15 Best Things to do in Saguaro National Park Highlights and more!

15 VERY BEST Things To Do In Saguaro National Park

Saguaro Attractions and things to do and see in Saguaro – There are so many things to do in Saguaro National Park you will not want to miss!

A Giant Saguaro, one of the largest cacti in the World, in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson Arizona

Seeing the Saguaro in this park is a definite highlight but there are many other attractions in Saguaro you should check out as well. This article has all the tips and tricks for visiting Saguaro National Park.

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National Park Entrance Fees 

To enter the National Parks, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee or have a National Parks Pass also known as American the Beautiful Pass.

It costs $80 for a yearly America the Beautiful Pass. This gives you access to all national parks and federal areas that charge fees. The America the Beautiful Pass is well worth it!

I purchased my first one in 2016 and it’s such a money-saver! Plus 10% of sale proceeds go to the National Park Foundation.

Tips for Visiting in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.  There is a hike for everyone on this list and for different fitness levels.  Also, note that it is dry and hot (in the summer), and make sure you know what you are getting into before you start.  Here are a few tips for Saguaro hiking:

  • Bring a reusable water bottle and lots of water! Remember you are in the sun and you will need to drink lots of water. I love my LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle.  I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack.
  • Check the Weather – days over 100 degrees are very common.  On top of that there is quite a bit of air pollution in Phoenix which can make it suffocating.  Make sure to check.
  • Hiking boots or sandals that will protect your feet! I love good shoes.  I need all the support and help I can get.  I actually love these sandals for hiking and also love these hiking boots.
  • Bring hiking poles for balance and to protect your knees.  I know many experienced hikers (and even amateur ones) think that hiking poles are for old people who lose their balance.  Actually, hiking poles can help when going down steep inclines or when scrambling over rocks.  They are great to hike with even for the most experienced hiker. 
  • Wear a sunhat. I feel like this whole post is about how high you are in the mountains and how much closer you are to the sun but it is so true. At elevation, you are closer to the sun and more likely to burn. Wear sun protection such as a sun hat and sunscreen.
  • Be aware of the wildlife. This is the Southwest and you will need to watch out for snakes and other wildlife such as moose or a bear.  Please stay away from wildlife and do not feed them. 
  • Start Early – If you want to avoid the traffic and the heat you will need to start your hike early.  That way it will be nice and cool and the smog will not affect you either.
  • Leave no trace. If you are new to the concept of Leave No Trace it is all about preserving the environment to ensure it is in the same or better condition when you leave it.  This means that you should stick to the trails and carry out everything that you carried in.  This is a great explanation of the Leave No Trace principles!
  • Water shoes are great for water hikes– If you don’t have a pair, I highly suggest it as they are affordable.  I have an article on the pros and cons of several pairs of water shoes.
  • Bring Bug Spray and a snack: Be sure to bring everything you need including a snack like a protein bar plus BUG SPRAY.

15 Saguaro Attractions You Won’t Want to Miss!

Stop By The Visitor Centre

Begin your visit at either of the Saguaro National Park districts’ visitor centers. Museum exhibitions, instructional slide shows, cactus gardens, and the Western National Parks Association Bookstore are all available here. Numerous hiking routes and picturesque drives begin at the visitor centers.

Guided walks conducted by visitor center employees are also available, allowing you to get up close and personal with some of the park’s most famous features.

There are two Visitor Centers in the Saguaro National Park: one in the Saguaro West and one in the Saguaro East. The Saguaro West Visitor Center is ultra-modern, beautiful, and welcoming to all visitors.

At the Visitor’s Center’s viewing deck, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the mountains and Saguaros. The Sonoran Desert’s splendor is showcased in the Center’s cultural and natural history exhibits. 

The Visitor Center also hosts a variety of programs that showcase Native American culture as well as other historical facts about Arizona. Ranger-led workshops are also available at the Center. 

To attract visitors to the Saguaro East Visitor Center, they have a more rustic and earthy vibe. They provide a variety of displays for everyone, including the floral wonders of the Saguaro Desert.

The Bajada Loop Drive

The Bajada Loop Drive is a 6-mile graded dirt road. The route is well-kept and adequate for automobiles. This is known to be the most picturesque of the few routes that run through the Tucson Mountain District. 

