Saguaro National Park is located in the mountains surrounding the city of Tucson, Arizona. The park is made up of two separate districts, east and west. In both sections you’ll find great hikes with amazing wildlife, majestic cacti and stunning views. We’ll also share some places to stay nearby and of course great spots to eat and drink.
Saguaro National Park is a terrific destination for a short weekend trip when you want some peace and quiet. I’ve loved all my adventures here!
As mentioned above, Saguaro National Park is located near the city of Tucson. The two districts of the park are actually on the east and west sides of the city. This makes finding Saguaro quite easy since it’s pretty simple to locate Tucson on a map. 🙂 If you’ll be flying into Tucson, the airport is located to the south of the city and is between the two park districts.
The two sections of the park are the Rincon Mountain District (east) and the Tucson Mountain District (west). You don’t necessarily have to choose whether to visit Saguaro National Park east or west. It takes about 40 minutes to drive between the two districts. Why not visit east on one day and west on the next?
Keep in mind that Google maps sometimes gets confused about the location of the two sections. Use the below addresses to navigate instead of the names and you’ll be on your way!
The Saguaro National Park West visitor center is also known as Red Hills Visitor Center. You can visit here or the Saguaro National Park East visitor center first to pick up your entry pass if you don’t already have the National Parks pass. They also have interpretive exhibits and from November to mid-April offer daily programs such as stargazing, nature walks and talks on desert ecosystems.
If you will visit more than one National Park in a year I highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful pass which gives you free access to the parks. You can purchase the pass here.
The park is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset every day except Christmas. But you can enter the park on foot or by bicycle anytime.
Unfortunately it is not really possible to access the park using local public transit but you could easily use Uber or another service to get to the trailheads from your lodgings in Tucson if you don’t have a car.
How do you pronounce saguaro? sa-WA-ro
What is a saguaro anyway? The scientific name is Carnegiea gigantea, and this is the iconic cactus that you probably imagined as a kid when you heard the word cactus. It’s a tall stately plant with several branching arms. The species is very long lived and the older specimens are quite tall, up to 50 feet. They start growing their branching arms after 50 to 100 years! Saguaros only grow in the Sonoran desert and can be found from sea level to approximately 4,000 feet in elevation. Did you know the white saguaro blossom is the Arizona state flower?
Best time of year to visit Saguaro National Park: The busiest time at Saguaro National Park is during the winter months from November to April. Due to the cooler temperatures it is a pleasant time to be in the park, and it is also when you’ll find lots of organized activities.
There are terrific ranger led programs every day at both the east and west districts during these months. You can check the calendar online or call the park to find out what is happening during your visit. The program includes activities like cactus identification, nature walks, talks on desert ecosystems and even cooking with cactus. When I was there they had special night programming on stargazing and moonlight hikes.
Late February and early March usually mean the start of desert wildflower blooms and in April or May the saguaros begin to blossom too. This is a wonderful time to visit.
Best Hikes Saguaro National Park: There are many beautiful trails within the park. Take the short loop hike along the Freeman Homestead Trail or get beautiful views from the Valley View Overlook Trail. If you are with kids, the Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a good introduction to the wildlife in the park. Another accessible trail is the Desert Ecology Trail. The Douglas Spring Loop is another lovely hike that can be combined with intersecting trails to make a longer hike and if you go to Bridal Wreath you might even see a waterfall.
You can also backpack Saguaro National Park, trips can be started from five different trailheads into the Saguaro Wilderness Area (east district) and you can camp in the six designated campsites. Keep in mind you will need to carry all your water with you. Click here for maps and information.
A Saguaro National Park night walk is a special hike that you can do as part of the ranger led activities.
While there are amazing hikes within the park, the Tucson area also has several regional parks that have wonderful walks and hikes. My favorite places to walk are Catalina State Park and Sabino Canyon. Venture further afield to Oracle State Park or Madera Canyon.
Biking Saguaro National Park: Cycling is popular in the park, and the Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a favorite route for road bikes as well as motorized sightseers. You can also go mountain biking on the Hope Camp Trail, Cactus Forest Trail and Bajada Loop Drive.
