Saguaro National Park has two large areas, one located on the west side of Tucson, and the other on the east. We made sure to visit both, and we tried several trails in each. We’ve broken each of our Saguaro National Park family guides down into West and East to better help you plan your trip to this national park.
Saguaro National Park
There is something special about wandering among the giant saguaro cactuses. We experienced a range of emotions. When it was quiet, we felt a sense of awe among these gentle giants. They tower over the desert floor casting long narrow shadows, reminders that some of these cactuses have been standing since the 1800’s.
At other times, we laughed at the poses that the saguaros seemed to be striking. Some seemed to be dancing, others extending their arms in welcome, and some striking much sillier poses. One of our favorite things to do was point to a cactus and talk about its funny pose. Our boys really enjoyed this.
What to Wear
When hiking in Saguaro, be prepared with hats, sunscreen and lots of water. There is no shade anywhere in the park, and the temperature can be very unforgiving. It is also imperative to stay on the trails. We encountered scorpions, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas in this park, so watch where you step and wear good shoes. Wear clothing that is cool, and wear layers because the desert can be chilly in the morning or evening, but scorching during the day.
West Side: Tucson Mountain
Saguaro National Park West is the most visited side. It has a larger Visitor Center and more people tend to visit as it is closer to downtown Tucson. The entire area is accessible to passenger cars, though there are a few dirt roads. This area of the park is an island surrounded by Tucson, which is encroaching on the borders of the park. We found a few shaded picnic areas, and the trails were a little steeper in the west side.
We spent about half of a day hiking and exploring on the west side of Saguaro. There are 5 trails that we recommend in this area of the park.
- Desert Discovery Trail
- Cactus Garden Trail
- Signal Hill Petroglyphs
- Valley View Overlook
- Scenic/Passey/Packrat Loop
To read more about our hiking adventures all in one spot, check out our Saguaro National Park Kid Hikes post.
Sunset in Saguaro
Our final adventure was watching the sunset. This was the most recommended activity when we headed to Saguaro. We chose to watch the sunset at the Gates Pass Scenic Lookout. There were only a few parking places, so we would recommend arriving pretty early to get a spot so you do not to miss the sunset. The desert sunset was stunning, and was our favorite part of the day. Make sure to plan time for a sunset view.
East Side: Rincon District
The east side of Saguaro National Park is a bit smaller and more primitive, but because of that, it felt a little more like a national park. A narrow one-way road follows a loop around this section of the park, and there are several nice flat hikes that take you through the saguaro cactuses.
A nice Visitor Center is located just before you start the loop around the east side. Sometimes javelinas are spotted right around the Visitor Center, so keep your eyes peeled. We also recommend visiting early. We arrived at six in the morning to start hiking. The desert was cool, and the sunrise was spectacular.
The east side of the park also tends to be a bit flatter and less visited. The hikes were mostly level and the terrain was sandier and less rocky than the west side. This made the hiking a little easier, and the cactuses were very similar on both sides. We tried 3 hikes in the Rincon District.
There is another stop on the East Side that we recommend called Javelina Rocks. This isn’t a hike, but a place to explore. We didn’t see any javelinas, which we were hoping to spot, but we did see a rattlesnake. Make sure to stop and let the kids climb on the rocks, but beware of snakes.
We spent a half day on each side of the park. There were other trails, but it got warm by the afternoon, so we liked our plan of morning in the park, and cooler activities in the afternoon. We put together an itinerary of how we enjoyed Saguaro. Hopefully it will help you plan your trip to Saguaro National Park.