Visiting Saguaro National Park with kids is a unique field trip that will give everyone an up-close experience of hundreds of saguaros. Did you know that the saguaro cactus is native to Arizona? It can only be found in the Sonoran Desert, which reaches from about an hour north of Phoenix, down through Tucson, and continues into Mexico.
Saguaros are the “long arm cactus” that you typically see in books or movies about Arizona. They start as small seeds and can grow to over 60 feet tall! Their arms don’t start appearing until after they are 60 years old. These amazing plants are often homes to desert animals.
Saguaro National Park is 92,000 acres, and started as a national monument in 1933, and was established as a National park in October 1994. There are two sections, the Tucson Mountain District (also called Saguaro East), and the Rincon Mountain District (also called Saguaro West). The two sections are about an hour apart. Both sections have visitor centers and hiking trails, but the western portion has more hiking options as well as backpacking camping.
Most people visit the west portion of the park, as it’s the easiest to access off the interstate. We recommend this area for kids, especially if you are only visiting Tucson for a weekend, or just passing through. You can easily get some amazing photos and learn about saguaros in a couple of hours! There are entrances on the north and south end of the park.
Unlike other national parks, you must stop at the visitor’s center to pay and get your parking pass. This is great though because it’s a good bathroom stop, and a chance to browse the exhibits and watch the 15-minute movie about the area. Don’t forget to pick up the Jr. Ranger book for the kids too!
Our favorite hiking loop with kids at Saguaro National Park is the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. It’s less than a mile, paved, plus offers amazing photo ops and up-close views of saguaros and other desert plants! Interpretive signs are along the well, as well as benches.
Other hiking options:
Valley View Trail (0.6 miles)
Wild Dog Trail (1.8 miles)
Scenic Loop (1.7 miles)
Signal Hill Picnic Area (brief hike to petroglyphs)
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (great place to sunset watch!)
Click here to view scenic driving options.
It’s worth noting that Saguaro National Park is located in Southern Arizona, and therefore the weather gets quite warm April-October. If you can, visit the park in the morning and hike before noon, or visit November-March for cooler weather. We suggest wearing a hat and sunscreen, and always bringing water.
For more information about Saguaro National Park, click here. Both sections cost $25/vehicle, and of course America the Beautiful annual passes are accepted.