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11 JAW-DROPPING Things to Do in SAGUARO National Park (+ Photos)

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things to do Saguaro National Park
Things to Do Saguaro National Park

Our Travels to Saguaro National Park

I’ve had the good fortune of traveling to Saguaro National Park numerous times over the years in just about every kind of weather – and I’ll keep coming back to this desert wonderland.

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.

Saguaro National Park Guide
Will Pattiz (left) and Jim Pattiz (right) in Saguaro National 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.

Why Trust Us About Saguaro National Park?

I’m Jim Pattiz and along with my brother Will, we make up the filmmaking 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.

WATCH: The Pattiz Brothers as National Park experts on The Weather Channel.

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.

About Saguaro National Park

hiking in saguaro
Hiking in Sagauro | Things to Do 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.

RELATED: EXPERT Guide: Saguaro National Park (Photos + Video)

Saguaro National Park Stats

things to do saguaro national park
Saguaro National Park Things To Do
  • 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)

RELATED: All California National Parks RANKED (Best to Worst)

Things to Know Before You Visit Saguaro National Park

Entrance Fees: $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.

Sunscreen: 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.

Hiking Apps: 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.

Getting To Saguaro National Park – Directions & Location

things to do saguaro national park
A mountain wash in Saguaro National Park

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)
Saguaro National Park Driving Directions
Phoenix Airport to Saguaro National Park West

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.

Saguaro Driving Directions
Tucson Airport to Saguaro National Park East

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).

RELATED: The Ultimate National Parks Road Trip

Saguaro National Park Video

WATCH: A visually-stunning journey through Saguaro National Park

SAGUARO is the culmination of weeks spent filming in one of the most spectacular and unique deserts in the world. Encompassing over 90,000 acres, 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.

Journey with More Than Just Parks as we explore a harsh land marked by rugged beauty, resourceful animals, and spectacular sunsets. This is Saguaro. Filmed primarily in UHD 8K.

To make this film happen we spent weeks in Saguaro National Park during November capturing the park in a great time to visit with fewer visitors and pleasant weather. This film is brought to you by Visit Tucson.

Things to Do in Saguaro National Park

things to do saguaro national park
A hiker in a dry wash in Saguaro National Park

1. Hiking

Obviously hiking is #1 on here. 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.

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.

things to do in saguaro national park
A hiker looks at petroglyphs near Signal Hill | Saguaro National Park, Arizona

2. Petroglyphs

Saguaro provides the adventurous with opportunities to peer into the past, whether it’s an abandoned gold mine, a CCC shelter, or ancient petroglyphs scrawled into large rocks.

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..

things to do in saguaro national park
A bicyclist rides through Saguaro National Park East

3. Biking

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 that is ideal for biking. Early morning provides the best views and you’ll practically have the park to yourself!

desert ecology trail
Views from Desert Ecology Trail | Saguaro National Park, Arizona

4. Desert Ecology Trail

This beautiful 1/4 mile paved loop trail takes visitors through a perfect subsection of the Sonoran Desert. 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.

Saguaro Sunset
Sunset from Javelina Rocks | Things To Do Saguaro National Park

5. 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.

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.

Saguaro Cactus
A fascinating Saguaro Cactus seen at sunset

6. Admire the 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.

saguaro hiking
Me hiking to Wassen Peak

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.

Saguaro Sunset
Magic Hour in Saguaro

8. Take in a 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.

Loma Verde Trail
Loma Verde Trail | Saguaro National Park

9. Loma Verde Trail

The Loma Verde Trail is a 3.8 mile loop that offers a terrific variety of scenery.

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.

  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
  • Time: 1.5 hours

stars saguaro national park arizona
The night sky from the park

10. Stargazing

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.

tucson arizona
Tucson, Arizona

11. 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!

Map of Things to Do Saguaro National Park

List of Things to Do in Saguaro National Park

  1. Hiking
  2. View Petroglyphs
  3. Biking
  4. Desert Ecology Trail
  5. Javelina Rocks
  6. Admire the Saguaros
  7. Wassen Peak
  8. Take in a Sunset
  9. Loma Verde Trail
  10. Stargazing
  11. Visit Tucson

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Jim Pattiz

Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks. Filmmaker, Conservationist, Public Lands Enthusiast

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