Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park: Everything you need to know

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Entrance Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is one of 3 National Parks in the US State of Arizona. The park in its entirety is about 92,00 acres. Saguaro National Park is divided into 2 sections. There is an “Eastside” which is called Rincon Mountain District, and a “Westside ” called Tucson Mountain District. The 2 “sides” of Saguaro National Park are divided by the city of Tucson, it takes about an hour to drive from visitor center to visitor center.

President Hoover established the Saguaro National Monument in the Rincon Mountains in 1933. In 1961, President Kennedy renamed the original park “Rincon Mountain District” and added the “Tucson Mountain District” to the monument. In 1994, Congress named both districts “Saguaro National Park”

America the Beautiful

Where is Saguaro National Park?

Saguaro National Park is located in Tucson Arizona. The closest airport to the park is Tucson Airport (TUC) about 16 miles away. You can also fly into Phoenix (PHX). It is about 1.5 hours drive south from Phoenix, but flights are often cheaper and have more choices with flight times, and rental cars because it is a bigger airport. There is a rental car pick up and return from both airports. We rented a jeep and it was SO MUCH FUN!

Everyone knows you cant take a vacation without trying local food! When in Tucson you absolutely HAVE to try the Sonoran Hot Dog!

Where did the name come from ?

Saguaro National Park gets it’s name from the Saguaro Cactus which lives protected in the parks boundaries. The Saguaro Cactus is an impressive and interesting plant, and we are so lucky that it is being protected. This area of the world, is the only place Saguaros grow naturally.

Saguaro- First of all let me admit to the fact that I said this word incorrectly until just recently. Let me help you so you aren’t like me.

Saguaro- SUH-WAA-ROW

Saguaro Cactus Facts

  • Saguaros live to be about 175 years old, although some are thought to live to well over 200 years old!
  • They are a very slow-growing plant. Saguaros grow only about 1-1.5 inches in the first 8 years!
  • Saguaros often start life living under the protection of another tree, and using those trees nutrients for survival
  • A Saguaro Cactus will not begin to flower until it is at least 35 years old, and then will flower every year after.
  • The first arms will not start to grow on a Saguaro Cactus until it is somewhere around 50-70 years old!
  • When the Saguaro turns 125 years old, it is considered an adult cactus
  • A grown Saguaro can be 50 feet tall and weigh over 6 tons!
  • Saguaro Cactus is the largest cactus in the US

The Saguaro is the star of the show at this National Park, but there are many other types of Cactus, trees, and plants that live in this desert landscape too!

Animals in Saguaro National Park

This is the desert, and you will find all the animals you would normally find in desert climates. 6 species of rattlesnakes call Saguaro National Park home. Other reptiles that live here are Gila monsters, lizards, Western Coral Snakes, and Desert Tortoises. There are also amphibians such as numerous species of frogs that live in Saguaro National Park. There are numerous bird species as well. There, of course, are mammals too! Mammals that call Saguaro National Park home are mountain lion, fox, coyote, wolf, bobcat, skunk, deer, black bear, rats, squirrels, and rabbits.

Be aware of wildlife at all times when visiting Saguaro National Park. Snakes are more active in the evening and usually not seen from November to March (although they can be). Never put your hand in to rock crevices. Be aware when walking through or near shrubs or rocks.

You likely won’t run into the local mammals, but if you do remember to keep your distance. Always remember this is their home, and you are a guest. Leave animals and plants undisturbed.

The Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum is a great stop near the Rincon Mountain entrance of the park and has so many interesting ways to learn about the plants and animals that call Saguaro National Park home. You could spend an entire day here learning about everything! There are butterfly gardens, a ton of plants, and open-air exhibits for the animals. Definitely make it a point to spend some time here, you won’t regret it!

How long should you spend in Saguaro National Park?

Great question! Of course the answer all depends on what you want to do in the park! We spent one full day, from sunrise to sunset visiting both sides of the park. We did 2 short hikes, took a million pictures, did both scenic drives (more on that later) and had more than enough time to pull over and enjoy the scenery.

If you want to do longer hikes, then you may need more time. But I would say 1-2 days in Saguaro National Park is adequate. If you are in the area for a little longer, I would highly recommend driving south and checking out Chiricahua National Monument, it is so different from Saguaro and so worth a day’s visit!

When should you visit Saguaro National Park?

