Hiking in Saguaro National Park
The park has more than 100 mi of trails. The shorter hikes, such as the Desert Discovery and Desert Ecology trails are perfect for those looking to learn about the desert ecosystem without expending too much energy. Rattlesnakes are commonly seen on trails; so are coyotes, javelinas, roadrunners, Gambel's quail, and desert spiny lizards. Hikers should keep their distance from all wildlife.
Sierra Club. The Club's local chapter, The Rincon Group, welcomes out-of-towners on weekend hikes, ranging in levels of difficulty. 738 N. 5th Ave., University, Tucson, AZ, 85705. 520/620–6401. www.arizona.sierraclub.org/rincon.
Cactus Garden Trail. This 100-yard paved trail in front of the Saguaro East Visitor Center is wheelchair accessible, and has resting benches and interpretive signs about common desert plants. Easy. Trailhead: next to Saguaro East Visitor Center, Saguaro East, AZ, 85743.
Desert Discovery Trail. Learn about plants and animals native to the region on this paved path in Saguaro West. The 0.5-mile loop is wheelchair accessible, and has resting benches and ramadas (wooden shelters that supply shade for your table). Easy. Trailhead: 1 mi north of Red Hills Visitor Center, Saguaro West, AZ, 85743. 520/733–5158.
Signal Hill Trail. This 0.25-mile trail in Saguaro West is an easy, rewarding ascent to ancient petroglyphs carved a millennium ago by the Hohokam people. Easy. Trailhead: 4.5 mi north of Red Hills Visitor Center on Bajada Loop Dr., Saguaro West, AZ, 85743.
Sendero Esperanza Trail. Follow a sandy mine road for the first section of this 6-mile trail in Saguaro West, then ascend via a series of switchbacks to the top of a ridge and cross the Hugh Norris Trail. Descending on the other side, you'll meet up with the King Canyon Trail. The Esperanza ("Hope") Trail is often rocky and sometimes steep, but rewards include ruins of the Gould Mine, dating back to 1907. Moderate. Trailhead: 1.5 mi east of the intersection of Bajada Loop Dr. and Golden Gate Rd., Saguaro West, AZ, 85743.
Sweetwater Trail. Though technically within Saguaro West, this trail is on the eastern edge of the district, and affords access to Wasson Peak from the eastern side of the Tucson Mountains. After gradually climbing 3.4 miles it ends at King Canyon Trail (which would then take you on a fairly steep 1.2 mile climb to Wasson Peak). Long and meandering, this little-used trail allows more privacy to enjoy the natural surroundings than some of the more frequently used trails. Moderate. Trailhead: western end of El Camino del Cerro Rd., Saguaro West, AZ, 85743.
Valley View Overlook Trail. On clear days you can spot the distinctive slope of Picacho Peak from this 1.5-mile trail in Saguaro West. Even on an overcast day you'll be treated to splendid vistas of Avra Valley. Moderate. Trailhead: 3 mi north of Red Hills Visitor Center on Bajada Loop Dr., Saguaro West, AZ, 85743.
Hugh Norris Trail. This 10-mile trail through the Tucson Mountains is one of the most impressive in the Southwest. It's full of switchbacks, and some sections are moderately steep, but at the top of 4,687-foot Wasson Peak you'll enjoy views of the saguaro forest spread across the bajada (the gently rolling hills at the base of taller mountains). Difficult. Trailhead: 2.5 mi north of Red Hills Visitor Center on Bajada Loop Dr., Saguaro West, AZ, 85743.
King Canyon Trail. This 3.5-mile trail is the shortest, but steepest, route to the top of Wasson Peak in Saguaro West. It meets the Hugh Norris Trail less than half a mile from the summit. The trail, which begins across from the Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum, is named after the Copper King Mine. It leads past many scars from the search for mineral wealth. Look for petroglyphs in this area. Difficult. Trailhead: 2 mi south of Red Hills Visitor Center, Saguaro West, AZ, 85743.
Cactus Forest Trail. This 2.5-mile one-way loop drive in the east district is open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians. It is a moderately easy walk along a dirt path that passes historic lime kilns and a wide variety of Sonoran Desert vegetation. While walking this trail, keep in mind that it is one of the only off-road trails for bicyclists. Moderate. Trailhead: 2 mi south of Saguaro East Visitor Center, off Cactus Forest Dr., Saguaro East, AZ, 85730.
Desert Ecology Trail. Exhibits on this 0.25-mile loop near the Mica View picnic area explain how local plants and animals subsist on limited water. Trailhead: 2 mi north of Saguaro East Visitor Center, AZ, 85730.
Freeman Homestead Trail. Learn a bit about the history of homesteading in the region on this 1-mile loop. Look for owls living in the cliffs above as you make your way through the lowland vegetation. Easy. Trailhead: Javelina picnic area, 2 mi south of Saguaro East Visitor Center, AZ, 85730.
Douglas Spring Trail. This challenging 6-mile trail leads almost due east into the Rincon Mountains. After a half mile through a dense concentration of saguaros you reach the open desert. About 3 miles in is Bridal Wreath Falls, worth a slight detour in spring when melting snow creates a larger cascade. Blackened tree trunks at the Douglas Spring Campground are one of the few traces of a huge fire that swept through the area in 1989. Moderate. Trailhead: eastern end of Speedway Blvd., Saguaro East, AZ, 85730.
Hope Camp Trail. Well worth the 7-mile round-trip trek, this Rincon Valley Area route rewards hikers with gorgeous views of the Tanque Verde Ridge and Rincon Peak. The trail is also open to mountain bicyclists. Moderate. Trailhead: from Camino Loma Alta trailhead to Hope Camp, Saguaro East, AZ, 85730.
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail. Be rewarded with spectacular scenery on this 15.4-mile trail through desert scrub, oak, alligator juniper, and piñon pine at the 6,000-foot peak, where views of the surrounding mountain ranges from both sides of the ridge delight. Difficult. Trailhead: Javelina picnic area, 2 mi south of Saguaro East Visitor Center, AZ, 85730.
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