America's Best History ... Saguaro National Park

Yes, it's a park of small, large, and gigantic prickly things.  Those sentinels of the desert that rise above its crusty surface to guard the night, the day, and the history of the land that surrounds them.  It's a history of Indian culture, of a harsh land that wasted many of a settler's fortune and often forced them home.  It's a history now of recreation, and land preservation to a degree, saving land close enough to a thriving city, Tuscon, hemming in the spread of subdivisions not far from the entrance gates, and allowing the next generation of residents to know what the landscape of the city, or at least, its environs, looked like not too long ago, all without traveling more than fifteen minutes in either its east, west, or northern directions.

Saguaro cactus at sunset
Saguaro cactus at twilight

Saguaro National Park is another of those parks that most in the nation couldn't name, and may bypass, on their way to bigger names, i.e. that big brother Grand Canyon to the northwest, and the Zions and Byrce Canyon's of the world, too.  But if you're going to be driving through Tuscon, or Arizona, for that matter, stop by the two sections of Saguaro National Park and marvel at one of the large sentinels of the day and night that guard the desert floor and marvel at the size and beauty of a tree, or a plant, or whatever you care to call it.  Ask a ranger for the definition actually, they'll know.

Saguaro Naitonal Park is home to the Giant American cacti, the signature of the American west, and the trails and sights in the park within the Sonoran Desert are wonderful, although with the temperatures exceeding 100 degrees most days in the summer, can be a challenge many months of the year.  A visit in the winter is wonderful, with pleasant temperatures and the same scenery.  There are two parts to the park, the east, Rincon Mountain District, and west, Tuscon Mountain District, sections, with the city of Tuscon in the middle.

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Things You Should Not Miss

1. Take a guided walk, bring plenty of water no matter the time of year, and listen to the rangers who guide you among the tall Saguaros that will guide your path.

2. For those with more time and hiking experience, visit Manning Cabin, in the wilderness area, the home of a former Tuscon Mayor.

Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park

What is There Now

Visitor's Centers
Rincon Mountain Visitor Center
- Located in the Saguaro East section at the esat entrance off Freeman Road.  The Cactus Forest Drive starts and ends here and there are many hiking trails in this location as well, including two short trails that may be more appropriate for some, the Desert Ecology Trail and the Freeman Homestead Trail.

South Hills Visitor Center
- Located in the Saguaro West section off Kinney Road.  This visitor center includes an orientation program about the cactus from the Native American perspective.  Also, the Hohokam Road drive and Apache Peak are located just north of the center. - Free Shipping on ALL orders

Lodging and Camping

There are no lodges or developed campgrounds within either section of Saguaro National Park, although you can get a permit for an overnight stay in the Saguaro wilderness, where six small campsites are located.  All of these are at elevations ranging from 4,800 to 8,000 feet

There are plenty of locations to pack a picnic lunch, but no developed places to stay overnight.  However, you are only minutes away from Tuscon when in either section, so there are plenty of places to stay nearby.  Check Expedia, the local Visitor's Bureau, or your favorite travel website for the lodging and camping choices that suit you.

Saguaro National Park Links

Saguaro National Park
Friends of Saguaro National Park
Metropolitan Tuscon Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Totono O'odham Nation

Nearby Attractions

Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona Office of Tourism
Bryce Canyon National Park
Navajo National Monument
Zion National Park

Saguaro Then and Now

Petroglyphs at Saguaro National Park

Saguaro Then

The Tohono O’odham (the Desert People) of the Sonoran Desert - The Totono O'odham tribe lived within the desert in an area reaching from Arizona to Sonora, Mexico.  They inhabited the land that would eventually be transferred, half, to the United States in 1853 through the Gadsden Purchase.  The rights of the native people to control their land, as in the case of many Native Americans, was guaranteed through the treaty, although settlement, due to mining and the development of the transcontinental railroad, changed that dynamic.  The tribe has now been divided into four recognized tribes, due to the effect of the the division between Mexico and the United States, and one of the difficulties ot the tribe to maintian their culture and family ties is involved within the border and immigration problem  Many of the petrogyphs of the nation still remain within the park.  One example is shown above (courtesy of the National Park Service digital archives).

Saguaro National Park - President Herbert Hoover declared the east section of the park a national monument on March 1, 1933, and recognized the western section in 1937.  Additional lands were added in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Wilderness Area and Tuscon Mountain Park.  On October 14, 1994, it was elevated to Natoinal Park status.

Saguaro Now

Saguaro National Park

The Ranger Guided Talks and Walks
- More plentiful in winter than summer, but available at all times of the year, these talks walks range from ten minutes to two and one half hours and take you to various locations in the park and cover the subject of history and nature.  Some of the best occur at twilight and night, and seeing the desert at this time of day can be an even more special sight.  You can also learn about the history of the making of the park and the Civilian Conservation Corp or even Wily Coyota and the Roadrunner, oh, well, maybe just the roadrunner and how he lives and runs through the desert floor.  

Hiking and Biking - Many people enjoy the scenery of Saguaro National Park by foot or bike on their own.  There are hikes for the novice and those with great experience such as the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail, among the 150 miles of trails within Saguaro National Park.  Biking the loop drives can be a great way to see the park as well.  At all times, care should be taken in this environment because of the hazards of the desert, including heat, terrain, and the animals who live there from black bears to snakes, as well as those prickly things.

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Visitor Statistics

Saguaro National Park
678,261 visitors

#91 Most Visited National Park Unit

Park Size

Saguaro National Park
87,526 acres (Federal)
91,440 (Total)

Source: NPS, 2014 Visitor Statistics; Visitor Rank among 369 units.

Saguaro Entrance Fees

$5 for 7 days.

$10 for 7 days.

Fees subject to change without notice.

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Saguaro Weather
Very hot, above 105 degees in the shade, and 72 degrees on average at night.

Pleasant days, averaging 65 degrees in the day with cool nights.

Be prepared for the weather in the desert with appropriate clothing, footwears, and plenty of water.


Inside the Park
- There is no tranportation within the park outside of your own car, bike, or foot power.

To the Park - There is no public transportation to the park.

Protecting the Park

Protecting Saguaro National Park.  First, pay heed to the warnings and instructions of park rangers and the National Park Service to insure that your visit in safe and wonderful.  Second, please obey the rules about protecting the park.
The ecosystem of
the desert can be
very fragile.

For those that want to help maintain and protect the park, the Friends of Saguaro National Park might be a good organizaiton to join.