Edited by: Chris Dong
& Keri Stooksbury
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Home to the saguaro cactus, Saguaro National Park has 91,000 acres of protected land and is bisected by the city of Tucson, Arizona. This area is part of the Sonoran Desert and each year, over 1 million tourists come to Saguaro National Park to explore the incredible lands and majestic cacti.
However, there’s more to this park than just cacti. There are fantastic hiking opportunities, breathtaking views, and adventure that are waiting for you. Here’s our guide to Saguaro National Park.
Saguaro National Park is located in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. This park is made up of 2 separate regions and is separated by Tucson. These sections are Saguaro East (the Rincon Mountain District) and Saguaro West (the Tucson Mountain District). Saguaro National Park stretches over 91,000 acres of desert landscape.
There are 2 airports that most travelers utilize when visiting Saguaro National Park.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is an hour and a half drive from Saguaro National Park. This international airport offers nonstop flights from Phoenix to 117 domestic and 23 international destinations. There are 20 airlines serviced by Phoenix Sky Harbor, with all the major U.S. domestic carriers and many international ones, including Air Canada, British Airways, and more.
Tucson International Airport is the closest airport to Saguaro National Park. It is a short 25-minute drive from the airport to the park. Tucson International Airport offers nonstop flights to 21 destinations in the U.S. and Canada and 1-stop flights to over 310 cities worldwide. Airlines served by Tucson International include American, Southwest, Sun Country Airlines, and United.
Saguaro National Park has 2 separate districts, Rincon Mountain District (Saguaro East) and Tucson Mountain District (Saguaro West). There are several ways to get to the park, it just depends on which area you are coming from. Let’s explore the various routes to arrive at Saguaro National Park by car.
Travelers can drive east on Broadway to Freeman Road and then take a right on Freeman Road. Taking Freeman Road for 3 miles and then turning left onto Old Spanish Trail is the direction you will want to take. The park entrance is just a quarter of a mile down Old Spanish Trail.
Visitors arriving at Saguaro East from Interstate 10 will take exit 275. After a short 8-mile drive, turn right on Escalante Road and then turn left on Old Spanish Trail. From this road, the park is less than a half mile.
Travelers visiting Saguaro West from the north of Tuscon will utilize I-10. The Avra Valley Road at exit 242 for 6 miles and turn left onto Sandario Road. After 14 miles, take Kinney Road, and you will see the entrance on the left after 2 miles.
Visitors arriving from the heart of Tucson will turn right onto Kinney Road. Driving for 4 miles on Kinney Road will eventually get you to Saguaro National Park. The park entrance is located on the right side of the road.
For those coming from the south of Tucson, I-19 is the main road you will access. Take the exit to Ajo Way and then travel west to Kinney Road. Driving on Kinney Road for 18 miles before arriving at the Saguaro National Park entrance.
No train service takes travelers directly to Saguaro National Park. However, there is an Amtrak station that can get visitors to downtown Tuscon. From there, travelers could rent a car to get to the entrance of the park.
The Tucson Amtrak Station is 14.5 miles from Saguaro National Park. This makes traveling by train a potential option for those wanting to visit Saguaro National Park.
Taking a Greyhound Bus to the region is another possible way to travel to Saguaro National Park without worrying about driving all the way there. The park is a 23-minute drive from the bus station. There aren’t public transportation options, so you’ll have to book a tour or rent a car from there.
There are several ways to get around in Saguaro National Park. From driving to horseback riding, let’s explore some options for navigating this national park.
Most visitors drive their vehicles through Saguaro National Park. The park has scenic drives and parking lots that can accommodate all types of vehicles. Some of the roads are paved, while others are dirt roads.
Another way to get around the park is by cycling through it. There are several trails and scenic drives where bikes are permitted. Those who choose to explore by bike need to be mindful of the speed limits and safety hazards posted near the roads.
Hiking is an excellent way to explore Saguaro National Park. There are hiking trails on the park’s east and west sides. These trails range from easy to strenuous and vary in length.
