Saguaro National Park
|Description: Saguaro National Park is a combination of two separate units on either side of the Tucson metropolitan area. The park protects the finest example of the Upper Sonoran Desert in Arizona. This unique desert is home to the most recognizable cactus in the world, the majestic saguaro. The saguaro cactus grows primarily only in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico. Visitors of all ages are fascinated by these desert giants, especially their many complex interrelationships with other desert life. Saguaro cacti have an average life span of 150 years, and mature saguaro may grow to a height of 50 feet and weigh over 10 tons.
Saguaro National Park East (Rincon Mountain District): The most notable wildlife viewing opportunity in this park unit is the 8-mile loop drive that starts at the visitor center off Old Spanish Trail. In addition, several hiking trails lead to higher elevations of this unit and offer diverse wildlife viewing opportunities. Saguaro National Park East also features the Saguaro Wilderness, a roadless backcountry area of nearly 60,000 acres adjacent to the Coronado National Forest’s Rincon Mountain Wilderness.
Saguaro National Park West (Tucson Mountain District): Your wildlife viewing trip in this park unit begins at the Red Hills Visitor Center. There are a variety of short hikes, nature walks, and driving routes. Check at the visitor center for more information.
Wildlife to Watch: Saguaro cacti provide their flowers and sweet fruits to hungry desert animals and also provide homes to a variety of birds. The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro's pulpy flesh. When a woodpecker abandons a cavity, elf or western-screech owls, American kestrels, purple martins, flycatchers, and finches may move in. Large birds, like the Harris's and red-tailed hawks, also use the saguaro for nesting and hunting platforms, and their stick nests are often constructed among the arms of a large saguaro. In turn, ravens and great horned owls may take over an abandoned hawk nest. Saguaro flowers provide food for a variety of desert birds including white-winged dove, Gila woodpeckers, gilded flicker, house finch, curve-billed thrasher, cactus wren, and hummingbirds. A variety of other species including bees, moths, wasps, butterflies, ants, and beetles feed on and pollinate the saguaro flowers. The fruit of the saguaro provides nourishment and necessary water to all these species and more. The fallen fruit feed wood rat, Harris’ antelope squirrel, black-tailed jackrabbit, mule deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat, desert tortoise, and many other animals. Even after death, the fallen saguaro skeleton provides shelter for a variety of desert insects, arthropods, small mammals, and reptiles.
The park provides habitat for a wide variety of other wildlife species, including greater roadrunner, verdin, Say’s phoebe, canyon towhee, black-tailed gnatcatcher, Bendire’s, curve-billed, and crissal thrashers, ash-throated and brown-crested flycatchers, Bell’s vireo, rufous-winged and black-throated sparrows, Gila monster, desert spiny lizard, zebra-tailed lizard, western banded gecko, desert tortoise, coachwhip, gophersnake, and several species of rattlesnakes.
Special Tips: Both visitor centers provide detailed information on several nature walks and hikes in the area, as well as specific information about wildlife viewing opportunities. Due to winding, narrow mountain grades, vehicles with trailers and RVs over 25 feet are not recommended through Gates Pass and should use the Ina Road exit (248) on I-10, traveling west to Sandario Road, then turning left and heading south, following signs to the park.
Other Activities: Most visitors to Saguaro National Park choose a leisurely drive on one of several scenic loop drives, but there are over 150 miles of hiking trails, ranging from flat and easy strolls in the Sonoran Desert to steep and rugged hikes into the Rincon Mountains.
Ownership: National Park Service
Size: 87,114 acres
Closest Town: Tucson
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: