The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea) is the state symbol of Arizona, appearing on all car license plates, and provides a universally recognized image of the Southwest. It is the largest and one of the slowest growing of all cacti, reaching up to 15 meters high and living for several centuries. Plants can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold - after rainfall the cactus can absorb hundreds of gallons in a short time. The saguaro may be only 6 inches high after 10 years, and the characteristic branched appearance is reached only after around 80 years.
The cactus is widespread across southern Arizona, extreme southeast California and Sonora, north Mexico - see map below. Distribution is related to latitude and altitude - it is most commonly found between 1,000 & 3,000 feet, and because the saguaro can tolerate temperatures as low as 24°F (-4°C), it survives further north than any of the other species of large cactus. In the spring, the saguaro produce white flowers on the upper stems of mature plants so this is an especially good time to visit. Later, sweet edible red fruit appear, traditionally used by the local Indian tribes as food and also to make wine.
There are many densely forested regions in the Southwest but two areas of the Sonoran Desert either side of Tucson have been selected and preserved as the Saguaro National Park - the Rincon Mountain
(east) and Tucson Mountain
(west) districts. The park was upgraded in status from a National Monument in 1994, and besides the ever present saguaro, also preserves a large variety of other cacti and desert plants, plus much interesting wildlife. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
also has many saguaros, together with other more unusual columnar cacti, and is more remote and less visited.
Saguaro Cactus Distribution Map
Saguaro National Park topographic map, and a selection of Saguaro National Park books, from amazon.com:
Saguaro National Park Accommodation
There are no campsites within Saguaro National Park but a selection of hotels in nearby Tucson and Marana. One of the closest to the west section (14 miles from the visitor center) is
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Tucson. This is located just northwest of downtown Tucson, and 0.4 miles west of exit 256 of I-10, at 1564 W Grants Road - part of a complex at the corner of Grants and N Dragoon St. The front of the hotel overlooks the (usually dry) Santa Cruz River. The hotel is also close to other nearby attractions including Old Tucson Studios, Silverbell Golf Course and the Tucson Convention Center.
Check rates at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Tucson
Other nearby hotels: Marana, Tucson (west/central), Tucson (north) - follow the links for maps and hotel descriptions.
||Two scenic regions either side of Tucson containing particularly dense and flourishing forests of the saguaro cactus, plus many other Sonoran Desert plants. The west section is quite developed, with many short trails, while the east is more remote, and includes an extensive backcountry wilderness
|Nearest city with hotels:
||32.273, -111.2188 (west), 32.180, -110.737 (east)
||All year, but longer hikes are best avoided during the hot summer months
Saguaro NP - Regions
|West Section (Tucson Mountain) - easily accessible area with many visitor facilities and viewpoints
Gould Mine Trail★★★★★
1.1 miles, 260 feet
Path up a cactus-studded ravine to the remains of an old mine; combined with parts of two adjacent trails to form a circular route of 2.5 miles
Hiking - all trails in the west
Map - showing roads and trails
Hugh Norris Trail★★★★★
4.9 miles, 2130 feet
Longest trail in the park, following a ridge of increasing height all the way to a high summit, for unsurpassed views of the surrounding mountains and desert
East Section (Rincon Mountain) - large region with extensive mountain wilderness and backcountry trails
Loma Verde/Squeeze Pen Trails★★★★★
3 miles, 120 feet
Loop through gentle terrain of small washes and low plateaus, past flourishing cacti including many giant saguaro and ferocacti
Mica View Trail★★★★★
1 miles, 40 feet
Wide, level path through open terrain with saguaro and bushes; views of the Santa Catalina Mountains
Hiking - all trails in the east
Map - showing roads and trails
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail★★★★★
11 miles, 3900 feet
Main route into the high elevation backcountry of Saguaro National Park, climbing steadily through several vegetation zones