Horseback riding is permitted in several areas and is a fantastic way to take in the natural beauty of the park. It is essential to check out the guidelines for horseback riding before setting out to ensure that you aren’t in a restricted location.
Hot Tip: The National Park Service offers a variety of maps on its website for travelers to plan their itinerary during their park vacation.
Saguaro National Park is a stunning park to explore with an abundance of giant saguaro cacti in a desert landscape that perfectly portrays the U.S. Southwest.
There are a number of overlooks, mesmerizing landscapes, and opportunities for outdoor adventure in Saguaro National Park. Take a look at some of this park’s top sights and attractions.
Bajada Loop Drive is a scenic 6-mile loop that takes visitors to picnic areas, scenic pullouts, and trailheads. The road is unpaved and made of up 1- and 2-lane segments. Biking is permitted along Bajada Loop Drive for those who want to sneak in a workout while sightseeing.
Cactus Forest Drive is an 8-mile paved scenic drive through Saguaro National Park East. Taking this road offers an opportunity to see and experience the natural beauty of Saguaro National Park. This road also permits mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.
The Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a 0.4-mile-long trail on the west side of Saguaro National Park. This trail is perfect for all visitors, including those who utilize strollers for kids.
Saguaro cacti can be easily spotted along this trail. Along the way, informational signs teach about the plants, animals, and history of the park.
The King Canyon Trailhead is right across from the Sonoran Desert Museum (another must-visit attraction). King Canyon Trail is considered a moderate trail that involves some rock scrambling and steep inclines.
The King Canyon Trailhead allows adventurers to drive up a gravel trail or drop down into the wash. The trail is a 6.7-mile hike that takes about 4 hours to complete. Many visitors enjoy hiking this trail and are rewarded with stunning views and glimpses of the wildlife and plant life of Saguaro National Park.
The Loma Verde Trail is perfect for adventurers of all skills and abilities, including children. This trail starts off Cactus Drive and is a great place to park your vehicle and explore the desert.
There is a minimal elevation on the Loma Verde Trail and an abundance of plants and animals to observe while visiting. The trail is 2.4 miles long and ends when it connects to the Shantz Trail.
If you want to see amazing clues to the history of Saguaro National Park, head to Signal Hill. This park area showcases petroglyphs that date back hundreds of thousands of years. The prehistoric Hohokam tribe originally created this rock art.
Stargazing is a well-loved activity at Saguaro National Park. Visitors can see thousands of stars and details of the Milky Way on dark nights. There is some light pollution from the nearby cities, but for the most part, the surrounding mountains block most of the light, which helps to showcase the objects in the night sky.
Private stargazing tours can be booked for those who want to explore the night sky with a telescope. Professionals help adventurers to identify specific stars, planets, and galaxies and are happy to answer any astronomy questions that may arise.
Valley View Overlook trail is an easy hike of less than half a mile. The overlook provides stunning views of the Avra Valley and Picacho Peak. This trail is perfect for hikers of all ages and experience levels.
There are 2 visitor centers in Saguaro National Park, 1 in each park district. These visitor centers are open each day from early morning until sunset.
Red Hills Visitor Center is located on the park’s west side, and Rincon Mountain Visitor Center is on the east side of the park. These visitor centers feature museums, exhibits, and informational videos, and are an ideal spot to learn about the wildlife and plant life in Saguaro National Park.
Wasson Peak is one of the highest points in the Tuscon Mountains. Visitors to Saguaro National Park can reach this summit and get panoramic views of the mountains and saguaro cacti along the way. Several trails can get you to the summit of Wasson Peak. Each route is 8 miles or more with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet.
There is a large number of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles that can be spotted during your park explorations. The east side of the park, the Rincon Mountain District, is where most wildlife can be seen. The best place to spot the incredible animals of Saguaro National Park is along the Bridal Wreath Falls Trail, at Wasson Peak, and along the King Canyon Trail. The most common animals park guests see include Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, horned lizards, roadrunners, and collared peccaries.
