Planning a visit to the mighty Saguaro cacti in the glorious state of Arizona? If not, why not? Discover the best things to do in Saguaro National Park with this jam-packed guide.
I’m not one to throw the word “unmissable” around lightly. But Saguaro National Park is well-worthy of this praise. Though it’s famed for its namesake cacti, this park offers far more than just prickly plants and a dry landscape (though there’s plenty of that going on).
Time for a quick geography lesson: Saguaro National Park is split into two sides, East and West. While I’m going to cover both in this guide, if you only have time to see one side, go for West, as it has the most Saguaro cacti and is easier to tackle thanks to its smaller size.
Personally, I think the West also has the most stunning scenery, though the East is great if you’re after a more backcountry experience.
Alright, with that out of the way, it’s time to discover the best things to do in Saguaro National Park. Ready to explore?
Fancy quick access to the outdoors from one of the best hotels near Saguaro National Park? Look no further than Graduate Tucson, resting in the centre of Tucson and a stone’s throw away from both sides of the park.
Top 5 Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
Hike the King Canyon / Gould Mine Loop Trail
Take my advice – the first thing you definitely need to do in Saguaro is to jump straight onto this 2.4-mile loop trail. It cuts through three iconic tracks: the King Canyon Trail, the Gould Mine Trail and the Sendero Esperanza Trail.
From the parking lot, cut your way through 0.9 miles of dramatic cacti-filled scenery before reaching the first fork. Then, follow a gentle 0.4-mile walk before keeping left again onto the Gould Mine Trail. At the midway point, you’ll see the impressive 300-foot-deep Gould Mine cavern.
The picnic spot just outside the Gould Mine is also the perfect spot to refuel before the gentle descent of the second half of the hike.
Top Tip: The America, the Beautiful Pass, includes access to Saguaro National Pass and more than 2,000 federal sites.
Enjoy the Bajada Loop Drive
Once you’ve stretched your legs on the King Canyon Trail, there’s no better way to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery of Saguaro Park’s western region than on this 5.2-mile off-road loop drive. You can thank me later.
Starting at the Desert Hills Visitor Centre, drive 1.5 miles until you reach Hohokam Road.
Make sure you stop at the Valley View Overlook Trail, which provides stunning views of Apache Peak. I recommend parking up and hiking part way of the trail, as the surroundings are filled with plenty of flora and fauna (and, if you time your visit just right, you’ll be able to spot snow on the mountain backdrop).
After you’ve stretched your legs, continue along the scenic route until you reach Golden Gate Road, where you’ll turn left. Along the rest of the drive, feast your eyes upon dramatic cacti gardens and dipping valleys until you wrap back around to the Red Hills Visitor Centre.
Admire the Sunset at Javelina Rocks
Wondering what to do in Saguaro National Park in the evening? Worry no more, as admiring the sunset at the Javelina Rocks should be high up on your bucket list.
These mysterious rocks jut out of the Arizonan landscape to create the perfect overhang – it’s a short 0.8-mile hike to these red beauties, and once there, it’s all about finding a comfy spot to watch the sunset.
The striking Catalina Gneiss granite blends in perfectly with the orange and red sky of the setting sun, all while providing unforgettable views of the Saguaro cactus forest.
If this sounds like your vibe — and it totally should be — then head out at 6 pm in spring/fall, 7 pm in summer, and 5 pm in winter for the best sunset spotting opportunities. Check your weather app in advance, just to be safe, though.
Explore the Desert Ecology Trail
Another hike? Oh, go on then!
The Desert Ecology Trail allows you to get up close and personal with the plants that give Saguaro its name. Better yet, the entire 0.3-mile route has paving, so say goodbye to that pesky desert sand that often creeps into your boots.
This is the best place to see how these 10-ton Saguaro cacti contribute to this harsh environment because there’s so much wildlife nearby – expect to see everything from cute Gila Woodpeckers to glorious Harris hawks flying and resting on these towering plants.
You won’t just admire the Saguaro, though, as aloes, agaves, and yuccas also form part of the park’s ecology.
Visit the Signal Hill Petroglyphs
I told you I’d get around to Signal Hill, did I not? Despite its short 0.3-mile length, The Signal Hill Trail is among the best hikes in Saguaro National Park.
During this gentle stroll, you can gaze at 200-plus petroglyphs made by the prehistoric Native American Hohokam community. These delicate carvings and paintings are over 1,500 years old and show the technique and skills of the region’s ancestors.
How are these prehistoric petroglyphs still around, considering they’re not in a cave? In short, the artists made a desert varnish that preserves the art. It’s visible as it stains the rocks in a darkish colour.
Brilliant Things to See & Do in Saguaro National Park
Ride Along Cactus Forest Drive
Just as the west has a scenic drive, so does the east. And this 8-mile one-way looped drive is the perfect way to explore the rolling hills of Saguaro’s eastern region.
Starting at Freeman Road, you’ll pass the Visitors Centre and turn left to start this epic adventure. Take a few minutes to admire the sweeping scenery at Sonoran Desert Overlook before continuing to yet another glorious lookout, where cacti stretch out for miles below.
The Cactus Garden Overlook offers a slightly higher perspective of the prickly landscape below, while the Mica View Picnic Area is a great halfway point spot for a snack with a view of the cacti.
