Follow in our Footsteps
About two weeks ago we wrapped up our road trip for the Nation’s Vacation. It was an incredible adventure and one we won’t soon forget! We started our adventure in Alaska and visited Denali National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Each of the sites we traveled to was unique and a place that we hope to revisit.
Not long after leaving Yosemite, we started heading east again. We were on the lookout for National Parks and first stopped off at Death Valley and then Saguaro National Park. It was our first time visiting Saguaro. Here’s our trip report on the best things to do in Saguaro National Park!
General Info for Saguaro National Park
The park is actually split into two different sections: Saguaro West, the Tucson Mountain District and Saguaro East, the Rincon Mountain District. The city of Tucson sits in between the two. Travel time, depending on time of day and traffic, averages anywhere from about 30 – 60 minutes.
There is a really beautiful visitor center in the Western Section called the Red Hills Visitor Center. The architecture is very Instagrammy and the views from the back of it are beautiful. There are a few small exhibits inside, one of which allows you to see the inside of a saguaro.
The visitor center on the eastern side of the park is the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center.
These are the only two places within the park to fill up with water.
You are not allowed to collect rocks, animals, plants or other cultural features. Take photos instead.
Pets are allowed on the roads, on the Desert Discovery and Desert Ecology Trails as well as the picnic areas but that’s it. They must also be leashed (on a leash no longer than 6 feet long.) Please pick up after your pet!
Unlike some other parks, there is no off-road driving within this park.
Saguaro National Park Phone Number
Best Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
See Hohokam Petroglyphs
To see these ancient petroglyphs, park at the Signal Hill parking lot and then hike the Signal Hail Trail. It’s a short .25 mile hike along dirt and up stairs (.5 miles round trip). At the top of the trail you’ll get a wonderful view and you’ll be able to see several 800 year old petroglyphs! This was one of the highlights of our visit. Be sure not to touch them with your fingers as the oils from your hands can destroy them.
Go for a hike or a trail run
We ran several of the trails in the park when we visited. Some of our favorites include:
Mica View Trail (.7 miles long or 1.4 miles out and back)
Cactus View Trail (If you stay within the Cactus View Loop Drive, the trail is 2.5 miles long or 5 miles out and back)
Signal Hill Trail (.25 miles long or .5 miles out and back)
Valley View Overlook Trail (.4 miles long or 8 miles out and back)
Experience a sunrise or sunset
Best places to see a sunrise or sunset in Saguaro National Park? We recommend Signal Hill, the Javelina Parking Lot or from the Valley View Overlook Trail. There are so many options, you really can’t go wrong since there are so many places with open views and long-range sight lines. Bring your camera so that when the sun hits the mountains you are able to capture the moment.
Stop at the Red Hills Visitor Center
As mentioned above, the Red Hills Visitor Center is beautiful and also a great place to learn about some of the native plants and animals in the park. There are a couple of hands-on exhibits and several rangers on staff to answer any questions you may have.
Take a scenic drive
There are two scenic drive loops in the park, one in each section. Both drives offer almost non-stop views of the saguaro forest. Look but don’t touch!
Best Places to Stay in Saguaro National Park
There are several different campsites in the park but they are all backcountry campgrounds. You must hike at least 5 miles to access them. As a result, we ended up staying at a Wal-Mart in Tucson.
When to Visit Saguaro National Park
Lots of people come to the southwest during the winter months to escape the cold. We get it, the desert is warm!
Winter time temperatures range from the mid-60’s during the day to 40’s at night. It’s rare for the temperature to drop below freezing.
Summer time temperatures can get up above 100 degrees with night time lows down into the 70’s.
Monsoon season is mid-June to the end of September. Lightning and flash flooding can occur during monsoon season.
Top Tips For Visiting Saguaro National Park
Carry the proper maps and navigational tools with you and don’t rely on your cell phone to get you around the park as service is limited.
Make sure you travel with enough food and water so that you do not put yourself in danger of heat exhaustion, heat illness or heat stroke!
When we visited in early November 2018 there was a warning out about rabies. Stay away from suspicious looking animals. In addition, watch where you put your hands and feet. Don’t put them where you can’t see them because you risk being bitten by a rattlesnake which are common in this area.
Pack your camera and remember to use it! There are so many amazing places to take photos.
Carry detailed maps and navigational tools with you if you plan on doing any hiking in the backcountry. The park actually has more detailed maps for free upon request. They offer a bit more information than the free map that you receive upon entry.
Fill up with gasoline before entering the park as there are no gas stations in the park.
During monsoon season, do not drive through flooded areas. In addition, do not run or walk through flooded washes. Both are dangerous.
Cell Phone Service and Wifi in Saguaro
We were surprised to find that we had a cell phone signal in most parts of Saguaro National Park that we visited. (There isn’t any wifi in the park). Though we do not recommend relying on your phone for navigation, you might want to turn your ringer off and put your phone on silence so that your desert wanderings are not interrupted with a ding or buzz.
Saguaro National Park Recap
If you’re planning on visiting Saguaro National Park feel free to pin or share this post for reference. There are so many unique things to do in this national park! We tried to decide whether or not we enjoyed the east side or the west side more than the other but they came in even. If you have time to visit both, we encourage you to do so. If you only have time for one, flip a coin, they are both incredible!
Have you been to the southwest? If so, what’s your favorite things to see, do and eat? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!
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