Saguaro National Park in a day

Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona is a cacti wonderland made for hikers, bikers, and runners. The two separate sections of Saguaro National Park include hiking trails which weave their way around the cacti and paved roads are perfect for marathon trainers and pleasure bicyclists. This is how you do Saguaro National Park in a day- pack a picnic and your hiking boot for an active adventure among the many different types of cacti.

Saguaro National Park in a day East side

Tucson is an easy 2 hour drive from Phoenix and is worth a day or two if you can spare it.  BC and I made the trip specifically to see Saguaro National Park since it has been our “thing” to see as many National Parks as possible.

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  • The East Side

Saguaro is split up into 2 sections about 30 minutes apart, separated by downtown Tucson. The furthest section from Phoenix is the eastern Rincon Mountain District. It has the Cactus Forest Loop Drive for the non-hikers to see an array of desert landscape. We hiked the trails starting at Mica View Picnic Area and did a 2 mile easy loop (with no elevation gain) along the Mica View Loop, Shantz Trail, and Cactus Forest Trail. Half of it was paved and the other half was packed dirt and rock.

Saguaro National Park in a day Mica Loop Trail

It is essential in Saguaro National Park to be cognizant of the heat. Lucky for us, it was a 75 degree January day. I could not imagine how hot it would get here in the summer!

A big man next to an even bigger cactus:


The $15 entry fee gets your car into both East and West parts of Saguaro National Park. Honestly after a hike and drive around the 8 mile loop, we were ready to move on. The East section is not that big.

  • Lunch Break

We timed our trip perfectly to have lunch in downtown Tucson in between the two sides of the park. My sister  and brother-in-law recommended we visit El Charro Café for their special sun-dried beef called carne seca. This is the lunch sized portion of the aforementioned sun-dried carne seca.

El Charro Cafe Tucson Carne Seca Lunch platter

BC ordered his carne seca inside of a burrito and both options were to-die-for. Two very big thumbs up to our fresh and delicious lunch.

El Charro Cafe Tucson carne seca burrito

  • The West Side

In the Western Section, Tucson Mountain Region, the cacti were more dense and the scenery more exciting. The unpaved Hohokam Road was an experience in our little Ford Focus but the hike to Valley View Overlook was our favorite.

Saguaro National Park in a day

If you like hiking in the desert, Saguaro National Park is a great stop- especially during the cold winter months. While it is not a must-see, it will only take one day to visit the park before moving on to bigger and more exciting National Parks like Petrified Forest or the Grand Canyon.

Saguaro National Park in a day Valley View Trail

Reader Question: Have you ever been to Tucson? Are you a Mexican food fan?

Saguaro National Park in a day West side visitors center

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