Two desert hikers in the American Southwest

A section of the Bajada Loop Drive is only one way (the second half of Hohokam Road). You must drive it counterclockwise to make a loop.

Turn right onto Hohokam Road off N Kinney Road to begin the drive. Golden Gate Road connects Hohokam Road and Hohokam Road. Turn left onto Golden Gate Road and travel until it finishes at N Sandario Road to complete the loop.

The route is wide enough for two automobiles to pass on most of it. The only part of Hohokam Road is narrow in the second half, which is why it is one-way here.

On this route, you don’t need a four-wheel-drive or high clearance—a normal two-wheel-drive sedan will do. Mountain biking is permitted on this lovely gravel track.

Aside from trekking, visitors can drive through the area to get a better view of nature. The Bajada Loop Drive is full of beautiful scenery, including native desert vegetation and fauna, as well as contrasting red rock formations against beautifully blue Arizona skies. 

Guests will have access to several hiking trails, picnic spots, and numerous picture-worthy locations along this gorgeous drive, which will undoubtedly make your visit to the Saguaro National Park worthwhile.

Check Out The Saguaro Cactus

The Saguaro Cactus is the United States’ largest cactus.

Saguaros have a lifespan of up to 200 years although some sources state that they can live even longer than this. They grow at a snail’s pace, averaging only an inch each year. A 10-year-old plant maybe just 2 inches tall.

Cactus Landscape of Saguaro National Park, Tuscon. Arizona, United States

Many Saguaros, but not all, grow arms. From mid-May through early June, the Saguaro cactus blooms. 

The cactus’ interior is made up of wooden ribs that resemble tree trunks. The green, fleshy covering that grows over these ribs absorbs and retains water. During the summer monsoon season, the cactus absorb thousands of gallons of water and store it for the rest of the year.

The Saguaro Cactus may reach a height of 66 feet and has branches that are formed like candelabras. The Saguaro Cactus develops slowly in the wild. A 10-year-old Saguaro Cactus is only 1 inch tall. A Saguaro Cactus, on the other hand, grows to be 40 to 60 feet tall over time and can live for a hundred years. 

When you see the cactus in the Saguaro National Park, it’s hard to fathom how old they are. The Saguaro Cactus also produces flowers, which are known to be among the most beautiful in the Sonoran Desert. 

Valley View Overlook Trail

The Valley View Overlook Trail, which is located in the Tucson Mountain District, is a must-see for anybody visiting Saguaro National Park. It is a short hike that can be completed by hikers of any skill level. The route is around 0.4 miles long and takes about 30 minutes to complete. It is a beautiful adventure through Saguaro National Park.

This route is only about a mile round trip, but it’s a great way to get started hiking in the desert. You’ll be surrounded by saguaros of various shapes and sizes as soon as you step out of your car, many of which you can see up close.

Keep a watch out for barrel cactus, javelinas, roadrunners, cholla cactus, and other desert wildlife along the way.

The sweeping sights that await you at the end of the Valley View Overlook route, however, are the trail’s highlight. There are a few seats where you may rest and enjoy the view of the valley in front of you, which is wonderfully sprinkled with saguaros.

The Saguaros may have a halo-like silhouette depending on the time of day you visit as a result of the spikes catching the light.

 A plethora of cacti varieties such as the Brittlebush, Buckhorn Cholla, and Saguaro Cacti can be view in the area as well as a variety of flora and wildlife native to the Saguaro desert.

Everywhere you look, you’ll notice that the entire terrain is beautiful and charming. You can rest assured that there will be no awful pictures here. Aside from hiking, visitors are welcome to have a picnic at the trail’s summit.

Signal Hill Petroglyphs

A picnic on Signal Hill, on the north side of the Bajada Scenic Loop, is a grand idea. The Signal Hill Petroglyph Site is located just north of the picnic area and is accessible through a short and simple hiking trail.

Native American Hohokam petroglyphs on a rock at Signal Hill in Saguaro National Park

The top of the hill is covered in more than 200 Native American petroglyphs dating from 550 to 1550 years ago

You’ll hike uphill on this short trail to a wonderful little viewpoint over the park. You may see rock art, or petroglyphs, drawn by the Hohokam people along the way and on the rocks on top of the hill. Various old graffiti on the rock walls of Signal Hill was etched by the people who formerly inhabited the area during the Hohokam period. 

