Saguaro National Park surrounds the Southwestern city of Tucson, Arizona, and its namesake is actually the largest type of cactus in the country. The park is divided into two distinct parts, which are about a half-hour away from each other: the Tucson Mountain District, and the Rincon Mountain District. However, one park pass will get you into both of the districts, and it lasts for seven days.
Hiking is the activity of choice here at Saguaro, and there’s plenty of trails to be found, whether you’re a brand-new trekker or a seasoned explorer. The mountainous areas of the park actually extend to over 8,000 feet above sea level! The Wilderness Area Booklet is a must-read guide for any backpacker that’s planning, and can be downloaded as a PDF from the park’s website. In the Tucson Mountain District, the Valley View Overlook Trail is great for a quick hike. Also in this part of the park is the Signal Hill Picnic Area. Way more than just a spot to eat lunch, you’ll discover an abundance of petroglyphs, or rock engravings, at Signal Hill.
In the Rincon Mountain District, you can take in great views of the Rincon Mountains by car or bike all along the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. For a taste of today’s Tucson and a chance to learn about how some locals make their home in the desert, check out the Freeman Homesteading Trail. History buffs will get a kick out of former Tucson mayor Levi Manning’s cabin, located in the Saguaro Wilderness Area. Be on the lookout throughout the RMD for wildlife like cougars and bears.
While backcountry camping is an option (with a permit) in the RMD, the park’s proximity to Tucson means that there are many traditional lodging options within a short distance, making it easy to enjoy a day trip if you’re not in the mood to rough it.
Trying to figure out when to go? Year-round, there are guided programs led by rangers and naturalists. As you might expect, though, winter brings milder temperatures to the desert … and along with them, more visitors. However, you can get some great deals if you’re willing to withstand the often-oppressive heat during the summer months. Not to mention, you’ll get the chance to enjoy the park’s incredible natural beauty amongst fewer crowds and less noise!