Exploring & Hiking In Saguaro National Park

Being surrounded by endless numbers of saguaro cactus might not be the best way to spend an afternoon in your mind. But visiting Saguaro National Park provided me some nature enlightenment, history, and a closer look into the West and more about these interesting lush plants and cactus filled lands. There are two areas or districts that make up this beautiful diverse national park.

There is Saguaro West-Tuscan Mountain District, and Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District. We started our exploration in the West district near Tuscan. The distance between the two park districts is about 33 miles so plan your visit accordingly.

We started our day of exploring early around 9 a.m. and arrived at the Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District park to find a handful of cars parked at the Visitor Center.

Visitor Center Saguaro National Park

Unfortunately, the Visitor Center front doors were locked and a note was taped on the door indicating they were closed due to the 2018 government shutdown.

But we did not allow this to discourage us on such a beautiful day that we had planned to fill with adventure and exploration. Of course, there was no one to collect the entrance fee, although we already have our annual pass now; restrooms were also closed and locked.

We began on the Cactus Forest Drive, where you drive along an 8 mile scenic one way paved road that has many curves and points of interest pull outs where you can stop and take in the views or go hiking and exploring.

This road will take you through a saguaro forest and offers an opportunity for you to take in the vast Sonoran Desert.

Here is a list of easy hiking trails you will encounter along the Cactus Forest Drive:
*Desert Ecology Trail (1/4 mile round trip on paved trail)
*Freeman Homestead Trail (1 mile round trip)
*Cactus Forest Trail (2.5 mile one way inside loop drive)

We made many stops along the way, of which one of them was the Desert Ecology Trail.

A very easy, short walking path through a desert garden full of cactus, small trees, and various other plant life. This trail path is wheel chair accessible.

Did you know? Saguaros usually die of old age, but can die from lightening, freezing, and windy conditions.

Beautiful and Serene.

We continued our journey on this beautiful curvy scenic drive until we came upon a hiking trail. The Desert Forest Trail. Here are a few highlights of our hike in this area.

This hiking trail is an easy path through the Sonoran Desert forest land as well as the historical lime kilns.

Historical Lime Kilns

Did you know? Saguaros take a long time to grow early on. They grow about an inch or so during the first six to eight years. It can take several years before it grows one arm.

We were very fortunate to have this hiking experience that led us out to the remote back country here, because you can only get to it by foot or horseback.

The Lime Kilns played an important part in the original framework of this desert area, and nearby city of Tuscan. Many materials were needed in the 1880s as described on the information signs nearby the sites of the lime kilns. The Adobe mud walls need whitewash, plaster is needed for dusty rooms, and the need for modernizing and new structures in a growing city; mortar was in demand.

We found the kiln history to be very interesting, as we continued on with our hike. We then came across a dried stream that apparently has waterfalls. The waterfalls form when the rain comes to the desert.
We enjoyed this easy trail as we glanced around and saw so many beautiful large saguaro cactus, and many other plant forms. Here are a few captions of the plants.

Plant life thrives in this diverse wild desert and mountain terrain. You might find these and many more cacti and plants including
saguaro, barrel and prickly pear, less-common species including the Bisbee beehive cactus, the rainbow cactus and the exotic night-blooming cereus. 

As we proceeded on the hiking trail, we came across a concrete slab. We thought to ourselves, well what is this? We learned that there was a ranger residence here at one time. The Cactus Shack was formerly a storage shed used in support of the Saguaro National Monument.

We concluded our day at the Saguaro West side of the park as we made our way towards Scottsdale. This side of the park contained several roadways that are unpaved and gravel. We proceeded to finish the scenic Bajada Loop Drive and then made our way back to I-10 heading West.

Although, a day in the desert carefully tip toeing through giant cactus may not be your cup of tea, you might be surprised how this place of serenity, history, and .

More Information
Saguaro National Park (Directions)
3693 South Old Spanish Trail
Tuscan, AZ 85730
520-733-5158 (West)
520-733-5153 (East)

Horseback riding is allowed, as well as backcountry camping at designated areas.
Entrance Fees:
Weekly Pass: $15/Vehicle
Weekly Pass: $10/Motorcycle
Weekly Pass: $5/Person
Entrance fee paid for admission to Saguaro National Park is valid for seven days. You paid fee admission is also good at both East and West district parks.

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