The temperature in Saguaro National Park will get down right HOT in the summer! I highly recommend you NOT planning any hiking or big adventures here in the summer. November – March is beautiful weather. The Cactus begin flowering in late March and continue into early June. Keep in mind every year is dependent on the weather so blooms may not be 100% when you expect them to be.

When hiking, or enjoying the desert you need to remember the harsh climate and stay safe. Ways to do this are

  • Wear a hat
  • Wear Sunscreen
  • Have at least a gallon of water per person, per day
  • When you have HALF of your water remaining, you need to stop and return to your car/camp. Never try to push on when you are low on water.
  • Don’t go out in the heat of the day. If you are there in the summer try and hike early, or later in the day.

Where should you stay when visiting Saguaro National Park?

Hotels/Airbnb- If you want to stay in a hotel, apartment or house, then you will want to look in Tucson. Tucson is a college town, and there are a lot of housing options to fit every budget. You can stay down town Tucson near the college for access to bars, restaurants and fun. You can also stay more towards the Tucson Airport, where it is quieter. Either way, you’ll be having to drive to the parks because they aren’t really “close” to anything in town.

Camping- There are no developed campgrounds here. There is backcountry camping by permit only. No RV’s are allowed backcountry camping. There are 6 campgrounds, all of which must be hiked to. The link to Camping at Saguaro National Park can be found here. There are a few more campsites nearby which can be found here.

What is there to do in Saguaro National Park

HIKE!

There are some great short hikes in the park that give you a great overview to the area, and the plants that live there!

On the West Side, there are over 40 miles of hiking trails. If you want easy, Wild Dog Trail (1.8miles), Signal Hill (less than .5 mile) to see petroglyphs, and Valley View (0.8 miles) are all great easy short hikes! There are longer ones too! Sendero Esperanza Trail to the Ridge/ To Wasson Peak (3-8 miles), Picture Rocks (7.6 miles ) and King Canyon (7.8miles) are great choices!

On the East Side for short hikes, you have the Freeman Homestead Trail (1 mile) and the Hope Camp Trail (2 miles). Longer hikes on the Eastside are Loma Verde Loop (3.8 miles) and Garwood Dam ( 6.4 miles). There is also Tanque Verde Ridge Trail which can vary depending on how far you want to go, this can be anywhere from .75 mile to 8.6 miles.

DRIVE!

Of course, you don’t have to hike! In fact, Saguaro National Park has 2 scenic drives that are super easy and super awesome! These drives get you to see the best of both sides of the park. They are easy to drive for all vehicles, although long trailers over 35 feet aren’t allowed on either drive.

West Side (Rincon Mountain) Scenic Drive-
Rincon Mountain Scenic Drive Saguaro

Bajada Loop Drive is a 6 mile, unpaved dirt loop that takes you through the west side of Saguaro National Park. While it is unpaved, you do not need 4WD to use the road. Trailers longer than 35 feet long, or wider than 8 feet are not permitted on Bajada Loop Drive. 

This drive will take you to hiking trails, picnic areas, and through the great scenery of the cactus that call this park home. 

To drive Bajada Loop Drive, start at the Red Hills Visitor Center, turn right on Kinney Road, and follow that for about 1.5miles. The loop starts at Hohokam Road and will head up to the right. There are many pullouts along the way where you can get out and take photos and get a closer look at the landscape. Some great stops along the way are Valley View overlook, and Signal Hill to see the petroglyphs. There are restrooms and picnic tables here.

East Side (Tucson Mountain) Scenic Drive-

The Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is 8 miles of paved road through the East side of Saguaro National Park. Just like on the West Side, large trailers are not allowed on the drive. This loop takes you through the cactus forest, to scenic views, hiking trailheads, and a number of excellent pull-outs. Part of this loop is only one way, so be sure and pay attention to where you are, and where you want to go! This road will get you anywhere you need to go in the park! You start at the visitors center and follow the signs.

*The Gates close to the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop at dusk so be sure to get there before that. You can stay for sunset and leave the park anytime, you just can’t get back in!

Which side is best?

Ah… the questions of all questions. I think its a preference. I know, thats not a great answer. I personally enjoyed the East Side more. The road is paved and easy to drive, there are HUGE cactuses and great pull outs. We enjoyed a great sunset from the east side as well. I would recommend visiting both. They are both different, and neither take too long to explore, so why not make a day out of it, and see them both?

I hope you enjoy your trip to Saguaro National Park! Be sure and let me know in the comments, what you did with your time there, and what you liked the best! If you are in the planning stages, be sure and PIN this post for later!

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