Arizona is home to some of America's most dramatic outdoor wilderness. While no national park in the state can compare to the eye-popping Grand Canyon it does boast a lot more to see and do. One example is the North American wildlife refuge and safari of Bearizona - America's ultimate wildlife safari.

The Saguaro National Park is in southeastern Arizona and is made up of separate districts - the Tuscon Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. These preserve the Sonoran Desert landscapes that include the rare and giant saguaro cactus. In between these two districts is the Tuscon and there is plenty to keep one busy for a weekend in Tuscon.

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About Saguaro National Park

In the middle of these two districts lies the City of Tucson. It takes around 30-45 minutes to drive from one district to another (depending on the traffic).

  • Admission: $25.00 Per Private Vehicle (Good For One Week) - Admits to Both Districts

Both districts have a variety of ranger-led guided programs. To know what's on, one should check the National Park Service's website.

The volcanic rocks found in Tuscon Mountain District are dramatically different from the rocks of the Rincon Mountain District. The higher mountains and the Sierra Madra Oriental in Mexico support much great biodiversity. However, due to the Western Tucson Mountain District being lower in elevation it has a denser saguaro forest.

One can come and visit the national park at any time of year, but the hotels and resorts are normally more expensive in the winter. This is because the summer in the southern Arizona desert is notoriously hot and the winter months are milder.

Related: The Best Places To Visit In Arizona That Aren't Phoenix Or The Grand Canyon

The Iconic Saguaro Cactus

The giant saguaro is the United States' largest cactus and is the universal symbol of the American West. Unfortunately, these majestic plants are rare and are only found in a small portion of the country (and the adjacent areas of Mexico).

This massive cactus rises to the height of trees and has an impressive lifespan - living for up to 250 years. This tree-like cactus can grow to be over 12 meters or 40 feet. Its beautiful white flower is the state flower of Arizona.

While they are almost always depicted with arms, they may not actually grow their first side arm until they are 75 to 100 years old (and some never do). They grow these arms to increase the cactus's reproduction capacity. They have the ability to absorb and store a large amount of water enabling them to survive long periods of drought. They are readily recognizable from American Southwest movies and Mexican culture.

The national park is actually home to 25 species of cactus. These range from the towering saguaro cactus to the mammillaria - the tiniest type of cactus growing in the park.

  • Also Found In: The Whipple Mountains and Imperial County In California
  • Scientific Name: Carnegiea gigantea
  • Life Span: Up to 250 Years
  • Blooms: Late May to July

Hiking In Saguaro National Park

The park boasts 165 miles (or 266 kilometers) of hiking trails and sightseeing along its paved roads. There are too many hikes to list here, a full list can be seen on the National Park Service's website.

Freeman Homestead Trail: This path leads to the site of an old homestead foundation, a cool desert was, and (of course) a groove of large saguaros. While hiking along this easy trek, keep one's eyes peeled for Great Horned Owls which can often be seen in the cliff above the wash.

  • Length: 1 Mile
  • District: Saguaro East

Loma Verde Loop: This trail leads through a grove of mature mesquite trees and climbs a bluff onto the bajada. Follow the trail and one will come to an overlook of the cactus forest and Tanque Verde Ridge.

  • Length: 3.8 Miles
  • District: Saguaro East

Garwood Dam and Wildhorse Tank: This trail leads straight into the kind of cactus forest that will leave anyone spellbound and the type that inspired the creation of the park in the first place. It boasts incredible views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and is certainly worth the effort.

  • Length: 6.4 Miles
  • District: Saguaro East

Sender Esperanza Trail / Wasson Peak: This trail boasts great panoramic scenes of the valley and the option of taking the Hugh Norris Trail towards Wasson Peak.

  • Length: 3.4-8 Miles
  • District: Saguaro West

Related: Road Trip Arizona: The Ultimate Drive From One End Of The State To The Other, And What To See On The Way

Camping In The National Park

Other than camping, there is no accommodation within the national park (but Tuscon is right in the middle of the park). Backcountry camping is available by permit. Camping is allowed at 6 designated campgrounds in the Saguaro Wilderness Area and these sites are not accessible by vehicles.

  • Fee: $8.00 Per Night Per Campsite

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