This section of the Saguaro National Park also has a variety of cacti species. Aside from hiking, visitors will enjoy viewing and picnicking in the area, which has picnic ramadas. While exploring, visitors may notice that some of the petroglyphic designs have faded over time due to exposure to the elements, but it is still fascinating to witness how people lived, expressed themselves, and communicated before us. Animals, flora, geometric motifs, and human-like shapes are the most common designs.

Apart from the history engraved in stone, the hiking trail is also quite popular with hikers. Signal Hill is a small hilltop with gradually sloping plains and stunning views of the surrounding area.

Desert Discovery Nature Trail

The Desert Discovery Nature Trail is one of the easiest ways to begin your visit to Saguaro. This half-mile trail is flat, paved, and offers amazing views of Saguaros.

This trail welcomes pets and includes a couple of seats where you may relax and take in the scenery. Along the way, various informational panels will explain to you more about the desert ecology you’ll be seeing.

Not only can people hike via the route, but it was also designed to be more accessible to all types of people, including persons with disabilities because the trail was paved with wheelchairs in consideration. Aside from hiking, the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center also provides trail directions in braille and cassette tape format.

This is a route you should not miss because it is full of many types of cacti and is quite inclusive. Furthermore, the Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a trail that runs along the Tucson Mountains’ foothills. Guests will encounter a variety of cactus, particularly the Saguaro cacti, as well as the rich animals of the Sonoran Desert while strolling through this gorgeous botanical reserve.

To get here: Drive about a mile up the road from the Red Hills visitor center, on N. Kinney Rd. You’ll soon come to a small parking lot on your left (watch for the stone sign along the road). The trail begins here. 

Hike To Wasson Peak

Hike to the summit of Wasson Peak for a huge adventure. It’s around 8 miles round trip and moderately tough, but you’ll enjoy one of the park’s best views.

The highest peak and the tallest mountain in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is Wasson Peak. This trail takes you on a breathtaking tour of the mountain vistas, including an incredible perspective of Tucson and the Santa Catalina Mountains, and it’s a wonderful way to appreciate the Saguaro National Park’s natural splendor.

Wasson Peak can be reached in a variety of ways. The Sendero Esperanza Trail is a good place to start. The Hugh Norris Trail crosses this trail. Turn left (east) on the Hugh Norris Trail and follow it to the top of Wasson Peak.

The trail itself is a slow, moderate rise, making it a hard yet great hike for hikers of all levels of experience. Hikers can use the trail markings to help them figure out where they should go next. The view from the summit of the peak is well-known for its beauty. There will be no bad images shot at Wasson Peak because it has some of the nicest Saguaro bests to offer. 

The trail features stunning beautiful wildflowers that are native to the Saguaro National Park, especially the Saguaro Cacti.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was formed in 1952 and encompasses a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, publisher, and art gallery. It features two miles of walking routes that traverse 21 acres of the desert landscape just west of Tucson, Arizona.

A Giant Saguaro, one of the largest cacti in the World, in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson Arizona

This site, located roughly 15 miles west of downtown Tucson, is more of a zoo than a museum. The place is home to 230 animal species, including prairie dogs, coyotes, and a mountain lion, as well as 1,200 plant species native to the area (totaling 56,000 individual plants). 

Visitors can learn about desert life by walking along the museum’s pathways. If you get hungry after your leisurely trek, one of the museum’s four eateries, all of which have fantastic views of the surrounding desert, is a great place to stop.

The Sonoran Desert Museum has a beautiful botanical garden with a variety of wildflowers and cactus that are only found in the Sonoran Desert. Guests of all ages will be delighted to learn that the zoo and aquarium provide a variety of interactive activities involving a variety of animals. 

In addition to the museum’s many attractions, there are desert loop trails nearby where you may see wildlife in their natural habitat. 

The Arizona-Sonora Desert is a popular location for weddings, birthday parties, and other types of events, in addition to its vast list of amazing attractions and services.

Cactus Forest Drive

The Cactus Forest Loop Drive in the Rincon Mountain District is the best place to go sightseeing in Saguaro National Park.

Saguaro National Park

This paved 8-mile (13-kilometer) route leads to several trailheads, overlooks, and scenic viewpoints. Many of the park’s tallest cacti can be found in a huge saguaro forest.

