Saguaro National Park
Located: Arizona - Established: October 14, 1994
The Park: The namesake of this desert park, the saguaro cactus is the symbolic icon of the American southwest. Its life begins as a shiny black seed the size of a pinhead! A saguaro is capable of producing as many as 40 million seeds during its 175 to 200 year lifespan!
Out of those 40 million pinheads, only a very few will survive the harsh southwestern desert environment. The survivors grow very slowly. On its first birthday, the tiny saguaro measures only ¼ inch tall! On its fifteenth birthday, it may have reached the 12-inch mark!
After 75 years the cactus could sprout its first arm, which starts out as a small prickly ball. From there, most of the “arms” reach for the sky resembling human-like models in an old western stagecoach robbery!
At the 100-year mark, the saguaro is capable of reaching 25 feet. Those surviving 150+ years have been known to grow as tall as 50 feet towering over other desert plants.
In the spring, the saguaro cactus sprouts a gorgeous white flower, which opens up after sunset. Eventually, the flowers turn into a red fig-like fruit that Native Americans made into jams, syrup and cactus wine. Today the local bird and animal population harvest most of the fruit.
It is estimated that there are over 1.6 million saguaros thriving in the park!
Getting there: Separated by the city of Tucson, AZ, Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts – Saguaro West, the Tucson Mountain District and Saguaro East, the Rincon Mountain District. Both are accessed off of I-10 about a half hour to 45-minute drive from downtown Tucson.
When to visit: Both districts of the park are open every day except for Christmas. The Rincon Mountain District (east) is open to vehicle traffic from 7:00 am to sunset. The Tucson Mountain District (west) is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset.
Weather wise, the best time of year to experience Saguaro is during the winter to spring months. Daytime temperatures are much cooler than during the toasty summertime months.
Where to stay: No campgrounds or overnight lodging is available in either district; however, there are 21 backcountry campsites located in 6 designated wilderness campgrounds within the Rincon District. A permit is required for backcountry camping in Saguaro.
What to do: During January thru April, guided Ranger Programs give visitors a look at the many stories of the Sonoran Desert. Among the most popular are the guided walks that take you amongst the giant saguaros.
For those who wish to walk about the park unguided, Saguaro presents 165 miles of maintained hiking trails in its two districts ranging from an easy walk along an interpretive trail to a daylong wilderness trek.
Driving Tours: The scenic 5-mile Bajada Loop Drive in the West District loops through a dense saguaro forest along a graded dirt road. The 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive located in the East District winds through another saguaro forest and provides a glimpse at life in Sonoran Desert.
Trivia: Although many believe Saguaro to be a desert park, Mica Mountain located in the eastern district tops out at 8,666 ft – the highest point in the park where you will find a dense forest of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and Aspen.
Banner: Rare foggy morning amongst the Saguaros.
Experience these Check List:
- Stop by the Rincon Visitor Center (East Unit) or the Red Hills Visitor Center (West Unit)
- Drive the Bajada Loop Drive (West Unit)
- Drive the Cactus Forest Drive (East Unit)
- Experience wildflower blooms in the spring
- Examine Saguaros in bloom in late spring