Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts: Saguaro National Park East and Saguaro National Park West.
Saguaro National Park East's (Rincon Mountain District) Visitor Center is located at 3693 South Old Spanish Trail and backs up to the south side of the Santa Catalina Natural Area, which features Mica Mountain, Mount Lemmon, and other local giants as a stunning backdrop.
Saguaro National Park West's (Tucson Mountain District) Visitor Center is located at 2700 North Kinney Road and is more popular and better known for its incredible scenic drive, large population of saguaros, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Petroglyphs and bits of pottery dating as far back as 200 AD, when the Hohokam resided in the area, can still be found throughout the park. These people lived in villages and hunted and gathered wild foods along with farming beans, corn, and squash. The first non-native settlement around the park came in 1692, when the Spanish built the San Xavier Mission on the Santa Cruz River, which runs through Tucson. The land within the park remained undeveloped until after Arizona had become a part of the United States, however. From the late 1800s until 1933, when Saguaro National Monument was created, miners, homesteaders, and ranchers all made their homes in and around what is now Saguaro National Park. Remnants of a small copper mine and a few homesteads can be seen in the park today. Saguaro National Monument was promoted to national park status in 1994, after many acres of land had been added to the original monument.
If you're looking to tour both sections in a day, it's recommended that you start at Saguaro East and do the 8.1-mile scenic drive first. The Desert Ecology Trail (0.3-mile loop) is an excellent spot to stretch your legs and see some incredible flora and fauna. After some time outside, hop back in the car and stop once more at Signal Hill for some extremely well-preserved petroglyph sightings!
Once you've had your fill at Saguaro East, drive approximately 31 miles to the Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro West for sunset. You won't be disappointed. The towering mass of saguaros against the desert mountains during sunset paints a perfect picture of southern Arizona. Your photos will look like they're straight out of a postcard! Allow some time to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as well. Ranked one of the top 10 museums in the country, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers 98 acres of desert experiences, including a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and an aquarium. With over 230 animal species, 1,200 types of plants, and the world's most comprehensive regional mineral collection, there's a little something for everyone!
For more hikes and overlooks in Saguaro West and Saguaro East, check out the lists below. More information about the Saguaro West can be found here, and Saguaro East hikes and information can be found here.
No matter what adventure you pursue in Saguaro National Park, make sure you bring plenty of water with you, as potable water is unavailable in Saguaro West and is regularly available only at Manning Camp in Saguaro East.
There are six designated campgrounds in the Saguaro Wilderness Area, and all are located in Saguaro National Park East. Permits are required at all campgrounds and cost $8 per night. Make sure to hike in plenty of water because potable water may be unavailable at many of the campgrounds.
Saguaro National Park sits in a desert climate, and receives on average 12 inches of rain annually. Summer high temperatures are extreme, regularly heating up past 100, although evenings drop to around 70. Winter temperatures are mild, normally between 60 and 75 during the day and mid 30s at night. Fall and spring both bring warm, sunny days and cool nights, although late spring and early fall can still bring high temperatures above 100, so it's a good idea to be prepared for the heat.
Pets are allowed only on roadways, in picnic areas, and on paved trails, and must be kept on a leash no more than six feet long at all times. Pets cannot be left unattended in or out of a vehicle, ever. If you do choose to bring a pet along with you, make sure to bring plenty of water and be aware of the dangers that exist for dogs within the park such as heatstroke, rattlesnakes, cactus spines, and scorpions.