Dreaming of Travel: Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park stands out as a truly memorable experience for all ages!
This standout park is named after the giant Saguaro Cactus that resides there. Say it like this “sa war oh.” These cactus are incredible, and you’ll find yourself in awe over and over again. Saguaro can live to about 175 years old! They aren’t considered adult cactus until about 125 years. They can weigh up to 6 tons and grow to 50 feet! They are truly incredible, and photos cannot do these majestic plants justice, you simply must see them for yourself.
Saguaro National Park is comprised of two distinctly different districts. These districts are separated by the city of Tucson. The drive time between the two districts is about one hour.
Technically, you could “see” both parks in one day, but it would be a lot of driving and you may not get to enjoy your experience as much. I would suggest visiting Saguaro National Park you reserve 2 days. You can stay in Tucson to be centrally located to both.
Day 1 - Tucson Mountain District
Start in Saguaro West - The Tucson Mountain District. Heading into the park, you’ll pass the welcome sign, and then the visitor center. You can grab a map, and any souvenirs you like at the visitor center. This is a good place to stop and speak with Rangers if you have any questions, or need suggestions. The visitor center is also the only place in the park where water is available, so be sure and get some extra water if you haven’t already brought some. This is the desert, so be sure and have more than you think you need. This side of the park is open from dawn until dusk.
From the visitor center is the Cactus Garden Trail. This trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible and shows a variety of desert plants. About a mile past the visitor center is another stroller-friendly path. Look for the parking lot for the “desert discovery trail”. This is about half a mile, paved and flat.
To really see this side of the park, you will want to drive the Bajada Loop Drive. The road is not paved but is in good shape and passable for even small cars. You cant bring a motorhome, bus, or pull a trailer. The drive is a 5-mile loop that will take you to all of the highlights of the Tucson Mountain District.
Keep an eye out for “Valley View Overlook Trail”. This is just under a mile roundtrip out and back. There is slight elevation gain, but the trail is very easy. It is not paved, but relatively flat, and kids and adults of all ages should be able to enjoy this walk. You’ll pass a large variety of desert plants and cacti, some will be labeled to help you learn about the ecosystem. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of the valley below.
Another great stop along your drive is the Signal Hill area. Here there is a picnic area and restrooms, so it's a great place to stop for a while. Up a short trail, you can find ancient petroglyphs carved into rocks. The trail to the petroglyphs is uphill and has stone steps. It is short and not difficult. Be sure and stay on the trail and don’t reach into any of the rock piles that you pass on this trail as this is a known area for rattlesnakes.
Once you have completed the drive you have seen most of this side of the park. You have three options now.
- Head back to your hotel/house and rest
- Head over to the East District and see the rest of the park in one day
- Go to the Arizona Señora Desert Museum for a few hours (I highly recommend this option)
The Arizona Señora Desert Museum is an incredible experience. We enjoyed it even more than the park. There are so many exhibits to walk through and it really gives you a great education on the area, plants, and wildlife that inhabit the desert. You can spend the whole day here but plan at least a few hours.
Day 2- Rincon Mountain District
Today, you’ll explore Saguaro National Park East, the Rincon Mountain District. This district is open from 9-5. If you like to ride bicycles this is a good place to ride. There are some hills that may be hard for smaller kids, but it is definitely an option if you are up to it.
Starting at the visitor center, there is a 1/4 mile paved trail called the Desert Ecology Trail. This is wheelchair and stroller-friendly. Again, the visitor center is the only place in the park to get water, so be sure and get it while you can.
Cactus Forest Loop Drive is an 8 mile, paved, one-way loop that goes through this district. There are numerous pullouts with places to get out and walk to some of the most impressive Saguaro Cactus you will ever see! There are 2 picnic areas along this drive with bathrooms and picnic tables.
Along the back of the drive, Javelina Rocks is a good stop to get out and explore the area. This is also a good spot to watch the sunset.
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is located just off Cactus Forest Loop and offers a hiking trail that is 20 miles long. You can walk in just a short distance though, and find rocks to sit on and enjoy the sunset and views. There is a large parking lot here as well as restrooms.
Wildlife and Climate of Saguaro National Park
This is the desert so be prepared for a wide variety of weather. It can be extremely hot in the summer, and flash flooding can occur if it rains too much. Always wear closed-toed shoes, sunscreen, and protective clothing.
Animals that live in the desert include Gila monsters, Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Javelina, Black bears, Coyotes, Mountain Lions, Desert Tortoises, owls, and many birds. Stay on trails. Never reach into rocks or crevices where you cannot see.
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