Protecting what is the undeniable natural icon of the American West; Saguaro National Park is home to the saguaro, the largest cactus species in the United States. This tower cactus only thrives in a small corner of the nation, around the city of Tucson, Arizona. The plant is the namesake of the national park, which is one of the greatest desert parks in the U.S. Read on for an action-and-adventure-filled two days in Saguaro National Park itinerary.
Saguaro National Park Itinerary – Two Days
You need at least—at the very minimum—two full days to explore this wonderful park. Three to four days would actually be better, but assuming you’re visiting Saguaro National Park as part of a national parks road trip, we’ve kept the itinerary compact and stuffed with the major highlights.
Conveniently, the park is split up into two different entities. The Tucson Mount District lies to the west of Tucson, while the Rincon Mountain District is located east of the city. Driving time between both parts is about an hour (33 miles). You two days in Saguaro National Park itinerary lets you spend one full day in each part. You’ll start by exploring the Tucson Mountain District.
Day 1 – Tucson Mountain District
Stands of imposing saguaros, Native American petroglyphs and wonderful hiking trails characterize the Tucson Mountain District. This is arguably the easiest part to visit, which makes it great for a first impression and introduction.
After visiting the amazing Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Red Hills Visitor Center, head out on the Cactus Garden Trail for some close-up views (and photos) of the saguaros. You’ll also see other cacti such as prickly pears and chollas. The trailhead lies basically just outside the visitor center’s door.
Continue north to the Bajada Loop Drive. This unpaved road is accessible to all vehicles that are shorter the 35 feet and not wider than 8 feet. You don’t need high clearance of 4-wheel drive for this beauty of a road. Although it’s only six miles long, the road is lined with scenic pullouts, hiking trails and picnic areas. Take you time, enjoy.
On your way to Tucson in the evening, make sure to stop at Gates Pass Overlook. This viewpoint is one of the best lookouts in Arizona; a phenomenal place to watch the sunset over the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Park.
Day 2 – Rincon Mountain District
The Rincon Mountain District is much wilder and rugged than the area you explored on the first day of your Saguaro National Park itinerary. This varied district encompasses no fewer than six ecozones, including desert plains and mountain ranges. The isolated peaks of these mountains are called “sky islands” in the park for their distinct ecosystems.
Called the “Old Spanish Trail”, the road into the park’s name couldn’t sound more adventurous. Again, start your day by visiting the visitor center, the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center. Watch the video showcasing the variety of desert wildlife and explore the interactive displays in the small museum.
After soaking up the necessary information, jump back in your rental car and drive the awesome eight-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive. Twisting and turning its way across a cactus forest; this is the only road in this part of Saguaro National Park. Luckily, there are enough hiking trails to keep you busy for more than just one day. Consider tackling the Mica View Loop Trail and the Freeman Homestead Trail. If you’re feeling like a challenge, hike the epic Tanque Verde Ridge Trail as far as you want.
Finish off your two days in Saguaro National Park itinerary in Tucson with a well-earned Wild West-themed meal and a cold beer or two.