Photographing Saguaro National Park: If you’re an avid photographer you’re sure to find lots of inspiration in the park. Do you like to take interesting sunset shots, or do you prefer capturing wildlife in action? Visit around dawn and dusk for amazing images, that’s when the desert really comes to life.
I camped near the park during a super moon and had a great time trying to get cool photos of the moon rising over the mountains. The sunrises and sunsets were stunning every day. During the heat of the day most animals hide from the sun, but you can get some interesting images of shadows cast by the spiny plants and cacti silhouetted against bright blue skies.
Photography lovers should also be sure to visit Ansel Adams’ Center for Creative Photography in Tucson.
Sunrise and Sunsets at Saguaro National Park: As mentioned above, the sunsets and sunrises in and around the park are marvelous. I think Saguaro National Park West has the best sunrise view as the sun comes up over the Tucson mountains. Look for a place with rock formations or interesting saguaros for cool photos. Javelina Rocks in the east district is the best sunset view in Tucson. You’ll often see many folks perched up on the rocks watching the skies change colors.
Horseback Riding in Saguaro National Park: Yes, you can ride horses in the park. There are several outfitters and ranches that lead guided rides into the park’s eastern district. Check out Houstons Horseback Riding.
In a way, a visit to Saguaro National Park is the best of both worlds. You can enjoy the beauty and peace of nature and explore a bustling city too. Since you will be so close to Tucson here are a few things you could check out:
The closest camping near Saguaro National Park West is Gilbert Ray Campground. It’s just a short distance from the west district visitor center. This campsite accepts tent campers as well as RVs. The campground can get busy in the winter months but it’s quite large so there should be a nice space for everyone, however reservations are not accepted. If you can, try to get a spot on the edge closer to the mountains for the loveliest views. There is a 7-day limit and the fees are currently $10/night for tents and $20 for RVs.
If you’d like to be close to Saguaro National Park East, the gorgeous Catalina State Park has tent and RV camping with showers and electricity available. Sites can be reserved online and there is a 14 day stay limit. The price is $30 with hookups and $20 without. Be sure to save some time to hike in this beautiful park too.
Another somewhat secret place to camp on the east side is Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Sites are currently $7.50-$12 per night. Be aware that the park closes the gate at night so there’s no in and out. It’s also first-come-first-served but you can call in advance to see if they expect it to fill up. But when I was there in the busy winter season only saw one other camper!
Tired of the tent? Why not rent your own camper van or RV and find a cozy spot? Check out Outdoorsy for peer-to-peer rentals of RV, vans and trailers. And read on for information about campgrounds in and around Joshua Tree.
There are several other private campground options for tent and RV camping near Saguaro National Park.
Check Hipcamp for camping, glamping and rustic lodging options around the Tucson area. Sign up for Hipcamp here and get $20 off your first stay. You’ll find hideouts, cottages and cabins for rent near Saguaro National Park like this one or this one on Airbnb north of Tucson and this fabulous compound near downtown. Sign up here to save almost $40 off your Airbnb booking.
Other lodging near Saguaro National Park includes many terrific Tucson hotels and B&Bs for all budgets. In high season I definitely recommend you use HotelsCombined to compare lodging prices across several booking engines when searching for accommodations.
Bed & Breakfasts near Saguaro National Park East & West
Hotels near Saguaro National Park East & West
Check HotelsCombined to compare lodging prices across many booking engines when searching for accommodations in Tucson.
How cute are these National Parks patches?
Did you know that Tucson was the first city in the US to be recognized as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy? Indigenous crops grown from heirloom seeds are an important part of the area’s history and current culture. But the city also has a thriving and diverse restaurant scene as well.
Check out some of the following restaurants, bars and breweries that are Tucson favorites and great places to eat near Saguaro National Park.
Are you camping or staying at lodgings with a kitchen? Then be sure to pick up grocery supplies at the many farmers markets and local community markets. Here is a guide to Tucson’s farmers markets. And be sure to pick up a loaf at Barrio Bread to make the best sandwiches.
I hope these Saguaro National Park tips helped you to plan your getaway to this magical place. Don’t forget to visit our other guides to nearby places like Petrified Forest National Park, Organ Pipe National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park.
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