I’ve had the good fortune of traveling to this desert wonderland numerous times over the years in just about every kind of weather – the amount of amazing things to do in Saguaro National Park keeps me coming back.
So take my word for it when I say compiling this list of things to do in Saguaro was a walk in the park for me! (You should now be laughing).
This past year my brother and I teamed up with Visit Tucson and ventured out to Saguaro once more (this time in the more temperate fall) to create a beautiful short film on the park.
We spent a couple of weeks hiking nearly every trail in the park, soaking in the magical sunsets, gazing up at the stars, learning about the park’s history, staying at the campgrounds, and thoroughly enjoying all that Saguaro National Park has to offer.
In this article I’ll cover:
- Best Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
- What to See in Saguaro
- Saguaro Attractions
- Getting to Saguaro
- and more
Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Saguaro National Park?
I’m Jim Pattiz and along with my brother Will, we make up the film-making duo known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Things to Know Before You Visit Saguaro National Park
$30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
For many of us visiting national parks means lots of sun. Seriously, some of these parks can zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.
Waterproof map with hikes
This one from National Geographic is the best one out there.
Leave No Trace
We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
If you’re into the latest apps and hiking technology you should check out these best 20 hiking apps as ranked by us for your next journey on the trails.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check the rules before bringing along your furry friend.
Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
1. Go on Some Epic Hikes
Going on an epic hike is the best things to do at Saguaro National Park. Saguaro is a fantastic place to wander dry washes and winding trails, smelling the sweet scented air and stopping to admire cacti and scurrying wildlife.
A few of the best hikes include:
- Wasson Peak
- Signal Hill
- Loma Verde Trail
- Desert Ecology Trail
- King Canyon Trail
- Ridge View Trail
Check out our article, 10 INCREDIBLE Saguaro National Park Hikes for a more complete list and guide.
Saguaro provides opportunities to peer into the past on any given trail, whether it’s an abandoned gold mine, a CCC shelter, or ancient petroglyphs scrawled into large rocks.
Don’t forget about the mountains either. Hiking trails into the Rincon Mountains take visitors deep into the wilderness where the rugged desert landscape transforms into an alpine forest teeming with woodland animals and tall trees.
CAUTION: Saguaro National Park and the surrounding area has had problems with Africanized Honey Bees. These bees are to be avoided at all costs as they are very aggressive and can swarm, sting, and even kill a person. The park has put up signs in areas where aggressive bee activity has been observed – heed them.
2. Discover the Signal Hill Petroglyphs
Signal Hill provides visitors with the best opportunities to see petroglyphs in the park and is one of my personal favorite things to do in Saguaro National Park. Here, after a short hike from the parking lot, you can see some beautiful petroglyphs.
The park has a long history of human habitation that has been well documented by what those who came before left behind.
Whether it’s abandoned mining equipment, remnants of cattle ranching, old frontier cabins, or fascinating petroglyphs, there’s something fascinating on almost every trail.
CAUTION: The Signal Hill area as well as many other areas of the park are home to rattlesnakes. If you hear a rattling sound it’s time to quickly look around and back away from the area the sound is coming from..
3. Bike the Cactus Forest Drive
A lot of national parks aren’t incredibly bike-friendly, due to car traffic or park restrictions, but that’s not so in Saguaro.
While there isn’t any biking allowed on trails of course, the roads of the park wind through dazzling desert scenery and are perfect for road biking.
Saguaro National Park East features a one-way loop road (Cactus Forest Drive) that is ideal for biking. Early morning provides the best views and you’ll practically have the park to yourself!
4. Hike the Desert Ecology Trail
This beautiful 1/4 mile paved loop trail takes visitors through a perfect subsection of the Sonoran Desert. It is one of the most accessible things to do in Saguaro National Park. Here visitors of all abilities have the opportunity to a close up look at what makes this part of the world so special.
Along the trail you’ll find a multitude of species of labeled desert plants along with interpretive signs full of fascinating information about how life works in this one-of-a-kind desert wonderland.
There are also a number of shelters with benches, perfect for stopping and taking in the views or resting from the desert heat.
5. See the Sunset from Javelina Rocks
As you drive the road in the eastern district of Saguaro National Park you’ll eventually come upon an area where giant slanted rocks jut out of the ground seemingly out of nowhere. This is Javelina Rocks and watching a sunset from here is one of the coolest things to do in Saguaro National Park.
You can guess how the rocks get their names. Yes, Javelinas are commonly spotted in the area – though, full disclosure, I have never seen a Javelina in my six trips to Saguaro National Park over the years.
The best part about Javelina Rocks is the views they provide for those adventurous enough to climb up them. Sunset here is the best spot in the eastern portion of the park.
6. Admire the Mighty Saguaros
Did you know it takes a saguaro 50-75 years to grow it’s first arm? Just imagine how old the one pictured above is.
Adult saguaros can weigh more than 4 tons and reach soaring heights. Believe me, when you get up close to these cacti, you realize just how gigantic they really are.
The park is full of thousands and thousands of these incredible giants. We found the Desert Ecology Trail to be one of the best places to admire them up close as well as Wasson Peak to see the breadth of how many there are.
Signal Hill is another great access point to large specimens of the Saguaro.
7. Hike to Wasson Peak
If you go very early in the morning, before sunrise, the Wasson Peak hike can be incredible. From the top you’ll have panoramic views of the surround desert and mountains stretching far into the distance.
The hike is several miles and more than 1500 feet of elevation gain so make sure you’re well prepared and whatever you do, avoid hiking during the afternoon when temperatures can soar into triple digits.
