Entrance Sign to Saguaro National Park in Tucson Arizona

Where is Saguaro National Park

Located in southeastern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is split into two separate park areas. The Tucson Mountain District is located about 10 miles west of Tucson, and the Rincon Mountain District is located about 10 miles east of the city. A species of cactus native to the Sonoran Desert provides the park with its name. The Saguaro cactus is one of the largest cactus species in existence and doesn't naturally grow anywhere outside of the desert. Saguaro National Park also contains a variety of hiking trails, backcountry campsites, visitor centers, and a few archaeological sites that contain native American rock art. Visitors traveling to Saguaro National Park will arrive at the park after an hour and thirty-minute drive south of Phoenix, a five hour and forty-five-minute drive east of San Diego, California, and after a 20-minute drive from Tucson.

How Large is Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National US Park covers a total area of more than 91,700 acres. The park’s geography mainly consists of a desert landscape riddled with rocky outcroppings and the occasional riparian area. While a majority of the park is dry several seasonal springs can be found throughout the park. The Rincon Mountain District contains the majority of these springs. Within the park’s arid environment, a variety of wildlife and vegetation species thrive. Aside from the park’s namesake Saguaro cactus, the park also contains several other cactus species, denser hardwood species such as oak and juniper trees, and a variety of flowering shrubs. The most iconic wildlife species found in the park are cougars, coyotes, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and javelinas. In addition to the diverse flora and fauna, scientists visiting Saguaro National Park are also interested in studying the Sky Islands. These “islands” are a series of smaller mountains that act like steppingstones to the southern Rocky Mountains. These mountains are of particular interest to ecologists and biologists. 

Field of Shrubs and Cactus During Sunset in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park Weather

According to the Koppen Climate Classification system, Saguaro National Park resides within a hot semi-arid climate. Locations classified with this climate normally experience relatively hot to warm temperatures year-round. Summer temperatures in Saguaro National Park can reach devastating extremes of near 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The average summer temperature is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the average winter temperature in the park is between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer, the national park occasionally experiences quick violent rainstorms. These rainstorms often cause flash floods. The higher elevations of the Rincon Mountain District also occasionally experience winter snowfall. On average, the national park only sees about 12 inches of precipitation per year.

When did Saguaro Become a National Park

In 1933, Saguaro received its first designation and protection as a national monument. The designation was granted by President Herbert Hoover through use of the Antiquities Act. The national monument received a large increase in total land in 1961 under the presidency of John F. Kennedy. This land package included most of the land that is now referred to as the Tucson Mountain District. Throughout the years, especially in 1976 and 1994, additional lands were donated to the national monument. This continued support and awareness led to the reclassification of the national monument to a national park in 1994. Today, the national park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and receives an annual visitation of around 957,000 visitors.

Saguaro Cactus Silhouettes During Sunset in Saguaro National Park Arizona-usa

Things to do in Saguaro National Park

Visitors arriving at Saguaro National Park will find a desert playground complete with isolated backcountry campsites, winding hiking trails, and an endless supply of gorgeous views. Our National Park Visitors Guide created a list of things that you may be interested in planning when you take a trip to the national park: 

Start at the Red Hills Visitor Center

Once you arrive at Saguaro National Park it is best to start your trip with a visit to the visitor center. Starting at the Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District is perfect for those looking to see both sections of the park and eventually end up backcountry camping later in the evening in the Rincon Mountain District. However, the visitor centers in both sections of the park contain a variety of educational displays and exhibits that discuss a variety of topics related to the park. The visitor center is also a good place to gather information on hiking, camping, and other attractions found throughout the park. Park rangers working in the visitor center are the perfect resource to gain answers to particular questions or field concerns. While you are navigating the visitor center be sure to be on the lookout for the schedule of interpretive programs offered during your trip.

Venture Down the Bajada Loop Drive

After filling your water bottles and gathering information on the park, you and your group can venture down the Bajada Loop Drive. The Bajada Loop Drive will take you throughout the district's foothills. Along the unpaved path you will find various overlooks, pullouts, and hiking trailheads that provide access to scenic views and extended trips throughout the district. The loop is approximately six miles in length and does not require four-wheel drive or a high clearance vehicle. However, trailers longer than 35 feet are not permitted on the loop. Rangers in the visitor center can provide directions to the loop using the park map.

Join an Interpretive Program in the Rincon Mountain District

After driving the Bajada Loop, you and your group can make their way to the Rincon Mountain District. The two districts are separated by a 25-minute drive. Once in the Rincon Mountain District you should stop by the visitor center to inquire about interpretive programs being offered. These programs are a great way to learn more about Saguaro National Park. Popular topics covered by these programs include the park’s ecology, cultural ties, history, and geology. All programs offered in the park are led by park rangers who are experienced and knowledgeable. Ranger led hikes and ‘rock art’ presentations are two of the most popular programs occasionally offered.