Saguaro National Park is a wonderful place to visit, no matter what time of year you plan a trip. In the Southwest, days are typically sunny, and the weather is mild year-round, but chillier at night. Daytime during the summer months can be unbearably hot, so this is something to keep in mind.
If there are particular sights or activities you’re hoping to participate in, there may be a better time to plan a visit.
Most visitors seek a non-crowded time to visit Saguaro National Park. If you desire a more solitary experience, plan a trip in November. Besides being less crowded, the fall months are great for backpacking and camping in the park. Wildlife is out and about, and winter wildflowers are beginning to bloom. The temperatures range from the high 40s to mid-70s, making outdoor activities comfortable.
The wildflowers blooming in Saguaro National Park can be a remarkable sight, depending on that season’s rainfall. If you want to visit to see fields of flowers in bloom, plan a visit in March. Not only may you see gorgeous colors dotting the fields, but there’s also incredible weather during this time of year when things aren’t too hot.
Several events take place in Saguaro National Park each year. Whether you enjoy running, art, or simply spending time in nature, there’s an event you will want to check out at this national park. Let’s explore some of the top events that take place in Saguaro National Park.
The Arizona Art Hike is a free event in January in Saguaro National Park. This event allows visitors to paint, hike, and enjoy time in the park with others. The Arizona Art Hike starts at the Broadway Trailhead and loops to Mica View Trail. Participants will hike a mile, then stop for journaling, painting, and drawing before completing the hike.
Beyond and Southern Arizona Roadrunners Saguaro National Park West Run/Walk Event is a sponsored running and walking event that takes participants through Saguaro National Park West. This 4-mile run/walk takes place in January and is a free, non-competitive event. The race takes place on dirt roads and is open to runners and walkers of all experience levels.
The Saguaro Half Marathon takes place each year in February. This race allows participants to run through the Sonoran Desert and experience the beauty waiting in and near Saguaro National Park.
Planning where to set up a home base is one of the most important parts of planning any trip. There are several places for accommodations in and near Saguaro National Park. Let’s take a look at the different options to decide which would suit your vacation needs.
If you enjoy sleeping under the stars, you will find the perfect escape in the park since the only option for lodging at Saguaro National Park is to camp at one of the many campgrounds.
There are 6 developed campgrounds and backcountry campsites scattered in many areas throughout Saguaro. Each campground requires a permit or reservation, which can be obtained through the park’s reservation service. Let’s explore the different campgrounds available in Saguaro National Park.
Douglas Spring is located 6.3 miles from the Turkey Creek trailhead and is surrounded by oaks and cottonwoods, which are lovely during the hot summer months and provide shade to campers.
Douglas Spring has the lowest elevation of all the campgrounds, which is perfect during the winter, as there are lower snow levels at this point. The hike to Douglas Spring Campground offers stunning views of Tanque Verde Falls and several drainages, such as the Tina Larga tank. It is essential to know that fires aren’t permitted at this campground because the area is susceptible to fire and lacks firewood.
Grass Shack is a campground located 10 miles from the Loma Alta trailhead. Mature sycamores and large shade trees surround this campground, while streams running through make it a serene choice for camping.
Fires are not permitted in the Grass Shack campground and the views are also exceptional from this campground. This is 1 of the 2 campgrounds on the Arizona Trail.
Happy Valley is a campground on the back side of the Rincon Mountains. This campground is 4.1 miles from the Miller Creek trailhead and is at 6,200 feet elevation.
Happy Valley offers a more primitive camping experience with dirt roads and stream crossings. This campground can be greatly affected by winter storms so it’s best to be prepared, but you will have spectacular views if you can stay there.
Juniper Basin is located approximately 6.9 miles from Tanque Verde Ridge. It is a strenuous hike up to the Tanque Verde Ridge, but once you arrive, you are rewarded with sweeping views and diverse habitats. This campground offers 3 campsites at a 3,000 feet elevation gain. This campground permits fires, but you must collect dead and downed wood from the area.
