Saguaro National Park
Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.
Saguaro National Park has two districts, separated by the City of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District or Saguaro West, and the Rincon Mountain District or Saguaro East, are approximately 30 miles and 1 hour driving time apart. While similar in terms of plants and animals, subtle differences make both areas worthy of a visit.
This unique desert is home to the most recognizable cactus in the world, the majestic saguaro. Visitors of all ages are fascinated and enchanted by these desert giants, especially their many interesting and complex interrelationships with other desert life. Saguaro cacti provide their sweet fruits to hungry desert animals. They also provide homes to a variety of birds, such as the Harris? hawk, Gila woodpecker and the tiny elf owl. Yet, the saguaro requires other desert plants for its very survival. During the first few years of a very long life, a young saguaro needs the shade and protection of a nurse plant such as the palo verde tree. With an average life span of 150 years, a mature saguaro may grow to a height of 50 feet and weigh over 10 tons.
While most visitors to Saguaro National Park choose a leisurely drive on one of the scenic loop drives, those eager for an escape from the rigors of city life often opt to explore the park on one of the many trails. With over 150 miles of hiking trails, ranging from flat and easy strolls in the Sonoran Desert to steep and rugged hikes into the Rincon Mountains, visitors of every ability have a place to get out of the car and explore.
Some highlights of the two separate sections of the park include:
Tucson Mountain District A short hike on the Valley View Overlook Trail to view the Avra Valley and distant mountain ranges. A fabulous orientation program offering a Native American perspective on the saguaro cactus, shown daily at the Red Hills Visitor Center. A trip to Signal Hill Picnic Area, which offers visitors the chance to view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs.
Rincon Mountain District A scenic auto/bike tour around the Cactus Forest Loop Drive offering incredible views of the Rincon Mountains. A one mile loop hike along the Freeman Homestead Trail to learn about homesteading in the desert as well as modern Tucson. For those with a taste for adventure, as well as a couple of extra days, we recommend a trip into the Saguaro Wilderness Area to visit Manning Cabin, which was built in 1905 by Levi Manning, one time mayor of Tucson.
Seasonality / Weather
Tucson is known for its mild winters and hot summers. Tucson has two rainy seasons, the summer rainy season, which generally runs from July through August and the winter rainy season, which generally runs from December through January. Because of the temperate winter climate, the heaviest visitation generally comes between November and April.
Winters in the Tucson area are delightful with mild warm days averaging 65 degrees F. (19 degrees C.) and cool nights averaging 40 degrees F.(5 degrees C.). Summers can be extremely hot with daytime temperatures exceeding 105 degrees F.(41 degrees C.) in the shade, and evening lows averaging 72 degrees F. (22 degrees C.). Always wear a hat and use sunscreen while hiking. Drink plenty of water, it is recommend at least one gallon of water per person, per day.
The Rincon Mountain District may be reached from the City of Tucson by traveling east on Broadway or Speedway to Freeman Road; Take Freeman Road south (right) to Old Spanish Trail (4 miles [6.5 km] from Speedway, 3 miles [5 km] from Broadway). Turn left onto Old Spanish Trail heading south. Look for signs to the Park entrance. The Park entrance is approximately .25 miles [.4 km] from Freeman Road.
The Tucson Mountain District may be reached from Tucson by traveling west on Speedway Boulevard. At the junction with Camino de Oeste, Speedway Boulevard will change names to Gates Pass Road. From this junction, continue to drive west on Gates Pass Road until you reach the "T" intersection with Kinney Road (4 miles [6.5 km]). Turn right on Kinney Road and drive three miles [5 km] north to the Park entrance. The entrance is on the right side of Kinney Road.