Located to the east and west of Tucson, AZ in the Sonoran Desert, this national park was created to protect and exhibit the saguaro cacti. The saguaro cacti is the largest species in the states with the ability to grow over 40-60 feet tall but this height takes many years to accomplish, as they are a slow growing species. They are also known for having many arms (some have been seen to have over 25) and they produce white flowers in the springtime and in the summer some produce red fruit. Not only do these majestic cacti grow extremely tall in height, but they can also live for around 150-200 years. These beautiful tree-like cacti are definitely a sight to see.
It is important to keep in mind that there are two sides to the park, east and west, and that these two sections are around 45 minutes to an hour apart depending on your position in the park.
The park has no government funded campgrounds accessible by vehicles.
Saguaro National Park West District has no camping available.
Saguaro National Park East District has backcountry camping available; you must carry your food, water, gear, etc. into your site and cannot drive back to it. To obtain a permit for these sites and gain more information head to the national parks website.
A few campgrounds that are available outside of the park; Gilberts Ray Campground (this was where we stayed), Catalina State Park, or there are a few RV parks. We enjoyed our stay at the Gilberts Ray Campground, although it is first come first serve so I recommend getting there early. We did not get there early and the campground was full, but thankfully we met a nice father traveling with his sons and they let us share their site with them. (People are just awesome)
Things to do:
Tucson Mountain District (West Saguaro)
Bajada Loop Drive: This is a 6-mile dirt road loop that winds you through a thick saguaro forest, with mountainous views in the background, short trail options, petroglyph sitings, and the possibility to see wildlife.
Signal Hill: This short and easy trail takes you on an adventure through the stories told by petroglyphs that are over 800 years old.
Red Hills Visitor Center: Stop at the visitor center to learn more history and culture about this area and its past. There are gorgeous views of the saguaro forests and the surrounding mountains.
King Canyon Trail: The entire trail is a ~6.5 mile out and back trail rated moderate, and it leads to Wasson Peak. There is around 1800 feet of elevation gain here, although it is not overwhelmingly difficult. If you choose to hike in the desert be sure to carry extra water, as you will not come across any streams or potable water at all. This hike is great if you want a workout and beautiful views of the Tucson area.
Rincon Mountain District (East Saguaro)
Cactus Forest Drive: This loop is paved, unlike the west district, and is an 8-mile one way road that guides you through the center of another saguaro forest. This drive has a more up-close experience with mountains, access to trailheads, vistas, history, and other photo opportunity pull-offs. Many people bike this loop as an alternative to driving it.
Visitor Center (East): This is a smaller and older visitor center compared to the western one, but it includes some other unique exhibits. There is a walking trail that shows 15 plants that live in the Sonoran Desert and gives information on them; this interactive and educational exhibit is very popular. There are also educational videos, a bookstore, and ranger guided programs held here.
Backpack through the National Park: There are more options for backcountry camping in the eastern side of the park; some of the more popular trails include Tanque Verde Ridge and Douglas Spring Trail.
Overall this is a beautiful and unique area with forests like you may have never seen before. Be on the look out for wildlife and enjoy the vastly different ecosystem that lives here.
Remember to respect nature and preserve it for future generations.