Panoramic View of Desert and Cactus During Sunset in Saguaro National Park Arizona

Hike Through the Sonoran Desert

After learning more about the park and partaking in an interpretive program, you may find yourself eager to stretch your legs and embark on a hike throughout the park. At this point you can decide between a variety of front country and more isolated backcountry hikes. The Freeman Homestead Trail, the Loma Verde Loop, and the Garwood Dam and Wildhorse Tank trails are a few popular trails found throughout the Rincon Mountain District. Individuals looking to hike a trail in the Tucson Mountain District can decide between the Wild Dog Trail, Kings Canyon, and the Sendero Esperanza Trail. Visitors planning to camp within the backcountry of the Rincon District may wish to start hiking off towards their desired backcountry campground.

Set up Camp in the Backcountry

Saguaro National Park contains no front country campgrounds, and no camping suitable for recreational vehicles. However, the park does contain and manage several backcountry campsites; all of which are located within the Rincon Mountain District. Visitors wishing to camp in the district will need to first obtain a backcountry camping permit from the visitor center. The fee for the permit is eight dollars per night per campsite. Visitors planning to spend extended periods of time in the backcountry should be well versed in wilderness survival and first aid practices.

Bust out the Binoculars & Field Guides

While driving, hiking, or walking throughout Saguaro National Park it is a good idea to have a pair of binoculars ready. Wildlife enthusiasts will also want to utilize field guides to identify and learn about the variety of wildlife found in the park. Visitors commonly spot mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelinas, coyotes, and other mammals in the park. Lucky visitors may even get a glimpse of a cougar or bobcat.

When to Visit Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is open year-round except for major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Visitors planning their trip to the national park can do so throughout every season. The spring and fall seasons normally produce temperatures most conducive to outdoor recreation. However, with additional supplies and planning the summer and winter months can also result in productive and enjoyable trips to the park. Wildlife is most active in the park during the spring.

Man Looking up at Giant Cactus in Saguaro National Park

Must Have Items to Bring to Saguaro National Park

A trip to any national park requires a bit of packing and planning, and a trip to Saguaro National Park is no exception. Below List of Parks highlights a variety of items visitors may find essential or helpful during their trip to the park. 

Water, Water, and More Water!

It is the desert! That should be enough to alert you that you need to bring extensive quantities of water with you to the park. But, in the rare chance that it is not. Just know that temperatures in the park consistently reach over 100 degrees during the summer.

Camping Equipment

Yes, it can be extremely tough to make sure you have packed all of the equipment necessary for your camping trip. However, this packing can be made easier with the use of a camping checklist. This checklist can be made and utilized during your initial packing and again before you leave for the park.

Hiking Trail Through Cactus Towards Mountains in Saguaro National Park

Sturdy Hiking Boots

All visitors arriving at Saguaro National Park should be equipped with a sturdy pair of hiking boots. These boots will allow you to traverse the variety of terrain found throughout the national park. Visitors looking for additional protection and comfort should look to purchase a pair of boots that are also lightweight and waterproof.

Field Guides, Binoculars, & Maps

Visitors arriving to the park interested in wildlife viewing will want to bring a solid pair of binoculars and field guides with them to the park. Visitors interested in vegetation and geology can also purchase field guides geared towards these subjects. In addition, visitors navigating the park, either in the front country or backcountry, will want to utilize the maps offered at the park’s entrance station and visitor centers.

Backcountry Supplies

Trips into the backcountry of Saguaro National Park will require additional supplies to ensure safety and comfort. Visitors traveling or camping in the backcountry should be equipped with first aid kits and additional supplies of water and food. A compass and a map may also be required to navigate the more isolated parts of the wilderness area. 

Gila Woodpecker Peeking Out of Nest Inside Cactus in Saguaro National Park

Where to Stay in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park contains no front country campgrounds. However, the park does contain a variety of backcountry campsites located in the Rincon Mountain District. These campgrounds require a backcountry permit, which can be obtained for eight dollars per night from the park visitor center. Visitors looking to stay in a hotel or other lodging establishment outside of the park should look for options in Tucson.

Food Near Saguaro National Park

The closest food to Saguaro National Park is located in the city of Tucson. Each district of the park is located about 10 miles and a 20-minute drive away from Tucson. The city contains a variety of restaurants, bars, and grocery stores where visitors can purchase supplies or grab a bite to eat.

Dirt Road Winding Through Saguaro National Park in Tucson Arizona

Airports Near Saguaro National Park

The closest airport to Saguaro National Park is located in Tucson. The Tucson International Airport is located about 25 miles away from the park. Additional airports can be found in Phoenix, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and San Diego, California. 

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