Manning Campground was built by a former mayor of Tucson, Levi Manning. This campground was the summer home of the Manning family and showcases beautiful views of the landscape, plants, and animals. Manning Campground is 7.5 miles from the Turkey Creek trailhead and is 7,920 feet in elevation.
A ranger is stationed here from April to September to answer questions and give tips for the best camping experience at Saguaro National Park.
Spud Rock is the most remote campground in Saguaro National Park. This campground is 5.3 miles from the Turkey Creek trailhead at 7,200 feet in elevation.
The closest towns to Saguaro National Park are Tucson, Marana, and the Catalina Foothills area. These areas offer several options for lodging and lots of shopping, dining, and recreation opportunities. Check out these towns near the park and see if they have what you’re looking for.
The Catalina Foothills is an area nearby, about a 20-minute drive from Saguaro National Park. The Catalina Foothills area is known for its plentiful recreation opportunities, incredible restaurants, and fantastic shopping scene.
There are several lodging options in Catalina Foothills, from budget hotels to luxury hotels. For entertainment and recreation, visitors enjoy spending the day at one of the golf courses, art galleries, and museums or shopping at one of the boutiques or shops.
Tucson is a popular town for those wanting to stay near Saguaro National Park. Tucson is only 13 miles from the park, making it a convenient choice for lodging, dining, and recreation. This town is well-known for its exciting history and culture.
Tucson has an abundance of places for lodging. There are ranch resorts, desert lodges, and luxury hotels all around.
The city is incredible for dining and has recently been named a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. From authentic southwestern and Mexican cuisine to local diners, there’s something for everyone’s palate available.
This city is thriving with activities for travelers to enjoy. Top attractions in Tucson include the Pima Air and Space Museum, Reid Park Zoo, Tucson Botanical Gardens, and visiting historic landmarks like San Xavier del Bac Mission.
Whether you are craving a burger or authentic cultural cuisine, you can find exactly what you are looking for in a nearby city. There are no restaurants in Saguaro National Park, but there is a variety of incredible restaurants nearby. Let’s look at 4 restaurants that get rave reviews from travelers.
Bob’s Steak and Chop House is a steakhouse located in Tucson in the Omni Tucson National Resort. This restaurant is just 7 miles from Saguaro National Park.
The restaurant has an incredible menu of Texas-sized top-quality steaks, pork chops, and seafood, as well as an award-winning wine selection and signature cocktails. Diners rave about the prime ribeye and signature glazed carrots.
Bob’s Steak and Chop House is the perfect spot to take a break from your park adventure and enjoy a delicious hearty meal.
La Olla Mexican Café proudly serves Sonoran-style classic dishes with a twist. This casual cafe is only 5 minutes from Saguaro National Park.
The cafe has an impressive menu of authentic Mexican foods and delicious margaritas as well as a wide variety of top-shelf liquors and fine wines. A favorite dish is the El Grandote, tacos with 2 different types of meats, fresh vegetables, beans, and rice.
If you find yourself famished at Saguaro National Park after a day, stop by La Olla Mexican Café for a great meal, refreshing drinks, and exceptional service.
Los Nopales is an authentic Mexican restaurant located in Tucson. The restaurant is located 4 miles from Saguaro National Park. It is an ideal place to grab a quick lunch or dinner while on your national park vacation.
Los Nopales is a family-owned business that proudly serves freshly made dishes at a reasonable price. Customer favorites include the Mexican Combination Plate and the Red Chili Con Carne. To refuel during or after your park adventure, stop by Los Nopales for a delicious meal and a break in the day.
Signature Grill is a formal dining experience located in JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort and Spa. This restaurant offers southwestern cuisine, including Native American and Mexican dishes, and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The restaurant has a diverse menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as an all-day kids’ menu and a signature wine and cocktail list. Customer favorites include the chicken fettuccini pasta and the red wine braised short rib. Popular drinks include the Starr Pass Lemon Drop and the Road Runner.
