15 Best Things to do in Saguaro National Park – What not to miss!

15 Best Things to do in Saguaro National Park – Saguaro Highlights

Saguaro Attractions: Are you looking for the best things to do in Saguaro National Park? This list of fun things to do in Saguaro has something for everyone. There are great hikes in Saguaro, a beautiful scenic drive and plenty of saguaro cactus!

Two desert hikers in the American Southwest

Tips for Visiting in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.  There is a hike for everyone on this list and for different fitness levels.  Also, note that it is dry and hot (in the summer) and make sure you know what you are getting into before you start.  Here are a few tips for visiting Saguaro:

  • Bring a reusable water bottle and lots of water! Remember you are in the sun and you will need to drink lots of water. I love my LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle.  I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack.
  • Check the Weather – days over 100 degrees are very common.  On top of that there is quite a bit of air pollution in Phoenix which can make it suffocating.  Make sure to check.
  • Hiking boots or sandals that will protect your feet! I love good shoes.  I need all the support and help I can get.  I actually love these sandals for hiking and have a whole post on Merrell vs Keen shoes for hiking.  I also love these hiking boots which I used for Hiking in the Grand Canyon.
  • Bring hiking poles for balance and to protect your knees.  I know many experienced hikers (and even amateur ones) think that hiking poles are for old people who lose their balance.  Actually, hiking poles can help when going down steep inclines or when scrambling over rocks.  They are great to hike with even for the most experienced hiker. 
  • Wear a sunhat. I feel like this whole post is about how high you are in the mountains and how much closer you are to the sun but it is so true. At elevation, you are closer to the sun and more likely to burn. Wear sun protection such as a sun hat and sunscreen.
  • Be aware of the wildlife. This is the Southwest and you will need to watch out for snakes and other wildlife such as moose or a bear.  Please stay away from wildlife and do not feed them.  I recommend carrying bear spray as well.
  • Start Early – If you want to avoid the traffic and the heat you will need to start your hike early.  That way it will be nice and cool and the smog will not affect you either.
  • Leave no trace. If you are new to the concept of Leave No Trace it is all about preserving the environment to ensure it is in the same or better condition when you leave it.  This means that you should stick to the trails and carry out everything that you carried in.  This is a great explanation of the Leave No Trace principles!
  • Water shoes are great for water hikes– If you don’t have a pair, I highly suggest it as they are affordable.  I have an article on the pros and cons of several pairs of water shoes.
  • Bring Bug Spray and a snack: Be sure to bring everything you need including a snack like a protein bar plus BUG SPRAY.

To visit any of the National Parks in the USA, I recommend buying a National Park Pass. The America the Beautiful Pass is valid for one year and costs $80. Plus 10% of sale proceeds go to the National Park Foundation.

Tips for Renting a car for your road trip

It’s awfully hard to get to Saguaro National Park without a car. The closest airport is Tuscon and you can use  Discover Cars to rent a car for your travels. You’ll be able to pick up a car at any airport or in your hometown.

Check availability and get a quote for a rental car for your trip here.

Top Things to do in Saguaro National Park, Arizona

THE BAJADA LOOP DRIVE

To start the trip into the Saguaro National Park, it’s customary to take the back road and drive through the Bajada Loop Drive. With it located near the Sonoran Desert, on the west side of the Saguaro National Park, it’s the perfect drive that gives you the best of both worlds. This 4 mile trail loop is lightly trafficked and is accessible for hikers of all types of expertise.

Saguaro National Park

Other than hiking, guests may choose to drive through the area and see the landscape through a more advantageous point. The Bajada Loop Drive is filled with gorgeous sceneries that highlight the flora and fauna native to the desert and contrasting red rock formations against the brilliantly blue Arizona skies. Through this scenic drive, guests will have access to various hiking trails, picnic areas, and lots of picture-worthy locations that would surely make your trip to the Saguaro National Park worthwhile.

VALLEY VIEW OVERLOOK TRAIL

Popular for its views and easy accessibility, the Valley View Overlook Trail is a sure winner for guests who wish to hike it. Located in the Tucson Mountain District, the Valley View Overlook Trail is easy and can be done by hikers of any level of expertise. The trail is approximately 0.4 mile, making it only 30 minutes long, and is a stunning journey through the Saguaro National Park.

You’ll see various flora and fauna that are native to the Saguaro desert and most importantly, you’ll see lots and lots of cacti variations like the Brittlebush, Buckhorn Cholla, and the Saguaro Cacti. Everywhere you look you’ll see that the entire landscape is picturesque and is worthy of photos. You’ll be guaranteed that there will be no bad pictures here. Aside from hiking, guests are welcome to picnic at the top of the trail. 

