The renowned Saguaro cactus is a symbol of the Southwest, as well as the desert itself. The very mention brings me visions of rolling purple ridges studded with massive, almost human-like cactus silhouetted against the setting orange-red desert sun, birds and bats darting about, coyotes yelping and owls cry, unseen in the impending darkness. The titular “Desert Monarchs” are protected by Saguaro National Park, which is located in south-east Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Saguaros are North America’s tallest cactus, growing up to 70 feet tall, weighing eight tones, and living for 200 years.
What is the Saguaro National Park?
In 1933, President Herbert Hoover designated the area as a national monument.
In 1994, it was elevated to full National Park status, and it currently spans 91,442 acres of rugged and scenic wilderness.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was particularly active in the park during the Great Depression, creating everything from serpentine erosion barriers to the numerous road signs, picnic tables, and shelters that visitors still enjoy today.
The park has six diverse biomes ranging from desert scrub and grasslands to oak and pine forests and mixed conifer forest, with elevations ranging from 2,180 to 8,666 feet.
Saguaro’s fauna is very diversified due to its wide variety of temperatures.
The park is home to 200 different bird species, including 18 different hummingbird species, roadrunners, great-horned owls, and red-tailed hawks.
Six distinct rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, iguanas, and a diverse assortment of lizards are among the 50 reptile species found in Saguaro.
The park is home to jackrabbits, mule deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat, desert tortoise, and even black bear.
Some of the most intriguing, rare, and attractive plants in the nation are the result of vegetation’s unique adaptations for desert life.
Wildflowers such dazzling gold poppies and desert marigolds, scarlet and pink penstemons, purple lupines, and orange globe mallows provide welcome dashes of color to the landscape.
Seeing a flowering cactus is a rare treat: ocotillos, chollas, and prickly pears, as well as saguaros, all produce colorful, aromatic blooms.
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The Saguaro National Park is divided into two
The saguaro cactus that give the city its name.
Harvey Barrison is a character in the film Harvey Barrison.
The city of Tuscon divides the park into two districts: the western Tucson Mountain District and the eastern Rincon Mountain District, which are roughly an hour apart.
The eastern half is more hilly and bigger, whereas the western section is lower in height and has a thicker saguaro forest.
The east boasts more hiking routes and is the only section where backpacking is permitted; nevertheless, if time is of the essence, the west is the preferable option.
There are roughly 165 kilometers of paths between the two areas.
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Mountain District of West Tucson
The unpaved picturesque Bajada Loop is a great way to get a taste of the park.
It’s 6 miles long, with spectacular vistas of the foothills, various picture possibilities, lovely shaded picnic sites, and several trailheads.
When you’re ready to stretch your legs, go for a half-mile stroll on the Signal Hill Trail, which offers vast 360-degree vistas and hundreds of ancient petroglyphs.
When you’re done there, stop for lunch in the shaded Ez-Kim-in-Zin picnic spot, which has been dubbed “the most picturesque picnic location in a park” by a local newspaper.
Hikers may reach Wasson Peak, the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains, using the Kings Canyon path.
Paloverde trees, prickly pear, and barrel cactus, cholla, ocotillo, mesquite, mature saguaros, and stunning panels of petroglyphs line this easy climb, which is 6.5 miles round trip with 1,939 feet of elevation gain.
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Mountain District of East Rincon
To begin, take the 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive for breathtaking vistas of the Rincon Mountains.
This route leads to a number of outstanding walks of different length and complexity.
The simple 1-mile Freeman Homestead Trail is one of the greatest short excursions in the park for getting up up and personal with some of the area’s largest and most mature saguaros.
The Desert Ecology Trail features informative interpretive signage about the plants and animals that live in the Sonoran Desert, as well as some kid-friendly activities.
The famous 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop is accessible for road cyclists, as is the 6-mile gravel Bajada Loop in the west.
Mountain cyclists will enjoy the 2.8-mile Hope Camp Trail and the 2.5-mile Cactus Forest Trail, which are both looped by the Loop Drive.
There is a Ramada with cold water just within the park, as well as facilities at the visitor’s center.
Riders may avoid the $5 price by biking into the park with a resident who has an annual pass; they get two bikers per ticket.
Immerse yourself in the experience.
The opposite side of Saguaro National Park, where the desert gives way to wooded slopes.
The Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is one of the most well-known trails in the area.
It’s an 18-mile round journey with 4,750 feet of vertical gain through a narrow, steep ridgeline to Tanque Verde Peak, the ridge’s highest peak at 7,049 feet.
The hike takes you through the area’s six biotic zones, beginning with cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus.
Then it’s on to ocotillo, agave, and yucca, with pinyon-juniper trees and colder ponderosa pine woods in between.
Hikers will be rewarded with unobstructed views of the whole Tucson valley, as well as the Rincon, Santa Catalina, and Santa Rita mountains, as well as great animal watching chances.
If it seems like too much for a single day, try camping in Juniper Basin, mile 6.8, for a more manageable overnight.
