Home to the nation’s largest cacti, Saguaro National Park comprises more than 91,000 acres dedicated to protecting this important tree-like plant. With lifespans of up to 250 years, saguaros provide habitats for animals, sequester carbon, and bloom with lovely yellow and white flowers.
These prickly giants also have cultural significance to Indigenous people, who consider the saguaro a vital resource, according to the National Park Service. Native people of the area used the plant’s fibrous ribs to build homes and gathered the fruits to make wines and jellies. Just like their ancestors, the present day Tohono O'odham continue to honor these cacti.
Established in 1994, Saguaro National Park has two distinct sections on either side of Tucson: the Rincon Mountain District to the east and the Tucson Mountain District to the west. A $25 vehicle entrance fee is good for both sides and lasts seven days, so visitors have plenty of time to explore every corner of this Southwestern site. Whether you’re eager to hike or curious about the area’s history, everyone will be impressed by the namesake prickly giants.
Top Attractions in Saguaro National Park
In addition to the magnificent cacti, the park’s appeal is its proximity to Tucson. The network of walking trails and observation sites is family- and beginner-friendly, making it an ideal stop for road trippers and day visitors wanting to stretch their legs.
In both districts, stop by the cactus gardens near the visitors centers for picturesque photo opportunities near saguaros and other native plants. From the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center (east), take Cactus Forest Loop Drive for scenic views of the Rincon mountains. At the Red Hills Visitor Center (west), stand on the patio to overlook the majestic Red Hills.
On the west side, the Signal Hill Petroglyph Area contains more than 200 prehistoric Native Indian petroglyphs, which can be viewed from a 0.1-mile mostly-flat walking path. Slowly stroll while taking in the art that was created between 550 and 1550 years ago.