SIGNAL HILL PETROGLYPHS

The Signal Hill Petroglyphs is known as home to the largest petroglyph in the Tucson Mountain District of the Saguaro National Park. no trip to the Saguaro National park would ever be complete without a visit to Signal Hill. In Signal Hill, you’ll see various ancient graffiti on the rock walls carved by the people who once inhabited the area during the Hohokam period. Aside from the history literally etched into stone, the hiking trail is also very popular among hikers. Signal Hill is a minor summit with gently sloping plains with the top serving gorgeous views of the landscape.

Native American Hohokam petroglyphs on a rock at Signal Hill in Saguaro National Park

There are also various cacti species in this area of the Saguaro National Park. Other than hiking, guests would surely enjoy sightseeing and picnicking in the area as there are picnic ramadas. While sightseeing, guests may notice that some of the petroglyphic designs have faded due to centuries of weathering but it is still stunning to see how the people who came before us lived and expressed themselves and communicated. The designs are mostly of animals, plants, geometric designs, and human-like shapes. 

DESERT DISCOVERY NATURE TRAIL

Full of different kinds of cacti, and very inclusive, the Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a trail you wouldn’t want to miss. Located in the western region of the park, the Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a 0.5 mile paved trail that takes you along the foot of the Tucson Mountains. While hiking through this beautiful botanical sanctuary, guests will see various cacti, especially the Saguaro cacti, and the thriving wildlife of the Sonoran Desert.

There are benches in the area where guests can rest, relax, and take in the beautiful landscape of the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. Not only can people hike through the trail, the trail was also built to be more accessible to all types of people, including people with disabilities as the trail was paved in consideration of wheelchairs. Aside from hiking, the Visitor Center of the Saguaro National Park also offers trail guides in the form of braille and cassette tapes. 

HIKE TO WASSON PEAK

The Wasson Peak is the highest point, and the tallest mountain, in the Tucson Mountain District of the Saguaro National Park. This trail takes you on a stunning tour of the mountain vistas with an amazing view of Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains, and it is a great way to experience the Saguaro National Park for all of its beauty. The trail features stunning beautiful wildflowers that are native to the Saguaro National Park, especially the Saguaro Cacti.

The trail itself is a slow, gradual incline that makes it a challenging but excellent trail for hikers of all expertise. The hiking trail has markers to guide and direct hikers where they should head next. The view at the top of the peak is popular for its picturesque quality. Rest assured, there will be no bad pictures taken at the Wasson Peak as it offers one of Saguaro’s best. 

ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum can say that they have it all because, indeed, they have it all. A trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a trip to a world-renowned zoo and aquarium, a natural history museum, and a gorgeous botanical garden all at once! The Desert Museum is a natural home to many kinds of native wildlife that thrive in the desert as well as different kinds of flora and fauna both native and non-native to the desert.

Cactus Landscape of Saguaro National Park, Tuscon. Arizona, United States

The museum offers a gorgeous botanical garden that showcases a variety of wildflowers and cacti that are unique to the Sonoran Desert. In the zoo and aquarium, guests of all ages would definitely be excited to know that there are various interactive activities that involve different kinds of animals. Aside from viewing the many attractions of the museum, there are also desert loop trails nearby where you can view the wildlife in their natural habitat. In addition to their long list of wonderful attractions and services, the Arizona-Sonora Desert is also a popular site to hold weddings, birthdays, and all kinds of celebrations. 

CACTUS FOREST DRIVE

The Cactus Forest Drive takes you on a one way paved loop that features one of Saguaro National Park’s best. The trail itself begins at the Visitor’s Center and is approximately 8 miles long. This winding road is perfect for your relaxing weekend road trip getaway plans and it is coupled with great views of the Sonoran Desert landscape. On either side of the road, you’ll see towering cacti and if you’re lucky enough, you might see the cacti in full bloom, truly making it one of the prettiest routes in the area.

best things to do in Saguaro National Park Arizona

The trail/road has a slow gradual incline that takes guests to the top of a small hill that gives great views of the park and of the Cactus Forest. There are plenty of stops along the loop to get out that involve reading markers about the desert flora and fauna, having a wonderful picnic with family and friends, and of course to take lots and lots of pictures. 