8. Take in an Epic Sunset
Saguaro National Park is home to some of the most magnificent sunsets you’ll find anywhere in the national park system. And believe me, I should know.
Gates Pass is a popular place to view the sunset here, but for my money I like Signal Hill. Javelina Rocks is another good one. Safe to say you really can’t go wrong here around sunset, but try to get some elevation to get the most of your experience.
The Desert Ecology Trail is another great place to see sunsets if you are in that area as well.
There is rarely a bad night for sunsets in this park so take your time and enjoy!
9. Hike the Loma Verde Trail
The Loma Verde Trail is a 3.8 mile loop that offers a terrific variety of scenery. As such, it is one of the most popular things to do in Saguaro National Park.
- Distance: 3.8 miles
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
- Time: 1.5 hours
You’ll hike through a seasonal wash and eventually reach the Loma Verde Mine, an abandoned gold and copper mine. From there you’ll take a right on Pink Hill Trail and come upon an incredible view of the cactus forest below.
A few more turns and you’ll head right back.
10. Go Stargazing
Stargazing is one of our absolute favorite things to do in Saguaro National Park. While there is some light pollution from the bustling city of Tucson, it’s not as much as you might think thanks to the mountains blocking out most of the city lights.
For the best stargazing that doesn’t require a hike you’ll want to be in the western district of the park to the west of Gates Pass. From there you can drink in nearly unspoiled views of the stars above.
If you’re willing to hike, Manning Camp is an excellent place to take in incredible views of the night sky.
11. Hike the Cam-Boh Trail
The Cam-Boh Trail is another great trail located on the West side of Saguaro National Park. If you’re looking for one of the less-crowded things to do in Saguaro National Park, this is a great choice.
The trail is just under 5 miles long round trip and features some of my favorite views in the park.
Sunsets from the Cam-Boh Trail are especially beautiful with really nice views of the surrounding mountains looking north.
12. Hike the Micah View Trail
The Micah View Trail is a shorter one on the eastern side and one of the more accessible things to do in Saguaro National Park.
The trail itself is only about a mile long and serves as a short out and back. The saguaros on the trail are particularly scenic with really beautiful mountain scenery in the backdrop.
There’s also a great picnic area with shelters from the sun at the Micah View Trailhead that are perfect for a lunch stop in the park.
13. Sunset from Sus Hill
One of the most convenient and best panoramic places to see a sunset in the park is from atop Sus Hill.
Located right next to the Sus Picnic area, a short .4 mile trail leads hikers to the top of Sus Hill where they are treated to views of the park and the surrounding area.
We frequented this spot on our last trip to the park because the rest of Hohokam and Golden Gate roads were undergoing construction.
Sus Hill is also one of the best places to see sunset in the park and I recommend adding it to everyone’s list of things to do in Saguaro National Park.
14. Hike the Bajada Wash Trail
An easy and scenic hike that should be on your radar for things to do in Saguaro National Park is the Bajada Wash Trail. This trail starts at the Sus Picnic area and follows the Bajada Wash up toward Signal Hill picnic area.
As the trail ascends the wash hikers are treated to increasingly scenic views of the park.
I recommend hiking this trail early in the morning to avoid heat exhaustion as there is minimal coverage from the sun.
15. Visit Tucson
It’s not often that you have a major city full of vibrant culture, great food, and plenty of things to do right outside a national park.
So why not take advantage of it and explore what Tucson has to offer! The park is located within 30-60 minutes of the city center depending on where you start in the park.
From the park there are many vantages that look right into the downtown area of the city. Saguaro is in fact one of the national parks that lies the closest to a major city.
Map of Things to Do Saguaro National Park
Summary of Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
- View Petroglyphs
- Desert Ecology Trail
- Javelina Rocks
- Admire the Saguaros
- Wassen Peak
- Take in a Sunset
- Loma Verde Trail
- Visit Tucson
About Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
Encompassing over 91,000 acres, Saguaro National Park preserves some of the most majestic desert landscapes found anywhere in the world, and of course the iconic Saguaro Cactus.
This is a harsh land teeming with rugged beauty, resourceful animals, and spectacular sunsets. The park takes it’s name from the Saguaro Cactus, the icon of the American Southwest.
Interesting Saguaro National Park Statistics
- Location: Tucson, Arizona
- Established: October 14, 1994
- Size: 91,716 acres
- Native Lands: Hohokam, O’odham, Apache
- Visitors: 957,405 (in 2018)
- Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle; $70 annual pass (or $80 for America the Beautiful Pass)
Getting To Saguaro National Park – Directions & Location
Thankfully, getting to Saguaro National Park is easy.
- Closest Airport: TUS – Tucson International Airport (25 minutes driving from the Eastern District)
- Cheapest Airport: PHX – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (An hour and a half driving from the Western District)
The fastest way to get to Saguaro National Park is by plane, flying into Tucson International Airport (TUS). The airport is a mere 25 minutes from the park and offers quick and convenient access.
Deciding where to fly in to visit Saguaro really all comes down to balancing the rental car and plane ticket costs.
Sometimes you’ll get a great deal on flights and a rental car in Tucson, and sometimes it will make sense to fly into Phoenix because the rental car or flight is that much cheaper.
My recommendation is definitely flying into Tucson and renting a car from there because you’re basically in the park at that point. You could even bike from the airport if you wanted! The airport is serviced by every major domestic airline and flights are typically not expensive.
Depending on your access to a car and the distance you’re willing to drive maybe you’re up for a great American road trip (see my national park road trips post).
Pin Things to Do in Saguaro National Park
And a bonus! Tips for Visiting a National Park Responsibly
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs