Planning Your Time

Saguaro in One Day

Before setting off, choose which section of the park to visit and pack a lunch (there’s no food service in either park district). Also bring plenty of water—you’re likely to get dehydrated in the dry climate—or purchase a reusable bottle at the visitor center (there are water stations in both districts of the park).

In the western section, start out by watching the 15-minute video at the Red Hills Visitor Center, then stroll along the 0.5-mile-long Desert Discovery Trail.

Drive north along Kinney Road, then turn right onto the graded dirt Bajada Loop Drive. Before long you'll see a turnoff for the Hugh Norris Trail on your right. If you're game for a steep 45-minute hike uphill, this trail leads to a perfect spot for a picnic. Hike back down and drive along the Bajada Loop Drive until you reach the turnoff for Signal Hill. From here it's a short walk to the Hohokam petroglyphs.

Alternatively, in the eastern section, pick up a free map of the hiking trails at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center. Drive south along the paved Cactus Forest Drive to the Javelina picnic area, where you'll see signs for the Freeman Homestead Trail, an easy 1-mile loop that winds through a stand of mesquite as interpretive signs describe early inhabitants in the Tucson basin. If you're up for more difficult hiking, you might want to tackle part of the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail, which affords excellent views of saguaro-studded hillsides.

Along the northern loop of Cactus Forest Drive is Cactus Forest Trail, which branches off into several fairly level paths. You can easily spend the rest of the afternoon strolling among the saguaros.

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Fodor's The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the USA: All 63 parks from Maine to American Samoa

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