our bucket list today! My husband and daughter have indeed been kissed by a goat. This astounding feat of amazement is performed by placing a food pellet in your own mouth (BLAAAHHHH) and leaning in toward the disembodied head of a goat protruding from a hole in a wall, and puckering up. (May I repeat, BLAAAHHH!!!!!!)
Ok, moving on, the next area was much less gross. Here we come to the actual ostrich part of the Ostrich Ranch! These guys were really beautiful and fun, but they do not hesitate to bite the hands that feed them. To feed our friends in this station, we put the pellets into cups on one side of the fence, and they slid through a pipe into a dish on the other side.
Also included in the ranch is a hen house, baby goats, sheep, ducks, and bunnies. The last attraction we visited was my favorite. Everyone was given a tiny cup of nectar, and we entered a lorikeet enclosure. The lorikeets were so pretty and sweet. All we had to do was hold our arms out with the cup in our hands, and the lorikeets would pry the lid off by themselves! They then would sit on our hands and have a drink, sometimes walking up our arm to our shoulder, or have a little sit down on our heads! It was hysterical when they decided to land on our heads, and very hard for the excited little ones not to shriek in delight!
Inside the main building is a stingray exhibit, where for a small extra fee, you an experience petting a real stingray. In the giftshop, we enjoyed touching real ostrich eggs. This was a fantastic experience, everyone in our family enjoyed it.
8 year old: “One thing I loved that I got to see Grandma and Grandpa and Cleo (the dog). I liked feeding the animals.”
6 year old: “I liked riding our scooters around the campsite and hiking. It was funny when I kissed the goat, it felt slobbery!”
3 year old: “I liked everything we did. My favorite part of the park was the swings.”
Looking for more activities in the Tucson area? Check out this list! Or browse other ideas for day trips from Phoenix.