Saguaro National Park in Tuscon, Arizona, is known for having the largest cacti plants in the United States, dubbed the universal symbol of the American West. It is located in the Rincon Mountain District in East Tuscon and the Tuscon Mountain District in West Tuscon. The 91,327-acre park has 25 species of cacti and some that grow up to 60 feet in height. Saguaro National Park is within the 120,000 square miles of the Sonoran Desert that has two rainy seasons in a year. It also has over 150 miles of designated hiking trails.
Saguaro National Park’s plant, shrub, and tree species
In the two mountain districts of Saguaro National Park, there are an estimated 3500 native and non-native plants, shrubs, and tree species. In North America, it is the most biologically diverse desert. Shrubs like the button brittlebush, brittlebush, turpentine bush, broom snakeweed, burrowed, and menodora scabra, have yellow flowers that in bloom add beauty to the rugged park. Emory, netleaf, toumey, and silverleaf oaks, ironwood, velvet ash, Arizona pine, Acacia, border pinyon, douglas fir, Arizona sycamore trees are found at Saguaro National Park. Among the plants found there are the sunflower, whitestem paperflower, new Mexico thistle, desert marigold, hairy seed bahia, Pringle’s Prairie Clover, and coyote gourd.
Saguaro National Park’s Wildlife
Saguaro National Park’s diverse habitat hosts abundant bird, mammal, and reptile wildlife species adapted to high temperatures and scarce water there. Birding enthusiasts get to see the whiskered screech owl, vermilion flycatcher, roadrunner, Gila woodpecker, Gambel’s quail, northern goshawk, Mexican jays, and the yellow-eyed junco at the park. Mammal species found at the park are mountain lion, coyote, gray fox, black bear, bobcat, black-tailed rabbit, ground squirrel, packrat, white-nosed coati, ringtail, collared peccary, white-tailed and mule deers, and the desert cottontail rabbit.
Reptiles like the Gila monster, desert tortoise and short-horned, whiptail, zebra tail, and desert spiny lizards, and snakes like the coachwhip, western diamondback, gopher snake, Sonoran Whipsnake, Arizona black rattler, sidewinder, kingsnake, and black-tailed rattlesnake are also there. Among the amphibians found at the park include the Couch’s spadefoot and Sonoran Desert toad, leopard, and canyon tree frogs that inhabit the pools and springs around the park.
What to do at Saguaro National Park
Visit the Signal Hill Petroglyph
The Signal Hill Petroglyph is a rocky site approximately 200 feet in diameter and 40 feet in height. Petroglyphy is art made by making incisions or painting on a rock. This site is the largest petroglyph site in the Tuscon Mountain District of the park. On Signal Hill Petroglyph there are over 200 prehistoric petroglyphs made by indigenous, native American people 550 to 1550 years ago. There is an ascending trail where visitors view this ancient art at Signal Hill Petroglyph. When viewing the art, visitors are required to stay on the designated trail. Touching, scratching, writing, and stepping on the stones with petroglyphs is prohibited and considered vandalism and can lead to prosecution. Photography is permitted as long as the petroglyphs are untouched.
Explore the Cactus Forest Drive
The Cactus Forest Drive is a scenic 8-mile stretch that visitors explore by driving, biking, hiking, or horse riding. After 4 miles of this stretch, there is a small hill where visitors get great views of the park. On this stretch, visitors see the over 8000 feet rugged and the sprawling Rincon Mountains in the background. Besides the towering cacti, there is diverse desert plant life comprising of shrubs, herbs, plants, and small trees. During the day there is little wildlife activity. Each of the recreational activities has regulations that visitors are briefed on to prevent accidents or going off-trail. Park regulations prohibit vehicles wider than 8 feet and trailers longer than 35 feet from using this stretch. At the Visitors Center, a guide can be hired for $2. At sunset, the Cactus Forest Drive closes.
Desert Discovery Nature Trail
The Desert Discovery Nature Trail is 0.5 miles long and is at the foot of the Tucson Mountains. This trail is suited for families, children, and the physically impaired on wheelchairs. Along this trail, there are posters mounted identifying the different cacti and other plant species there. There are shades and benches on this trail too.
Other Trails To Explore
- Valley View Overlook
- Wasson Peak
- Loma Verde Trail
- Bajada Loop Drive
- Desert Discovery Nature Trail
- Mica View Trail
Visitors are allowed to camp at the six sites in Saguaro National Park after obtaining the required permits. The Juniper Basin camp has great views of different habitats around Tanque Verde Ridge where it is. Fire is allowed by using the dead wood lying there. Water is scarce and seasonal in this camp. The Douglas Spring Camp has oaks and cottonwoods that provide shading in hot months. Water in this camp is in plenty though seasonal. Fires are prohibited in this camp. The Grass Shack Camp has large sycamores shading the area and offers great views. Fires are prohibited on this camp due to the fragile ecosystem around. The Happy Valley Camp offers visitors hiking to the Rincon Mountain peak a resting place.
Of the six camps, the Spud Rock Camp is isolated and is accessible from the east. It allows visitors hiking towards it to have great views of the park’s scenic eastern terrain. Pine and aspen trees around the Spud Rock Camp offer respite from the summer heat. The Manning Camp has a wooden house where natural resource studies of the park are done. From this camp, visitors have great views of the park’s dynamic flora and fauna. This camp has a reliable water source and fires at night are allowed. It’s also cooler compared to the valleys below it and doesn’t exceed 85 degrees in temperature.
What to pack when visiting Saguaro National Park
- Hiking Hat
- Water Bottle
- Sturdy Hiking Boots
- Hiking Socks
- Hiking Shirts
- Warm Clothing (camping)
- $25 per Vehicle
- $20 per Motorcycle
- $15 per Person
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