Close your eyes and picture a cactus standing in the desert. I’m going to guess your imaginary cactus friend is a saguaro! Am I right?
Saguaro (pronounced “sah-WAR-oh”) cacti, standing tall with cartoon arms, are all over pop culture, but only grow in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and Mexico. The densest stands are near Tucson, home of Saguaro National Park. Saguaros are the largest cactus species in the US, but grow only about an inch a year. They can grow up to 60 feet tall, 4800 pounds, and 200 years old, with anywhere from zero to over 25 arms. Those arms normally don’t start appearing until the cactus is over 50 years old! Walking through a forest of saguaros, with their variety of regal and bizarre postures, is surreal and wonderful.
The city of Tucson splits Saguaro National Park into two sections: Rincon Mountain District to the east, and Tucson Mountain District to the west. The western side is smaller, with a denser cactus population and a dirt scenic drive, while the eastern side has a paved scenic drive and more backcountry hiking opportunities.
There’s no vehicle camping in Saguaro NP; that includes RVs. So you can ditch your trailer and tent camp in the backcountry, or you can park your RV in Tucson, like we did. We picked Sentinel Peak RV Park for its proximity to downtown and were not disappointed. See our Tucson post for more about our stay in Tucson.
No great surprise: dogs are not allowed on the trails in Saguaro National Park. Bugsy stayed in the Airstream in Tucson while we humans spent several hours in the Park. Since our time was limited, we thought we’d get the most bang for our buck in the Rincon Mountain District, soaking up vistas on the eight-mile scenic drive and stopping for hikes along the way.
With the help of the rangers in the Visitor Center, we pieced together a fun loop hike of just under six miles, chaining together the Loma Verde, Pink Hill, and Carrillo trails, up to Garwood Dam, then back down Carrillo and Squeeze Pen trails to the trailhead. Here’s a detailed trail map.
I especially enjoyed hunting for heart-shaped prickly pear cactus pads as we hiked. It turns out they’re everywhere, but I still got excited each time I saw one.
A rarer sight greeted us toward the end of our hike: a big old jackrabbit chilling in the shade. Is he an antelope jackrabbit? They’re the largest rabbit species in the Western hemisphere, and rare in the Park.
For our next trip, Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountain District and Tanque Verde Ridge trail in the Rincon Mountain District are at the top of my wish list. Let us know if you have trail recommendations!