Exploring the Park by Car
Each section of the park has its own scenic drive. Before you set out on one, consider buying one of the inexpensive booklets about the park's terrain and vegetation at the visitor centers. The 9-mile Bajada Loop Drive in the western section begins at the Red Hills Visitor Center and proceeds through a dense forest of saguaro cacti, offering scenic views. There are pullouts where you can get out of your vehicle for a close-up view of the saguaro, and a trail head for the very worthwhile Valley View Overlook Trail. Because 6 miles of the loop are gravel, those driving low-clearance vehicles or towing trailers should check on current conditions before starting. On your way in or out, you might stop at the excellent Sonoran Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Rd. (tel. 520/883-2702; www.desertmuseum.org), a hybrid zoo/garden/natural history museum open 7:30 or 8:30am to 4:30 or 5pm (until 10pm on summer Saturdays).
In the eastern section of the park, the Cactus Forest Drive is a somewhat hilly and twisting 8-mile loop that wanders through a forest of saguaro. This paved one-way road provides access to picnic areas, several hiking trails, and short walks.
Organized Tours & Ranger Programs
Rangers guide hikes and give talks daily from mid-October through April. Activities vary, but they might include an easy cactus or bird identification walk, a 4-mile hike through the desert, a video program on desert life, or slide shows on wildflowers or bats. Check at the visitor centers for schedules.