The Cactus Forest Scenic Loop is suitable for road cyclists in addition to being a beautiful drive-by vehicle. It is gorgeous, even though it is not the longest of roads.

Birds will be nesting, and wildflowers will be flowering in the late winter and early spring. From April through June, the saguaros are adorned with creamy-white blooms, which are followed by the ripe, red fruit that coyotes and javelinas like in June and July. 

You might observe a small herd of adult javelinas and their babies splayed out and snoozing in the ground if you arrive late in the summer. Summer temperatures encourage these shy peccaries to seek out the visitors’ center’s plentiful shade.

Stop, park, and take the Cactus Forest Trail south about 2.5 miles to where it crosses the park road again for more adventure. Those who are serious about camping overnight in the Rincons should bring a tent, a backpack, and a parking permit.

The route is open year-round and offers a variety of activities.

Mica View Trail

Mica View – Cholla – Cactus Forest Loop Route is a 3.7-mile widely traveled loop trail near Tucson, Arizona that features lovely wildflowers and is suitable for hikers of all levels. The trail is open all year and is popular for hiking, walking, running, and bird watching.

The Mica View Loop provides spectacular views of the Rincon and Santa Catalina Mountains, as well as an excellent introduction to the Saguaro Cactus Forest that dominates the Rincon Mountains’ foothills in Saguaro National Park’s Eastern part.

This route begins at the Mica View Picnic Area at the end of a well-graded dirt road that is passable for passenger cars. From the parking area (restrooms nearby), head north on the Mica View Trail to begin your hike.

The Mica View Trail is also utilized for walking, running, picnics, and wildlife trips in addition to hiking. Bushes, palo verde trees, and cacti of various kinds, especially the Saguaro Cacti, dominate the landscape. 

The Mica Perspective Trail offers a spectacular view of the terrain that rivals the park’s other view decks. There is also a diverse range of fauna in the area. Guests are welcome to go birdwatching and touring along the Mica View Trail’s beautiful landscape.

Known as family-friendly and accessible for all, the Mica View Trail is accessible from several trails within the trail circuit of the Saguaro National Park

See The Flowers In Bloom

Visit between late May and June to see Arizona’s state flower, which is a white waxy blossom. Many of the animals in this area like nibbling on these as small snacks.

A Giant Saguaro, one of the largest cacti in the World, in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson Arizona

A large number of plant species can be found in Saguaro National Park. This is due to the significant height differences between the two districts, which result in different life zones. The Rincon Mountain District has roughly 1,400 plant species, while the Tucson Mountain District has 400.

There are a lot of flowering plants among them. In the spring, desert plants, cacti, and succulents, in particular, produce stunningly vivid flowers. This also applies to saguaros.

This is one of America’s best national parks for wildflowers from late February to June. These stunning wildflowers are one of Saguaro National Park’s most popular seasonal attractions.

See The Wildlife

Saguaro National Park is home to a variety of birds, amphibians, and animals. Roadrunners, horned lizards, kangaroo rats, and the cactus wren are all to be found. Visitors to the park’s eastern side may come across black bears and white-tailed deer at higher elevations. 

A Greater Roadrunner, in the Cuckoo Family, Cuculidae

Saguaro National Park is home to a diverse range of fantastical creatures, some of which are unique to southern Arizona. Visitors frequently encounter Roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, and collared peccaries. 

Although Saguaro National Park is on the outskirts of the Sonoran Desert, Mica Mountain in the Rincon Mountain District rises to a height of over 8600 feet. Cooler temperatures and pine trees, as well as wildlife like black bears and white-tailed deer, can be found at this elevation. 

Species more often associated with the tropics, such as coatis, can also be found in the park. Leopard frogs and mud turtles can be found in the desert’s precious, often hidden streams.

Bears and deers coexist among other creatures that thrive in milder climes in the Sonoran Desert’s hills, where temperatures are lower and pine trees grow. It’s easy to see why the Saguaro National Desert would be a hotspot for birdwatching, given Arizona’s reputation as a birdwatcher’s paradise. Vermilion Flycatchers, Mexican Jays, and Whiskered Screech-Owls are among the most sought-after Sonoran Desert bird species. 

The Saguaro National Park’s preserved diversified nature, as well as a joint effort by visitors to help conserve the park as it is, make homing these animals possible.

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