Saguaro National Park is one of the most epic places in the state of Arizona. What to do when you’re visiting Saguaro National Park? This is the ultimate guide.
About Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is one of the three US National Parks in the state of Arizona (the others are Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forests National Park). It’s located in the south of the state in the Sonoran Desert, near the city of Tucson. It has two districts, one on the east side (the Rincon Mountain District) and one on the west side (the Tucson Mountain District) of Tucson.
What makes Saguaro National Park so special? The saguaro cactus! You’ll find many of them in the park and they can get up to 40 feet (over 12 meters) tall. They are the largest cacti in the USA and absolutely spectacular to see. In the park, you can do some scenic drives and hike miles of trails to see the spectacular cacti. In addition, there are also some great peaks to climb for amazing desert views.
Saguaro National Park Visitor Information
What do you need to know before visiting Saguaro National Park?
Saguaro east and Saguaro west both have different opening hours for vehicles.
- Saguaro east a.k.a. Rincon Mountain District (RMT): 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer months and 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter months.
- Saguaro west a.k.a. Tucson Mountain District (TMD): from sunrise to sunset every day.
You can hike or bike into the park at any time.
The entrance fee for Saguaro National Park is $25 per vehicle. However, if you plan on visiting multiple US National Parks during your trip, it’s could be cheaper to buy the America the Beautiful pass. This annual pass is valid for one year in all US National Parks and costs $80. You can buy tickets online or when you enter the park.
The park has two entrances. Use the following address for your GPS system when you plan on visiting the park:
- Saguaro east: 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, Arizona 85730
- Saguaro west: 2700 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743
Best time to visit the park
The best time to visit Saguaro National Park is in the winter, between November and March.
It can get really hot during summer months, with high temperatures up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celcius).
A great time to visit the park is between the end of February and March, then you have a big chance at seeing many colorful wildflowers bloom. Saguaro cacti bloom in late April.
How much time do you need?
To visit each district, you need at least a full day per district. So in total, you’ll need two full days for visiting Saguaro National Park.
Best things to do in Saguaro National Park
Can’t wait to see a giant saguaro up close? These are the best things to do in Saguaro National Park.
Learn more about the park in the visitor center
To make the most of your visit, I would recommend stopping by the visitor center before you go out and explore the park. Here you can get maps, get information from one of the rangers of the National Park Service, find out about fun activities, and learn everything you want to know about the park. In addition, it’s also a great place to shop for souvenirs.
There are two visitor centers:
- Red Hills Visitor Center (TMD)
- Rincon Mountain Visitor Center (RMT)
The visitor centers are open every day (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Do you want to see some of the best places in the park from the safety of your own car? There are two scenic drives in Saguaro National Park, one in each district.
Cactus Forest Loop Drive
This scenic drive starts at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center in Saguaro east. It is a paved road and it has a length of 8 miles. You’ll pass two picnic areas and several trailheads. Nice viewpoints are Riparian Overlook, Cactus Forest Overlook, and Javelina Rocks.
Bajada Loop Drive
This drive can be found in Saguaro west and starts about 1.5 miles north of Red Hills Visitor Center. Check the conditions before you head out, as this is an unpaved road. Here are also a couple of trailheads, and fun stops include Sus Picnic Area and Signal Hill.
Best hiking trails
In both districts, there are some beautiful short trails and long trails to explore.
The best hiking trails in the Tucson Mountain District
- Valley View Overlook Trail – 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers). Short but sweet! Lots of saguaro cacti and amazing views.
- King Canyon Trail – 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers). Amazing trail with some rocky steps and lots of cacti. The Mam-A-Gah Picnic Area is a fun place for a break.
- Wasson Peak – 8 miles (12.9 kilometers). Hike to the highest peak on the west side of the park! There are several trails that can take you here, like the Sendero Esperanza Trail.
The best hiking trails in the Rincon Mountain District
- Desert Ecology Trail – 0.3 miles (483 meters). Very short loop trail with information about all sorts of desert plants.
- Freeman Homestead Trail – 1 mile (1.6 kilometers). Short hike to an old homestead foundation.
- Ridgeview Trail – 2 miles (3.2 kilometers). Quite a climb with 400 feet of elevation, but with a beautiful view of the Ricon Mountains.
- Loma Verde Loop – 3.8 mile (6.1 kilometers). Great hike through a grove of trees, along a mine, and a beautiful overlook.
- Tanque Verde Ridge Trail – length varies, from 0.75 to 8.7 miles. Strenuous, but amazing trails with epic viewpoints, especially when you make it to the top of Tanque Verde Peak.