You can also stop at the Desert Ecology Trail for a gentle stroll and end the day at the Javelina Rocks.
Try to Identify All the Cacti Species
You didn’t think this diverse park only had Saguaro cacti, did you? I’ll fill you in on a little secret – the park has 25 beautiful cactus species with unique charms worth seeing.
There’s the Saguaro, which towers up to 50 feet over all the other plants, but you can also see the Fishhook barrel cactus (which has a very round shape) or tree-like staghorn cholla cactus.
The cute Teddy-bear cholla cactus are also in plentiful supply, while you’ll also find the rare Cristate cactus here – just keep your eyes peeled for broccoli-esque cacti.
Gaze at Blooming Saguaros
Did you know that cacti bloom? Yep – and you better believe it’s a beautiful sight. In fact, all the cacti in Saguaro begin to flower at the end of April until the start of June, so plan your trip around then if you really want to see it.
You’re in for a real treat, from the pearly white Saguaro blossoms with a yellow centre to the brilliant pink flowers of the Hedgehog cactus. All 25 cactus species have a unique flower, with shades of pinks, whites, yellows and even reds filling the desert with colour.
Top Tip: You’re more likely to see these blooming beauties in the western part of the park as it’s smaller and has loads of cacti.
Enjoy the Loma Verde Trail
Saguaro’s eastern region has some fantastic gentle hikes, and there’s none much better than the 2.4-mile out-and-back Loma Verde Trail. It’s a pretty easy hike with hardly any elevation gain, so you don’t need to worry about burning calves.
It gently winds through the myriad of cacti, from the towering Organ pipes to the full Fishhook barrels. Roughly halfway through the hike, you’ll pass the Loma Verde Mine, where much of the Arizonan copper came from.
This may be a slow walk, but you’ll still want to avoid the harsh midday sun. I recommend tackling this trek early when the morning dew still rests on the furry cacti.
Read Next: The Best Hikes in Arizona
Hike to Micah View
If you’re spending a few days in Saguaro National Park, make the Micah View 1.4-mile out-and-back trail one of your sunset viewing spots.
It’ll take up to 30 minutes to reach the trail’s end, where impressive views await of the orange-hued cacti below. Get ready to admire the Rincon Mountains in all their beauty, with spots of greenery dotting this reddish landscape.
Please, let me know if you can find a better place to admire the purple sky turning into a dim reddish glow over the Rincon Mountains – because I certainly cannot.
Unique Things to See & Do in Saguaro National Park: Hidden Gems That are Off the Beaten Track
Enjoy a Night of Stargazing
I’ve already touched on a couple of stellar sunset spots, but what about stargazing in Saguaro? Although many suggest going to the nearby Mt. Lemmon SkyCentre Observatory, there are plenty of great stargazing spots in the park itself.
If you want to view the stars from the comfort of your car, head to the western edge of Gates Pass. Here, you can admire the Milky Way as it performs a dazzling dance over the Rincon Mountains.
Or, if you plan to camp in Saguaro National Park, head to Manning Camp. You’ll find the best range of expansive viewing spots here.
Admire Panoramic Views at Sus Hill
If it’s panoramic views you’re after, add the easy 0.4-mile out-and-back trail to the top of Sus Hill to your itinerary. The hike is very short – and it’s well worth the trip for the awe-inspiring sight of the Saguaros alone.
Add to this some dramatic views of Apache Peak, and it’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular treks in the entire park.
Explore the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Sure, so visiting the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is technically something to do near Saguaro National Park, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to include it. Grab this Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum ticket and get ready for one inspirational experience.
You’ll have a world of options as soon as you enter the museum. You can admire wildlife like coyotes and bighorn sheep or sway through the Desert loop Trail, which has 55,000 plant species. There’s even an aquarium and art gallery if you fancy escaping the heat.
Spend Some Time Exploring Tucson
Seeing as Tucson sits between the eastern and western regions of the park, it’s worth exploring this diverse city when visiting Saguaro National Park.
Whether you wander along historic 4th Avenue, grab a craft beer downtown or visit the University of Arizona (I say, do it all!) is up to you. Just remember to make time in your itinerary to stroll around the vibrant Barrio Viejo and end your day with an indulgent meal at Tito & Pep.
All I can say is you’re in for a truly exciting time. And if it’s all too much, you can always head back to the park’s calming Saguaro forests.
Read Next: The Best Hikes in Tucson
Things to do in Saguaro National Park: Practical Tips for Your Trip
Where Should I Stay in Saguaro National Park?
Graduate Tucson (Mid-Range)
I’ve stayed at the Graduate Tucson and have only good things to say about it. Location-wise, it’s perfect no matter whether you’re travelling to the east or west side, while the rooftop pool is the perfect place to admire the sunset with a cocktail or two.
The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain (Luxury)
Opulence is the name of the game at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. It’s a 30-minute drive to the west entrance and a 50-minute trek to the east side. But the extra travel is well worth the luxuries you’ll experience.
Recommended Tours in Saguaro National Park
- Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Admission Ticket
- Tucson: 3-Hour Urban Adventure Quest Scavenger Hunt
- Saguaro National Park: E Bike Tour Around the Park