We spent our first day at Saguaro National Park exploring the western Tucson Mountain District. We visited the Red Hills Visitor Center and drove the scenic Bajada Loop Drive, stopping along the route to walk the breathtaking Desert Discovery Trail, hike the majestic Valley View Overlook Trail, and check out the ancient Signal Hill Petroglyphs. Then when we were done at the park, we spent the rest of the afternoon having fun at the Wild West town of Old Tucson Studios!
We planned to start our second day in Tucson and Saguaro National Park exploring the eastern Rincon Mountain District Visitor Center in the morning, but a major bike race had the roads shut down and the park was inaccessible until 11:00 am. This gave us a chance to visit Mission San Xavier del Bac first, have a picnic lunch, then head over to the national park.
Rincon Mountain Visitor Center
The Rincon Mountain District, also called Saguaro East, is 10 miles east of Tucson, Arizona.
With Mica Mountain rising to 8,666 feet elevation, it is higher than the Tucson Mountain District, also called Saguaro West, and has over 128 miles of trails. In this half of the park, you’ll see fewer saguaros more spread out in the desert, but you’re also going to see much older and larger saguaros.
The Rincon Mountain Visitor Center at Saguaro East is rustic and small. It provides park information and offers visitors majestic views of the Rincon Mountains.
At the Visitor Center, you can:
- Pay your entrance fee
- Pick up park brochures and maps
- Watch Voices of the Desert, a 15 minute program that provides a Native American perspective of the Sonoran Desert
- See a sky island, where you can find bears, cougars and the ever elusive coati
- Walk the short nature trail past the major plants that live in the Sonoran Desert
- Visit the Western National Parks Association Bookstore
- Fill up your water bottle at the bottle refilling station
- Have a picnic at the covered picnic area
- Chat with a ranger or participate in a ranger guided program
- Begin the Scenic Cactus Forest Loop Drive that has several roadside pullouts and vista points and access to picnic areas and fantastic trails
When we arrived at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center, we were starving and devoured a picnic lunch before heading inside to check out the exhibits, pick up a shirt, and use the clean flush restrooms (I refuse to use a vault/pit toilet). We also walked the short nature trail through different documented native plant species and took in the stunning view of the Rincon Mountains.
After that we took off on the Cactus Forest Loop Drive to explore the park…
Know Before You Go
About the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center and Rincon Mountain District:
- Rincon Mountain Visitor Center in the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is located at 3693 South Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, Arizona 85730 in Pima County.
- The Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and closed on Christmas Day.
- The 8.0 mile scenic Cactus Forest Loop Drive leaves from the Visitor Center. A guide to the natural and cultural history of the Cactus Forest Loop Drive is available for $2.00.
- The Rincon Mountain District at Saguaro East has two picnic areas: Mica View Picnic Area and Javelina Picnic Area. Each picnic area has at least one picnic table with an overhanging end for wheelchair users and most have a charcoal grill nearby. The pit toilet in each picnic area is wheelchair accessible.
- Bicycling is allowed on the 8.0 mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive as well as on two trails within the park. Mountain biking/trail riding is permitted only on the 2.5 mile multi-use portion of the Cactus Forest Trail and the 2.9 mile Hope Camp Trail.
About Saguaro National Park:
- Saguaro National Park is open 365 days per year. You can walk or bike into the park 24 hours a day. Vehicle access is from sunrise to sunset daily.
- Admission to the park is $15.00/vehicle, $10.00/motorcycle, or $5.00/person and $5.00/bicycle. Free admissions days are offered on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.
- The National Park is split into two separate sections, one on each side of the city of Tucson, Arizona in Pima County: the Rincon Mountain District to the east and the Tucson Mountain District to the west.
- View maps of Saguaro National Park’s two scenic loop drives and numerous hiking trails and download the park newspaper.
- There are no concession stands, snack/soda machines or restaurants in either section park. Water fountains are found at both visitor centers and only there.
- There is little to no cell reception of service through the entire national park.
- Be prepared! It is hot and dry in the Arizona Desert! Carry and drink at least one gallon of water per person, per day, especially in the summer, and bring food and snacks. Wear sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and bring a hat.
- Pets are allowed only on roadways, picnic areas, and the two paved trails — the Desert Ecology Trail and the Desert Discovery Trail. Pets must be on a leash of no more than six feet at all times.
- All resources (living and non-living) are protected in the National Park. Picking/taking of any resource is prohibited.