One of the things we love about National Parks are the often stunning scenic drives. We love piling in the car to check out the sights and scenery of a landscape not yet experienced, rolling the windows down, and listening to the music of The Grateful Dead flow from the stereo. We also love all the roadside pullouts, vista points, scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and family-friendly trails found along the way.
Saguaro National Park, because it is split into two distinct sections, has two fairly short scenic drives:
- The Tucson Mountain District, called Saguaro West, has the scenic Bajada Loop Drive.
- The Rincon Mountain District, called Saguaro East, has the scenic Cactus Forest Drive.
Each loop drive led us to the “greatest hits” of Saguaro National Park and took about a half day to complete.
The 6.0 mile scenic Bajada Loop Drive through Saguaro West features spectacular views of the Sonoran Desert, with pullouts for photography, picnicking, walking, hiking, and sight-seeing. This unpaved, combination one-way and two-way road is passable by all types of vehicles and starts near the Red Hills Visitor Center.
Here are the best family-friendly things to do along the Bajada Loop Drive:
Start At The Red Hills Visitor Center
The Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro West offers park information, maps, and brochures and right from its back porch, spectacular views of the desert landscape, mountains, and Saguaro cacti. Here you can also view museum exhibits and interactive exhibits, pick up souvenirs and gifts, and walk the Cactus Garden Trail.
Walk The Desert Discovery Trail
The Desert Discovery Trail is a flat, 0.5 mile paved trail located in the western Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. It features giant saguaro cacti, interpretive signs about the animals, plants, and ecology of the Sonoran Desert, and shade covers with benches so you can take a break, relax, and enjoy the beautiful landscape that surrounds you.
Hike The Valley View Overlook Trail
The Valley View Overlook Trail is a relatively easy, 0.4 mile out and back trail, totaling 0.8 miles, that offers spectacular views of the mountains, the Sonoran Desert, and expansive saguaro forests. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the Valley View Overlook Trail features informational signs that identify various cacti and plants.
Visit The Signal Hill Petroglyphs
Boasting more than 200 prehistoric Native American petroglyphs, the Signal Hill Petroglyph Site, is the largest petroglyph site in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. It sits immediately north of the Signal Hill Picnic Area, the trail is short and easy, and you can see some of the petroglyphs from the picnic area and trail.
Know Before You Go
About The Bajada Loop Drive:
- The scenic 6.0 mile Bajada Loop Drive is a scenic drive through the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro West that offers incredible views of the Sonoran Desert and several opportunities for scenic vistas and hiking.
- The one-way and two-way dirt road is open from 7:00 am to sunset daily.
- The Bajada Loop begins at Hohokam Road, 1.5 miles west of the Red Hills Visitor Center. Leaving the Red Hills Visitor Center, turn right onto Kinney Road and drive 1.6 miles to the loop’s entrance on the right.
- The Bajada Loop ends where golden Gate Road meets Sandario Road. To return to the Visitor Center, turn left onto Sandario Road. Travel 0.2 miles to the junction with Kinney Road and turn left. The Visitor Center will be 2.0 miles ahead.
- Trailers longer than 35 feet or any vehicle wider than 8 feet are not permitted.
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.
- Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is located at 2700 North Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and closed on Christmas Day.
- 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.
- 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.