Saguaro National Park

State: Arizona

Established: October 14, 1994

Area: 91,445 acres (37,005 ha)

History of Saguaro National Park:

Saguaro National Monument was created on March 1, 1933 by President Herbert Hoover. On October 14, 1994, Congress elevated Saguaro to National Park status.

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, Arizona, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of Tucson. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the Saguaro Cactus.

How to get to Saguaro National Park:

Saguaro West: From Tucson take Speedway Boulevard west to Gates Pass Road, turning right on Kinney Road. (not recommended for buses, RVS and towed vehicles)

Saguaro East: Take Broadway Boulevard east from central Tucson to Old Spanish Trail. Airport: Tucson.

When to go to Saguaro National Park:

Year-round. From October through April, temperatures reach the upper 60s to mid-70s and can drop below freezing overnight. From May through September, highs routinely exceed 100°F. July through September is characterized by brief, fierce thunderstorms. Saguaros bloom nightly from late April into June.

Hiking trails in Saguaro National Park:

Rincon Mountain District Hiking Trails

Desert Ecology Trail

Length: 1/4 mile (0.4 km) round trip on paved trail

An easy stroll through the desert beside Javelina Wash. Signs along the way will introduce you to the plants and animals that call the Sonoran Desert “home.” This trail is wheelchair accessible.

Freeman Homestead Trail

Length: 1 mile  (1.6 km) round trip

A scenic and historic path to the site of an early desert homestead. Full color interpretive signs along the trail explain the various aspects of human and animal lives in this rugged “Home in the Desert.” The unpaved trail has wide rock stairways on some moderate grades.

Cactus Forest Trail

Length: 2.5 mile one way inside loop drive

For an easy walk, head out on this multi-use trail (hikers, livestock and bicycles) to the lime kilns historic site. Starting from the north trailhead, it is a 2 mile round trip walk; from the south trailhead 3 miles round trip. This 2.5 mile section of trail is the only path within the Cactus Forest designated for bicycle use.

Mica View Loop

Length: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip

Start: Begin at the Mica View Picnic Area

Time: 1 hour

Begin this walk through a natural desert garden at the Mica View Picnic Area, off the cactus Forest Loop Drive. The route follows the Mica View Trail north or south, connecting with the Cactus Forest Trail for the return trip. Use the trail map in this paper to follow the trails in this area. This is the easiest loop in this trail system; it may also be reached from the trailhead at the east end of Broadway Boulevard.

Loma Verde Loop

Length: 3.3 (5.5 km) miles round trip

Start: Begin at the Loma Verde Trailhead

Time: 2 hours

A scenic introduction to the Cactus Forest trail system. Begin at the Loma Verde trailhead on the Cactus Forest Drive. Follow the Loma Verde Trail past the site of a failed copper mine. From the Pink Hill Trail take the short spur to the hilltop overlook for a spectacular view of the cactus forest. Continue following the Pink Hill Trail to Squeeze Pen Trail, and turn right. The trail will take you along the base of the Rincon Mountains, back to Loma Verde Trail. Turn left to return to your car. Easy grades on unpaved trails.

Deer Valley Loop

Length: 4.1 miles round trip

Start: Begin at the Wildhorse Trailhead

Time: 2.5 hours

From the trailhead, proceed south on Wildhorse Trail. After crossing Bajada Wash enjoy the views of upland saguaro forest. Horse riding has been traditional here since the early 1900’s among residents & visitors. At the triple trail junction bear right on Garwood Trail. In 2010 unusual saguaros here included a 4-trunker, a cluster of 13 (at first hilltop) and a cristate at the wash crossing. Turn right onto the Carrillo Trail. Here is a splendid view of cactus forest where, in season, you might hear water running in the nearby wash. Proceed downhill and turn right onto the Deer Valley Trail with views west. At Squeeze Pen Trail turn left then immediately right down Deer Valley Wash. Notice the deep-rooted mesquite trees along the banks of the wash. Stay in the wash crossing Vanover Trail then turn right on Shantz Trail. Pass through a stand of scattered large saguaros with the sights and sounds of civilization on this last mile back to the trailhead.

Garwood Loop

Length: 5.6 miles round trip

Start: Begin at the Douglas Spring Trailhead

Time: 4 hours

Take the Douglas Spring Trail to the Garwood Trail and turn right. You’ll enter the kind of cactus forest that inspired the creation of the parkland here in 1933. Stay on the Garwood Trail all the way south to the Carrillo Trail, taking care at the junctions with Bajada Vista and Wildhorse Trails as it can be confusing for those new to the trail system.

At the intersection with the Carrillo Trail, turn left and head toward the location of the old Garwood Ranch. On the slope below the trail, Nelson Garwood built a home in the late 1950’s. Be sure to visit the nearby dam which provided a reliable water supply throughout the year. (Walking on dam is unsafe and prohibited.)