Tip! Get this Saguaro National Park Map by National Geographic with all the hiking trails in the park.
Animals in Saguaro National Park
The desert is full of interesting animals! In Saguaro National Park you’ll see many different bird species, some of them actually live in a saguaro cactus. In addition, there are (rattle) snakes, horned lizards, and kangaroo rats. If you’re really lucky you might even see mountain lions and Gila monsters! You’re best chances of seeing wildlife are during dusk and dawn.
This video shows you some of the amazing animals that live in the park:
Saguaro National Park Tour
Would you like to explore the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Park with an experienced local guide? With this guided southern Arizona tour, you’ll definitely see many saguaro cacti! In addition to Saguaro National Park, you’ll also visit Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Tohono Chul. A great way to see and learn more about the Sonoran Desert.
Where to stay?
Would you like to stay a night or two in or near Saguaro National Park? There are several options.
The only places to stay within the park are the campgrounds and they are not suitable for vehicles. So bring your tent! There are six (very small) campgrounds and it’s all backcountry camping. They are all located in Saguaro National Park east and you have to hike at least 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) to reach the nearest campground.
These are the campgrounds in Saguaro National Park:
- Manning Camp – 6 sites – trailhead: Turkey Creek.
- Grass Shack – 3 sites – trailhead: Loma Alta or Hope Camp.
- Spud Rock Spring – 3 sites – trailhead: Turkey Creek.
- Happy Valley Saddle – 3 sites – trailhead: Miller Creek.
- Juniper Basin – 3 sites – trailhead: Tanque Verde Ridge.
- Douglas Spring – 3 sites – trailhead: Douglas Spring.
Some of the campgrounds have fire pits, bear boxes, and pit toilets. If you’d like to stay in one of these campgrounds, you need a Saguaro National Park Wilderness Permit. This costs $8 a night per site (max of 6 people) and you can get them on the official website.
Have you never been backpacking before and would you like to know what to pack? Check my Arizona Trail Gear List.
Don’t see yourself camping in the wilderness? No worries, you can always stay in one of the many hotels in the modern city of Tucson. From Tucson, it’s only a 30-minute drive to each of the districts. Tucson is a fun city to explore, especially downtown Tucson. There are many restaurants and you will also see some great street art.
Here are some great places to stay in Tucson:
- Hotel McCoy – Art, Coffee, Beer, Wine (3⭐) – This very nicely decorated hotel has lots of colorful artwork and a refreshing pool.
- Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort (3⭐) – Beautiful resort hotel in the Catalina Foothills with giant saguaro cacti in the garden.
- Graduate Tucson (4⭐) – This amazing hotel is in a great location right next to the University of Arizona and not far from Downtown Tucson. It has a rooftop pool with an amazing view of the city.
Check Booking.com for more options, availability, and prices.
Some last Saguaro National Park tips
What else do you need to know before visiting Saguaro National Park? A few tips.
- Be aware of the cacti. Yes, they are beautiful to look at, but they can be really painful when you accidentally run into them (I’m speaking from my own experience). When you have a piece of cactus attached to you, use a comb to remove it. In addition, bring a pair of tweezers and some disinfectant.
- Some places in Saguaro National Park are very remote, and there won’t always be cell service. Make sure to inform someone and tell them where you plan to go, just in case something happens.
- You’re welcome to bring your pet on paved trails and picnic areas, but they have to be on a leash at all times.
- Always wear sunscreen, wear a hat, and bring enough water. You’re in the desert after all.
- Leave no trace. Not everywhere are trash cans, so if you pack it in, pack it out. Take pictures, and leave footprints, but nothing else.
- Always check the official Saguaro National Park website for the latest updates and special conditions.
Book a trip to Arizona
Are you excited to visit Arizona and explore Saguaro National Park? Book your trip now!
- Tucson has an international airport and is therefore easily accessible. Check WayAway to find the best deals on plane tickets.
- Having a rental car is the easiest way to get around. Check Rental Cars to find the best deals.
- Don’t forget your travel insurance! Check Insubuy to find the best travel insurance that fits your needs.
Read more about Arizona
Would you like to visit Arizona and Saguaro National Park? These are some travel guides that can be used to book your trip:
Fodor’s Arizona & the Grand Canyon
Arizona Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit! – Michael Cordova
I myself visited the US numerous times and I even hiked all the way through Arizona on the Arizona Trail, that’s why you can read a lot about Arizona and the USA on this website. You might also like to read:
- Visiting the Grand Canyon: practical tips & the best things to do
- Hiking the Arizona Trail | The Ultimate Guide
- 10 fun Route 66 attractions in California and Arizona
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