A privy and a few tent sites are available.
How to Make the Most of Your Trip
Here are some useful tips that you can follow to get the most out of your trip.
Adhere to these tips, and you will never end up with anything to worry about.
- Overnight stays in the backcountry need a permit, which costs $6 per campground each night.
- Assume you’re carrying one gallon of water per person, each day. In the Saguaro Wilderness, the only sources are highly intermittent streams or springs. Consider catching water along the path if you’re on an out-and-back hike.
- Refilling reusable water bottles is available at visitor centers and the Rincon District bike ramada.
- Keep to the pathways and be careful where you put your hands and feet. The cacti are prickly and spiny, and the region is home to scorpions and rattlesnakes.
- The ideal months to visit are October through April, since summer temperatures can reach triple digits.
- The park has no road-accessible campsites; the nearest is a 5.9-mile trek to Douglas Spring. Spud Rock, Happy Valley, Juniper Basin, Grass Shack, and Manning Camp are among the other places to camp. Manning Camp, with six sites and a year-round water supply, is the park’s biggest campsite. It has a cabin on the National Register of Historic Places that was constructed in 1905 by a previous Mayor of Tucson. It is presently used by the Park Service for trail and fire workers, researchers, and rangers.
- To estimate a saguaro’s age, keep in mind that it won’t bloom until it’s 35 years old, and it won’t develop its first arm until it’s 50-75 years old.
- A visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, although not technically in the park, is something that should not be overlooked. It has 56,000 different plants from 1,200 native species, as well as 230 native animals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds, including a multi-species hummingbird aviary, on its 97 acres. There’s also a fantastic aquarium with live animal shows. The park’s west gate is less than two miles away.
Which side of the Saguaro do you want to be on?
The east and west sides of Saguaro National Park are opposite each other.
The Tucson Mountain District is on the west side, while the Rincon District is on the east.
The Red Hills Visitor Center is on the west side, while the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center is on the east side.
When you search it up on Google maps, be sure to include the visitor centers, not simply Saguaro west or Saguaro east, since this will lead you to a random location.
On which side of Saguaro do you find the most cactus?
Certainly, the west side of Saguaro has more cacti! The quantity of them over here is incredible, and even just driving in, you’ll see many and some extremely enormous saguaros.
I wanted to take a break and appreciate them all, but there were just too many to choose from.
Of course, there are still saguaro on the east side, but not nearly as many.
So, if you want to see a lot of saguaros, the west side is undoubtedly the way to go.
After all, that’s presumably why you’re here.
Which side of Saguaro is the farthest away?
Definitely the east side.
Because it is farther out of the city, the west seems more distant, yet the east is simpler to get away from people.
Backcountry camping and trekking are also only available on the east side, which is how you get to the most isolated areas.
It’s not that much more distant than the west if you’re simply passing through.
It’s also paved, while the west is dirt.
So, in terms of distance, the winner will undoubtedly be the east side.
Which side of Saguaro provides the most hiking opportunities?
While I appreciated the trekking opportunities on the west side, there will be more on the east side.
The east, on the other hand, only contains one or two additional short treks.
If you want to go hiking and put in some serious miles, the east is the place to be (and must be).
The east side will win again since it offers all of the wilderness hiking and camping opportunities.
Which side of the Saguaro National Park is the most beautiful?
The west, without a doubt.
Sure, the east side has the advantage in terms of trekking and seclusion, but the west side has the edge in terms of total magnificence.
The east side had truly disappointed me, and we had just driven through it.
After visiting the west side, the east side didn’t appear as stunning, but that might change after seeing the backcountry.
On the west side, the cacti are considerably thicker and striking.
Despite its brief length, the trip blew me away.
“Look at them!”
I kept repeating.
So, if you only have one day at Saguaro, you can visit both sides, but if you just have one day and want to spend a lot of time there, the west side is the way to go.
I still can’t believe how much better it was.
Is it worthwhile to visit Saguaro National Park?
Yes! Yes, a thousand times! This was such a wonderful park, yet I never seem to hear anything about it.
However, I adore it!
This is now one of my favorite national parks, and I can’t wait to visit again, particularly to see the Saguaros in bloom.
What is the approximate time it takes to travel across Saguaro National Park?
You could complete either side in an hour or less if you’re just driving through and not hiking.
Plus an hour’s journey between the two sides, you could theoretically see everything in three hours, but you’ll need more time if you want to do anything.
The east side’s Cactus Loop Road is paved and eight miles long, with limited parking for RVs and bigger cars.
The Bajada Loop Drive is a six-mile gravel road in the west. But it’s a simple dirt road that any automobile can handle.
Winter is the best time of the year to visit Saguaro National Park, since it gets to be like a thousand degrees in the summer. However, if you want to see the cactus blossom (which I would really love), you’ll have to travel in May. The latter two weeks of April are when saguaros bloom, and the last week of May and the first week of June are when they are at their height. It’ll be hot then, too, albeit not as scorching as it will be in the summer.