Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

Park Tally: 11/59

Orientation: Saguaro National Park consists of two sections found east and west of Tucson. Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District possesses beautiful saguaro forests and sits at the base of the Rincon Mountains. Saguaro West-Tucson Mountain District boasts a variety of desert plants and animals against the backdrop of the Tucson Mountains. The national park preserves 91,000 acres of Sonoran Desert and specifically protects healthy forests of saguaro cacti.

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Most iconic view:  Not surprisingly, the park’s best-known feature is the saguaro cactus. These enormous desert plants can be viewed in various parts of the park, particularly in the Rincon Mountain District. Cactus Forest Drive is an 8-mile scenic road that twists through a saguaro forest, offering up-close views of these interesting plants. There are numerous trails along the drive to provide visitors with more options for exploring the area.

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Accessible activity:  There are two scenic drives that allow visitors to see both sections of the park in the easiest and most efficient manner. The first is the Cactus Forest Drive (mentioned in detail above) in the Rincon Mountain District, and the second is the Bajada Loop Drive in the Tucson Mountain District. Scenic Bajada Loop Drive provides views of saguaros, though the 5-mile road is unpaved and therefore not as accessible for certain vehicles (depending on conditions).

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Some easy hikes in the Rincon Mountain District are the Desert Ecology Trail (0.25-mile roundtrip and wheelchair accessible), Freeman Homestead Trail (1-mile roundtrip), and the Cactus Forest Trail (2.5-mile one-way).

Accessible hiking opportunities in the Tucson Mountain District consist of the Cactus Garden Trail (400 yards), Desert Discovery Nature Trail (0.5-mile roundtrip and wheelchair accessible), and the Valley View Overlook Trail (0.8-mile roundtrip).

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For the adventurous:  The Hugh Norris Trail is a 10-mile roundtrip day hike in the Tucson Mountain District. This scenic trail leads hikers to a ridge overlooking the cactus forest before climbing to Amole Peak and Wasson Peak (the highest point in the Tucson Mountains).

There are plenty of backcountry camping options in the Rincon Mountains District of the park for those after an even bigger adventure. Be sure to obtain a backcountry permit from the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center before setting off.

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Best photo opportunities: Sunset and golden hour (1-2 hours before the sun goes down) is absolutely magical along the Cactus Forest Drive, in the Rincon Mountain District. The rich yellow and orange hues make for a beautiful sight and photo opportunity. 

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Quick facts

  • Saguaro was first established as a national monument in 1933 and later became a national park in 1994.
  • A single saguaro cactus yields tens of thousands of seeds annually and as many as 40 million in its lifetime of 175-200 years. Saguaros that live to be 150 years or more can reach 50 feet and weigh 16,000+ pounds!
  • The saguaro cactus can only be found in the Sonoran Desert.
  • The park has a variety of wildlife, including but not limited to mountain lions, mule deer, javelinas, black bears, gray foxes, bobcats, ringtails, and badgers.
  • Temperatures can get very warm in the park. The highest recorded temperature was 117 degrees Fahrenheit in 1990.
  • The highest elevation in Saguaro National Park is 8,666 on Mica Mountain.
  • In 2016 the park had 820,426 visitors, 142,165 more than in 2013.

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