Saguaro National Park gets its name from the giant species of cacti known, as Saguaro. These plants are native to Southern Arizona, and the giant cacti are found only in that small area of the United States. However, they have come to serve as a symbol for the entire region of the American Southwest. 

The Iconic Image of the Saguaro National Park

When you picture a Western cowboy making his way through the desert with his silver-plated pistol and his ten-gallon hat, you probably also picture the giant Saguaro cacti in the background.

You see their raised limbs contrasted against a rusty orange trail. And you may picture them against a deep purple sky. You’ve probably seen them many times in art and movies, but you never imagined you could go visit them. 

At Saguaro National Park, it is possible. Best of all, you don’t just have to imagine these amazing cacti in some far off way. You can actually see them for yourself. You can stand among them and marvel at their prickly ridges and colorful blooms.

They may be restricted to a small habitat in the Southwest of the U.S., but they are accessible, and they are a must-see. You can visit them by visiting Saguaro National Park. 

[amazon box=”B017D677C2, B077N7RBLP, B018L2WM86 ” template=”table”]

Three Ways to Appreciate the Cacti During Your Trip to Saguaro National Park

The park itself is divided up into Saguaro National Park East and Saguaro National Park West. Located near Tucson, Arizona, it’s listed as one of the top things to do in the city.

You’ll find Arizona State Parks nearby, but there is something special about Saguaro. 

That’s because of the numerous hiking trails, camping opportunities, and the abundance of wildlife within its borders. But it’s also largely due to the looming cacti that dot the desert landscape.

You can find tons of activities to occupy your time once you journey to the park. But make no mistake, the stately Saguaro cacti are the reason to make the journey in the first place. They are worth the trip, and here are three ways to fully appreciate the Saguaro Cacti during your visit. 

1. Take the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive

This one-way paved road will take you through the heart of Saguaro National Park East. Best of all, it’s the perfect way to enjoy the desert landscape in a leisurely fashion. You can observe the giant cacti, the richness of the wildlife, and the Rincon Mountains in the distance. 

A strange beauty

There are several picnic areas along the way, and plenty of chances to hop out and snap some photos. In a place where the heat can sometimes be overbearing, it’s nice to have the option of traveling by car. 

It’s a great way for travelers of all ages and all abilities to get to experience the beauty of the desert, and its many gems. Who knows, you just might spy some other desert critters as you roll along. 

2. Go Backcountry Camping

A scenic drive makes for a nice introduction to the Saguaro cacti, as does a day of hiking through them. However, a night of sleeping among them can help make the trip one you’ll never forget. That means if you are able to camp at one of the six designated backcountry campsites in the East section of the park, you should definitely do it. 

Roughing it

The first thing to know about Saguaro National Park camping is that there are no campgrounds within the park that are accessible by vehicle. There is plenty of lodging available around the park. And these all have plenty of vehicle access. But, if you are looking to set up camp in the park, you’ll have to do a little hiking to get there.

Think of it as the immersion part of your trip. You had the scenic drive with the air conditioner on and the radio playing. Now, it’s time to to get back to basics. You’ll want to make sure to pack plenty of water. And don’t forget warm layers for the chilly nights. After all, it’s cold out there in the desert, cowboy. 

Lightening in the Saguaro National Park

Image CC0, by Laura Bolyard, via the National Parks Service

3. See a Saguaro Cactus in Bloom

Visiting National Parks is all about getting the timing right. You want to plan your visit when the weather is as moderate as possible, but you also want to make sure that you catch certain seasonal aspects of the park.

For Saguaro, this means coming when the cacti are in bloom.

A colorful surprise

A Saguaro cactus is beautiful any time of year, but beginning in April and lasting usually until June of each year, the cacti put on a special show. To see these immense prickly plants sprouting bright flowers is like witnessing two opposing forces of nature.

There’s nothing quite like it, and if you can plan a visit during blooming seasons, you will not be disappointed. 

Saguaro Cactus in bloom with a white dove.

Image CC by 2.0, by Ken Bosma, via Flickr

Keep These Things in Mind

When you visit Saguaro National Park, you should know what to expect. That way, you can pack appropriately for your trip.

Park fees

The park bases its fees on how you get to the park. So, your entry fee will vary depending on whether you enter with a car or a motorcycle.

Concession stands

You’ll be surprised to see that there are no concession stands or vending machines at the park. This policy helps to reduce litter and the burden of plastics and other rubbish on the environment. You’ll need to bring your own food, but water is available.


You won’t find any Wi-Fi at the park, and in fact, cell phone reception may be compromised. If you have concerns about safety or coordinating with a group, you may want to make additional arrangements for communications.

Saguaro National Park Camping

Although camping is a great way to view the Saguaro cacti at the park, note that the facilities are primitive. All of them are listed as backcountry sites, which means there are no roads for driving, and you’ll need to carry your supplies. You won’t find toilets, showers, or electrical outlets. Running water is not available from the park at the campsites.

Other Activities at the Park

Along with those listed above, if you live nearby, you may want to take advantage of some of the other activities available at the park. For example, the park regularly holds classes and events for visitors.

Best of all, the park hosts most of their classes in their cacti garden, which means they’re wheelchair accessible and suitable for young and old alike.

Living with Giants

Find out more about these fascinating cacti with a class hosted by the park to learn all the ins and outs of the Saguaro. Find out why they’re critical to desert wildlife and the important role they fill in the environment.

Desert Botany

Sign up for their desert botany class. If you thought there was no interesting plantlife in the desert, you’ll be surprised to find out how much there really is. And even more fascinating are the strategies they use to survive the harsh elements.

Cooking with Prickly Pear

The perfect activities for the foodie in your group — this class shows you how to harvest, prepare, and incorporate prickly pear into your menu.

Scorpions of the Tucson Mountains

This class doesn’t require reservations, so you won’t have to plan ahead. The teacher shows you what they know about these creatures after years of study. And you’ll learn how to handle them — as well as what to do if you find yourself stung by one.

Don’t Miss the Chance to See the Saguaro Cacti 

There are many reasons to choose a particular national park as your visiting destination, but a species of cactus is probably among the most unusual. Of course, the people who think that are the ones who haven’t yet made the trek.

[amazon box=”B017D677C2, B077N7RBLP, B018L2WM86 ” template=”table”]

Featured Image: CC by 2.0, by Larry Lamsa, via Flickr

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This