MICA VIEW TRAIL

For a park that offers so many trails and loop hikes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with what tail to start with. One of the shortest and most popular trails of the Saguaro National Park is the Mica View Trail. Known as family-friendly and accessible for all, the Mica View Trail is accessible from several trails within the trail circuit of the Saguaro National Park. The trail is 3.1 kilometers long and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

Other than hiking, the Mica View Trail is also used for walking, running, picnic, and nature trips. The area is scattered with bushes, palo verde trees, and cacti of all varieties, especially the Saguaro Cacti. The view of the landscape from the Mica View Trail is amazing and is on par with the other view decks in the park. There are lots of various wildlife in the area as well. Guests are welcome to birdwatch and to go sightseeing at the wonderful landscape that the Mica View Trail has to offer.

STOP BY THE VISITOR CENTRE

A trip to the Saguaro National Park would not be complete without going to the Visitor’s Center. There are two Visitor Centers: one in the Saguaro West and the other in the Saguaro East. The Visitor Center in the Saguaro West is nothing short of modern, classy, and accessible to all guests who wish to come.

The Visitor’s Center has access to stunningly picturesque views of the mountains and the Saguaros at their viewing deck. The Center has various cultural and natural history exhibits that feature the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. There are also lots of programs that the Visitor Center arranges that highlight Native American culture and other historical information that represents Arizona. The Center also offers Ranger guided programs. In the Visitor Center of the Saguaro East, they embody a more rustic and earthy feel in order to interest guests. They have various exhibits that cater to all and features the botanical wonder of the Saguaro Desert. 

SEE THE FLOWERS IN BLOOM

The Saguaro National Park is not only popular for its various trail circuits and stunning mountain vista landscapes but also for its beautiful and thriving flora and fauna. Native to the Park is the Saguaro Cacti and each spring, the Saguaro cactus makes one of the most beautiful flowers of the Sonoran Desert. What is most unique about this flower is that it blooms during the night and closes during the daytime. Aside from the periodic blossoms, the Saguaro cactus can grow up to 30 feet long.

A Giant Saguaro, one of the largest cacti in the World, in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson Arizona

The Saguaro National Park is also on a mission to preserve the native plantlife of the Sonoran Desert for future generations to come. In their endeavor, they have encouraged visitors to join their cause and become citizen scientists who collect photo data for the Saguaro National Park. It’s a good cause with good intentions that would definitely benefit the entire ecology. 

SEE THE WILDLIFE

Although hot and sometimes humid, the Saguaro National Park is home to many kinds of animal species. They have adapted to the desert’s challenging living conditions and usually do their business during the nighttime when it is cooler and seek shade during the daytime. The Saguaro National Park has a great variety of unusual animals that are native to the Arizona deserts such as roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monster, kangaroo rats, and collared peccaries.

A Greater Roadrunner, in the Cuckoo Family, Cuculidae

In the hills of the Sonoran Desert, where the temperatures are lower and the pine trees thrive, bears and deers live among other mammals that also thrive in cooler climates. With Arizona known as a birdwatcher’s paradise, it’s easy to see that the Saguaro National Desert would be a hotspot for birdwatching. The most sought after bird species native to the Sonoran Desert are the Vermilion Flycatchers, Mexican Jays, and the Whiskered Screech Owls. The preserved diverse ecology of the Saguaro National Park makes homing these animals possible as well as a joint effort of the guests to help keep the park as it is. 

CHECK OUT THE SAGUARO CACTUS

A trip to the Saguaro National Park would never be complete without seeing the namesake of the park: the Saguaro Cactus. No matter where you turn, Saguaro Cacti are sure to be within your line of sight or nearby. These giant cacti are common around Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States and are a common sight in desert areas.

A Giant Saguaro, one of the largest cacti in the World, in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson Arizona

The Saguaro Cactus can grow up to 66 feet in height with branches that are peculiarly shaped like candelabras. Normally, the Saguaro Cactus grows at a slow pace. A 10 year old Saguaro Cactus only has a height of 1 inch. However, over time, the average height of a Saguaro Cactus is 40 to 60 feet in height and can live for a hundred years. Its crazy to think how old the cacti in the Saguaro national park are when you see them. The Saguaro Cacti also produces flowers that are popular for being one of the most beautiful blooms in the Sonoran Desert. The biggest Saguaro Cacti is located in the Saguaro National Park. 

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

Before you leave for your trip make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I have used World Nomads when I travel since 2015 when I went to Africa and I love them.

Getting coverage is important as you never know what will happen and need assistance when you are more than a hundred miles from home in case of an accident, sickness, theft, etc.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

American Southwest Obsessed

Nicole is a travel expert who has been traveling to the American Southwest since 1992. There is so much to see and do in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California. I spend part of the year in Phoenix and travel around the area visiting all the best places and going on the best hikes. Check out my detailed destination guides, the best hiking in each state guides, and the travel gear you need for your next trip.

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