The Peppersauce Cave is an Arizona hidden gem complete with an underground lake

Timothy Rawles
Peppersauce Cave entranceAtlas Obscura

By Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Peppersauce Cave is a hidden explorable limestone cave within the Santa Catalina Mountains.

People who want to hike this small, cavernous system can expect to walk about one mile of mapped underground pathways. It’s not for the casual explorer who is used to handrail assistance and helpful amenities, but the difficulty level might be okay for beginners.

The site isn’t a widely known landmark. In fact, it wasn’t until a 1948 article in The Desert Magazine that the caves were brought to the attention of the public. And it’s since become a place for those “who know.”

The spot is about 10 miles south of Oracle. Inside, climbing isn’t particularly exhausting but be prepared for some trekking, tight squeezes, and minor rope climbing.

Peppersauce is open to the public but not officially regulated by any agency. There isn’t a parking lot and getting there requires traversing over a loose rocky trail leading up to the opening. A cave map is posted on a kiosk just below the cave entrance.

There are no guided tours, and paths don’t have handrails so visitors must rely on themselves for safety.

Once inside there are three fissures. Sometimes rain and snowmelt can cause the underground lakes to flood, but normally the water levels stay consistent. With so much water and internal heat, the humidity can be extreme.

The main lake can be accessed by utilizing a ladder leading up to the second level, or as it’s been nicknamed the “big room.” Another metal ladder takes you to the second cave which has a sloping wall resembling a large slide. That can be a little dangerous if you’re not prepared to land on your feet.
Peppersauce Cave mapAtlas Obscura

Another room is a hub that contains entrances to tunnels. It’s called the “signing room” thanks to the many signatures left by explorers. Guest books and pens are accessible, so people don’t further vandalize the environment.

For decades Peppersauce was plagued by graffiti and litter. In 2001, a cleanup detail called the Peppersauce Cave Conservation Project (PCCP) led by volunteers cleared away trash and markings.

As with most hikes appropriate footwear should be worn. Consider clothing that you don’t mind getting soiled or completely ruined. There aren’t any light sources inside so people should bring two flashlights per person.

The caves are in a remote location so going by yourself is risky. Bringing friends with you is a good rule of thumb. Also letting someone know where you’re going who’s not in your party is an added safety measure.

When you have finally conquered the Peppersauce Caves there’s still a whole city to explore in the foothills. The city of Oracle is about 15 minutes away at the bottom of the Catalina Mountains. It’s become known for attracting people with all kinds of interests.

There’s horseback riding, stargazing, hiking, camping, and biking. Animal lovers can spend a few hours inside Oracle State Park which is also serves as a wildlife refuge.

Oracle has a thriving artist community if you’re in the mood to tour art exhibits or shop for unique items.

The world-famous Biosphere 2 is close by. Glide above the landscape at the Arizona Zipline Adventures or visit the Acadia Ranch Museum.

Oracle is a great place to rest up before or after your adventure through Peppersauce Caves. You can even do some camping and make a weekend of it.

The Peppersauce Caves aren’t too challenging for beginners but keep in mind some crawlspaces are very tight. Go at your own risk and remember to bring water, bring plenty of light, and be respectful of the grounds for the hundreds of other people who will visit the spot each year.

The best way to find Peppersauce Cave is to type it into your GPS program.

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Timothy Rawles has been a journalist for over 20 years. He has written for global publications in San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix. His favorite stories are features, interviews, entertainment news, and local stories.

San Tan Valley, AZ

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