Saguaro National Park was originally a national monument that Herbert Hoover established in 1933. It didn’t become a national park until 1994 when many acres of land were set aside as wilderness, and Congress elevated the monument to national park status.
Saguaro National Park is named after the famous saguaro cactus found in the park. The saguaro cactus is only found in this part of the world and symbolizes the American Southwest. This cactus can live up to 200 years and grow 50 feet tall. When visiting Saguaro National Park, these remarkable plants are a spectacular sight.
The highest point in Saguaro National Park is found at Mica Mountain. This mountain stands at 8,668 feet and is located in the Rincon Mountain District of the park.
Many animals make their home in Saguaro National Park. Some surprising animals found in the park include horned lizards, Gila monsters, roadrunners, kangaroo rats, and collared peccaries.
Several animals who live in Saguaro National Park are listed on the endangered or threatened animals list. Some of these animals include the Mexican spotted owl, the lesser long-nosed bat, the yellow-billed cuckoo, and the jaguar.
Over 175 miles of hiking trails are available for adventurers at Saguaro National Park. These trails vary in length and difficulty. Some trails are entirely paved, while others are backcountry. Favorite hikes at Saguaro National Park include Loma Verde Trail, Wasson Peak Hike, and Desert Ecology Trail.
Lime kilns were built in the Tucson Mountain area because lime was an essential building material for developing communities. The demand for lime began to grow in the 19th century as towns grew rapidly. There are 6 lime kilns in Saguaro National Park — 2 of these kilns are found in the Tucson Mountains District, and the other 4 are located in the Rincon Mountain District.
Interestingly, 7 planes have crashed at Saguaro East since 1942, and 5 of these plane crashes were military aircraft. The most recent plane crash was in 1984. Some engines and remains from these crashes have been salvaged and are displayed at The Pima Air and Space Museum in Tuscon.
In 1928, the president of the University of Arizona, Homer L. Shantz, envisioned an outdoor laboratory for science. For over 80 years, the park scientists have worked with University of Arizona researchers to study the saguaros, wildlife, and other desert attributes in Saguaro National Park.
Several Native American tribes originally inhabited the Saguaro National Park Area. Some of these tribes include the Tohono, Hohokam, and Tohono O’odham. The indigenous people of this area were originally hunters and gatherers.
Saguaro National Park was named because of the abundance of saguaro cacti found in the park. There are nearly 2 million of these impressive plants in the park. Causing any damage to the cacti found in the park is a felony.
Saguaro National Park offers a multitude of programming for kids, but one of the favorite programs provided by the park service is the Junior Ranger Program. This program empowers youth to become explorers, learners, and protectors of national parks.
There is a series of activities for kids to participate in, and they can earn badges when they finish the different activities. Once a child completes their Junior Ranger booklet, they can submit their final product to a park ranger for a special swearing-in by a park ranger.
Dozens of movies and shows have been filmed in Saguaro National Park. With Western films being shot in the park as early as 1918, Saguaro National Park and its saguaro cacti can be seen in many television shows and movies.
There are 5 different biomes found in Saguaro National Park. These biomes include semi-desert grassland, Madrean evergreen woodland, and thorn scrub.
Saguaro National Park is a fantastic park with plenty to explore, experience, and discover. From the mesmerizing saguaro cactus to the unique wildlife to the incredible opportunities for outdoor adventure, there’s no shortage of excitement at Saguaro National Park. A trip to this national park will create memories to last a lifetime and unique experiences that will be remembered forever.
It costs $25 to enter Saguaro National Park. This fee provides entry and re-entry for 7 days. Those entering the park on foot or by bicycle will pay $15 for the week.
Spending 1 to 2 days in Saguaro National Park is recommended. This will allow plenty of time to explore the sights and hike several trails.
Pets are permitted in several areas of Saguaro National Park, including in most picnic areas, roadways, and paved trails.
The weather varies significantly throughout the year at Saguaro National Park, but every day is sunny. The temperature reaches its lowest of 40 degrees in the winter and can exceed 110 degrees during the summer.
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