Saguaro National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Home to the majestic cacti, Saguaro National Park is a great place to see these enormous plants while enjoying relaxing getaways away from home. Located in Arizona, this 181 sq. mile national park has two geographical districts - The Rincon Mountain District (RMD), often referred to as Saguaro East, and the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) often referred to as Saguaro West. Both are separated by the city of Tucson.

Saguaro National Park is accessible by vehicles and RVs, however there are six designated campgrounds in the park, all of which are backcountry campgrounds located throughout the wilderness areas. Pets are allowed in select areas of the park.

Saguaro National Park has a lot of beautiful sights to behold. From Native American Petroglyphs created hundred of years ago, to resplendent cacti and beautiful sunsets, you’ll be blown away by the amazing views you’ll enjoy at the park. Hiking opportunities are also abundant in the park, owing to the fact that over 165 miles of trails are available. Flora and fauna observation are also pleasurable activities in the park.

In each of the two districts of Saguaro National Park, there’s a visitor center that provides restrooms, water fountains, maps, hiking trails, programs, and staff to assist visitors and campers.

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Transportation in Saguaro National Park

Driving

Located in Tucson, Arizona, Saguaro National Park is accessible by vehicles via roads that connect to Highway 10.

Rincon Mountain District in the eastern part of the park consists of The Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive which is a paved combination one- and two-way road. On the other hand, Tucson Mountain District in the west features the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, an unpaved combination one- and two-way graded dirt road.

Trailers longer than 35 ft and vehicles wider than eight feet are not permitted on Cactus Forest Drive and Bajada Loop Drive.

Parking

Parking areas are available for vehicles and cars at Saguaro National Park, however there are no spaces for parking RVs in the park.

Public Transport

There are no direct transportation services to Saguaro National Park.

Campgrounds and parking in Saguaro National Park

Campsites in Saguaro National Park

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Saguaro Backcountry Campgrounds

Saguaro National Park features six backcountry campgrounds available by permit, and inaccessible to vehicles and RVs. A total of 21 campsites are available in all six campgrounds. Maximum stay in any one campground is 5 consecutive days. Despite being situated next to intermittent springs and streams, campers are advised to bring their potable water.

Campsites sit at elevations varying from 4,800 feet to 7,920 feet.

Seasonal activities in Saguaro National Park

Spring

Flora

You’d expect that for a park located in a desert, there wouldn’t be an abundance of life at Saguaro National Park. Guess what? The exact opposite is the case. This national park features plants that thrive in drought, so that for long periods, they conserve their water and go dormant, appearing lifeless. As soon as it rains, they’re back to life sprouting beautiful green leaves. The ocotillo plant, for example, transforms from an apparently dead state to a colorful shrub with tall green branches with 48 hours after a rainfall.

It may interest you to know that Rincon Mountain District supports about 1200 plant species, while Tucson Mountain District features about 400.

Cactus Garden

Enjoy walks around the cactus gardens in both districts of Saguaro National Park around the visitor centers and learn about the plant through the interpretive signs that are posted in the gardens. Rangers also offer talks that educate campers and visitors about this unique plant in the park. After learning about the plant and taking photographs, if you so wish, you can enjoy the added benefit of seeing the Tucson Mountains at the west-side visitor center.

Summer

Fauna

Saguaro National Park is home to a wide variety of animals, including unusual ones. Some of these faunae are only found in southern Arizona. Examples of the animals you’ll see at the park include horned lizards, roadrunners, kangaroo rats, Gila monsters, and collared peccaries. The cool temperature at Rincon Mountain District in the park favors the presence of black bears and white-tailed deer. Tropical species such as coati are also commonly seen in the park. Don’t be surprised if you see mud turtles and aquatic leopard frogs in the park’s desert waters.

Fall

Sunset Viewing

A fascinating experience that visitors and campers never miss out on at Saguaro National Park is sunset viewing. The good thing is that both districts in the park offer amazing opportunities to watch the sun set. On the east side, you should view the sunset either on the Tanque Verde Ridge trail or the Javelina Rocks pull out. If you’re at the western district of the park, then you should find your way to Gates Pass at the end of Speedway Blvd to the west to get the best view of the sunset.

Signal Hill Petroglyph

Located north of the picnic area at Signal Hill in the western district of Saguaro National Park is a large petroglyph site, a unique attraction for visitors and campers. The site, called the Signal Hill Petroglyph Site, sits on a rocky hill about 40 feet high and 200 feet in diameter at its base. At the site, you’ll see more than 200 pre-historic Native American petroglyphs created between 550 to 1550 years ago. If you ascend the visitor trail on the hill, you’ll get a close-up view of these historic petroglyphs.

Winter

Hiking

Great hiking opportunities are available at Saguaro National Park in both districts. The east and west districts of the park offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails for campers and visitors, meaning there is so much for hikers to enjoy on the park’s trails. Ranging from easy strolls on short interpretive trails to day-long wilderness hikes, there’s enough room for every kind of hiker to express themselves at Saguaro National Park. Hiking maps of both districts are available for pickup at the visitor centers in the park.

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