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If You Have Only 1 Day

Saguaro National Park consists of two sections. Visitors should spend at least a day or two at each district, starting with the visitor centers, then the short interpretive walks, and finally a serious hike or two. Those with only a day can either see a bit of each district or explore one of them more thoroughly.

To see both sections of the park in 1 day, start in the Tucson Mountain District at the Red Hills Visitor Center, where you can examine the exhibits and try to get a handle on life in the Sonoran Desert. Check the bulletin board for the schedule of ranger-led activities; if your timing is right, you can join a short guided walk on the Cactus Garden Trail, just outside the visitor center, which serves as an excellent introduction to the park. You can also take this short walk on your own. Then drive the 9-mile Bajada Loop Drive through a thick stand of saguaro, taking time for a short hike along the Valley View Overlook Trail. Those interested in early American Indians will want to take a slight detour off the Bajada Loop Drive to ponder the rock art on the Signal Hill Petroglyph Trail.

By now it should be lunchtime. Stop in one of the picnic areas if you happened to bring food, or at a restaurant in Tucson as you drive through on your way to the Rincon Mountain District. Stop at the visitor center as you enter -- by now you may have a few questions for the rangers, such as, "What were those two big eyes staring out at me from a hole in that old saguaro?" (Probably an elf owl.) Then head out onto the 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive for an easy close-up look at a forest of saguaro. About a third of the way into the drive, the road crosses the Cactus Forest hiking trail, where you can get out of your vehicle, stretch your legs, and walk a short way into the saguaro forest. If time remains, pull off at the Javelina Picnic Area access road and walk along the Freeman Homestead Trail, which offers good scenic views and a look at the remains of an old homestead.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.