From here, the path bears left and goes into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. Although this area has a long history of cattle grazing, and many trail and place names reflect this history, the last grazing lease in the park expired in 1979.

Remain on the Carrillo Trail to the steel tank at Rock Spring. Emilio Carrillo was the original owner of today’s Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. Find the trail sign in the wash below and remain on the Carrillo Trail heading north along a picturesque ridge with splendid views of the nearby Catalina Mountains and Tanque Verde Valley. After descending from the ridge, turn left on the Douglas Spring Trail and descend one mile to the trailhead.

Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls

Length: 5.2 miles (8.4 km)

Time: 3 – 4 hours

This trail begins at the Douglas Spring Trailhead at the east end of Speedway Boulevard. This trip into the foothills of the Rincons provides good views of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Along the way seasonal water courses add interest to the scenery, which changes from saguaro stands to desert grasslands. Bridal Wreath Falls is a good lunchtime destination: the amount of water varies from a trickle to a torrent, depending on season and drought conditions. Steep and rocky.

Tanque Verde Ridge Trail

Length: 18 miles (29 km) to peak, 14 miles (22.5 km) to Juniper Basin

For the visitor looking for a more rugged trail, the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is ideal. Day hikers may climb as high as time allows, remembering to return to their cars by sunset to exit the park before the road closes. Magnifi cent views of the Tucson Basin and Rincon Peak are the reward. This trail is also the closest access to the backcountry from the Visitor Center. Very steep and rocky.

A permit is required for overnight use of this trail.

Hope Camp Trail

Length: 5.6 miles (9 km)

Time: 3 – 4 hours

This trail heads east from the Loma Alta Trailhead, following a riparian, or streamside, area. It offers views of Tanque Verde Ridge and Rincon Peak. This trail passes by two abandoned line camps with windmills, water towers and storage tanks. (This trail connects to the Arizona Trail via the Quilter Connection trail. It also connects with Ruiz and Coyote Wash Trails.)


Tucson Mountain District Hiking Trails

Desert Discovery Trail

Length: 0.5 mile (0.8 km)

Time: 20 minutes

You will fi nd the trailhead to this self-guided nature walk on Kinney Road, one mile northwest of the Red Hills Visitor Center. Here you can familiarize yourself with the native plants, animals and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

Valley View Overlook

Length: 0.8 mile (1.3 km)

Time: 30 minutes

This trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The trailhead is located at 1.34 miles along the Bajada Loop Drive. While hiking this trail, you will pass through two washes and then gradually ascend stone steps to a ridge. The view from the ridge includes Avra Valley sprawled below and Picacho Peak to the north.

Signal Hill Trail

Length: 0.5 mile (0.8 km)

Time: 20 minutes

This short climb takes you to dozens of ancient petroglyphs more than 800 years old. The trail starts from the Signal Hill Picnic Area located off Golden Gate Road, at 3.3 miles along the Loop Drive. The trail climbs numerous stone steps, some of which have a large rise, through a wash and up a hill. For some, climbing these steps may be difficult.

King Canyon Trail

Length: 7 miles (11.3 km)

Time: 4 – 5 hours

The trailhead and parking area for this hike is directly across the road from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. From the visitor center, travel two miles east on Kinney Road. The fi rst section of the trail follows an old roadway constructed by the CCC in the 1930s. At .9 mile hikers pass the Sendero Esperanza trail junction at the Mam-A-Gah picnic area. The next 1.9 miles climbs to the Sweetwater Trail junction. The final .9 mile ascends a series of steep switchbacks to the Hugh Norris Trail. From here, continue .3 mile to reach the top of Wasson Peak, elevation 4,687 feet.

Sendero Esperanza Trail

Length: 6.2 miles (10 km)

Time: 3 – 4 hours

This trail begins 1.2 miles from the intersection of Golden Gate and Hohokam Roads, across from the Ez-Kim-In-Zin picnic area. The trail’s fi rst mile follows the sandy path of an old mine road. The next .7 mile climbs a series of steep switchbacks to the top of a scenic ridge, where it intersects the Hugh Norris Trail. The trail then descends 1.4 miles to the south, past the Gould Mine Trail junction, where it meets the King Canyon trail.

Hugh Norris Trail

Length: 10 miles (16 km)

Time: 5 – 6 hours

This is the longest trail in the Tucson Mountain District. The trailhead is. 8 mile from the start of the Bajada Loop Drive. The trail begins with a series of switchbacks that climb to a ridge overlooking the cactus forest. From there, the trail follows the ridge-top through areas with unique welded tuff rock formations until it reaches Amole Peak, approximately 4.1 miles from the trailhead. From here, continue .8 mile up a series of switchbacks to the top of Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains.


Information sources:

Saguaro National Park Visitor Guide

Guide to National Parks of the United States

Official website:

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