The eastern side of Saguaro National Park might be less frequented than its western counterpart, but it has lots to offer. Read on to discover the best things to do in Saguaro National Park East.
Saguaro National Park has two districts: west (Tucson District) and east (Rincon Mountains District). The west side of the park receives more visitors thanks to its abundance of cacti and smaller size.
But, I’ll let you in on a little secret – if you’re looking for a more immersive experience in nature, the Saguaro National Park East side is your spot.
Part of the appeal is that East Saguaro National Park is almost three times bigger than the west. But, while it might seem intimidating, the Rincon Mountains provide the perfect backdrop for serene nature hikes, backpacking and camping away from the crowds.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into the best things to do in Saguaro National Park East…
Looking for a place to stay after enjoying the expansive Saguaro National Park East side? I recommend the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. Just one mile away, it perfectly balances being a luxe hotel with plenty of rustic features.
Top 5 Things to do in Saguaro National Park East
Visit the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center
Believe it or not, the best place to kick off your Saguaro East adventure is at the visitor centre. Although it’s smaller and only has the basics compared to its western counterpart, the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center is a must-visit.
It’s about a minute’s drive from the Saguaro National Park East entrance. Here you’ll find an information station where you can get maps, travel books and tips from rangers.
You’ll also find restrooms and a place to fill your water bottles (take my advice and fill up – the Arizona heat is unrelenting).
Hike the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
Ok, so you’ve got plenty of water, you’re clued up on the park and you’re raring to go. It’s time to strap on your hiking boots.
The Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is arguably the most popular of all Saguaro National Park East Trails. This 11-mile trek is moderately difficult and requires an overnight stay to complete it in full.
However, if you’re only visiting the park for a day, I suggest walking the first one or two miles of the trail (to be honest, I don’t recommend doing the entire trail unless you’re really keen).
The path is rocky and has a few steep areas, but aside from this, it’s manageable for most. Depending on the season, you’ll also see colourful wildflowers and mountain wildlife. The high elevation also gives incredible views of the deserted landscape below.
Take the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive
Driving along the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is one of the best ways to see the highlights of Saguaro National Park’s east district if you’re short on time. This eight-mile loop is fully paved and makes for a great driving experience.
Add the twists and turns, scenic views, numerous pulls outs and picnic arrears to that, and you have a great day ahead along the Cactus Forest Drive. The path also gives you access to short hiking trails that you can explore, like the Loma Verde Trailhead.
Catch the Sunrise or Sunset at Javelina Rocks
If you know me, you’ll know I’m a huge sunset chaser. And Javelina Rocks just so happens to be one of the most unique places in Saguaro National Park East.
Home to the pig-like javelina, these large boulders sit among towering cacti, making it a perfect place to catch the sunrise or sunset.
You’ll find the Javelina Rocks parking somewhere between six and seven miles into the Cactus Forest Drive. From the pullout, you’ll just need to walk a short vegetated trail to the overlook. Give yourself plenty of time and snag a seat early.
Hike to Bridal Wreath Falls
If you’re big on hiking, the Bridal Wreath Falls Trail is among the best Tucson hikes in Saguaro National Park East. This 5.7-mile out-and-back trail is moderately challenging, but the reward of a cascading waterfall in the desert is well worth it.
The seasonal Bridal Wreath Falls and the small pool beneath them are at their fullest during the spring and summer. These are great times to visit the Bridal Wreath Falls, as the water provides much-needed relief from the heat.
Brilliant Things to See & Do in Saguaro National Park East
Birdwatch Along the Desert Ecology Trail
Saguaro National Park has a thriving population of desert birds. And you’ll find that the widest variety of species is on the east side of the park because of its bigger size. Makes sense.
You can enjoy birdwatching along the Desert Ecology Trail. This paved 0.3-mile loop boasts stunning scenery. As you walk along the path, you’ll find informative signs about the local flora and fauna that you can totally nerd out on if you wish.
The higher elevation in Saguaro National Park East allows you to spot elusive birds like the Northern goshawk, the Yellow-eyed junco and the Mexican jay. Because of this, I strongly suggest you bring a camera for this hike.
Lunch at the Mica View Picnic Area
The Mica View Picnic Area is a beautiful spot to sit and take in Saguaro’s stunning desert scenery. This picnic ground boasts numerous benches, BBQ grills and restrooms, making it a great place to pull off for lunch or a toilet break along the Cactus Forest Drive.
Why do I love this trail so much? Because you’ll get stunning views of the Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains as you chow down.
The picnic area also provides access to nearby hiking trails like the Desert Ecology Trail and the Broadway Trailhead.
Go Backpacking Through Saguaro East National Park
If you’re feeling brave, I urge you to explore the wild, untamed side of Saguaro National Park by backpacking. With vast stretches of remote terrain, this rugged landscape offers unparalleled opportunities for multi-day hikes.
Some popular backpacking hikes in Saguaro National Park East include trekking to the Tanque Verde Peak and the Picture Rocks Wash Loop.
Don’t worry though, there are a variety of routes for different experience levels, so no matter whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned professional, you can enjoy the backcountry of Saguaro.
So, what are you waiting for? Strap on your backpack and prepare for an epic journey through one of Arizona’s most magnificent natural wonders.
Camping in Saguaro National Park East
Following on from backpacking, when it comes to staying overnight, Saguaro National Park East camping is the best (and only) option.
The east district is home to the Saguaro Wilderness Area, where you’ll find six designated campgrounds. These camping sites are not accessible by car, so you’ll have to hike to them.
The Juniper Basin is one of the most popular campgrounds in the park, around 6.9 miles from the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail. You can stay here overnight while embarking on your Arizona road trip itinerary.
Saguaro National Park East: Practical Tips for Your Trip
Things to Do in Saguaro National Park East: Map
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