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Saguaro National Park East - Attraction Guide

Saguaro National Park East Rincon Mountain District

The Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park (aka Saguaro National Park East) is a beautiful outdoor recreation area where you can hike, bike, walk, run, or picnic with friends all year long. 

GENERAL INFORMATION

When was Saguaro National Park created?

President Herbert Hoover established the monument on March 1, 1933. Congress later elevated Saguaro to National Park status on October 14, 1994.

Why was Saguaro National Park created?

The park was first created to protect and preserve the giant saguaro - North America's largest cactus (plus, many other kinds of cactus - including barrel, cholla, and prickly pear).

I'm confused about the EAST and WEST designations.

Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections called districts.

The Tucson Mountain District (WEST) Visitor Center is located at 2700 N. Kinney Rd and is approximately 15 miles west of the center of the city of Tucson.

The Rincon Mountain District (EAST) Visitor Center is located at 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail and is approximately 20 miles east of the city center.

There is a visitor center in each of the two districts. The visitor centers are open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas) between 9:00am and 5:00pm.

When is Saguaro National Park open?

Both districts of the park are open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily. You can walk or bike into the park 24 hours a day.

What about bathrooms?

Restrooms with running water and mirrors are available at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center between 9:00am and 5:00pm; a pit toilet is available at both the Javelina and Mica View picnic areas. 

Which one is better - Saguaro National Park EAST or WEST?

Both are pretty spectacular. If you are just passing through and/or have never been to Arizona, we recommend Saguaro National Park WEST due to the fact that it has a larger "population" of saguaro cacti. Plus, you'll be able to squeeze in a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. That said, the EAST district also has plenty of opportunities for photography and hiking as well.

Why would I visit Saguaro National Park East?

  • To take pictures of Arizona plantlife and wildlife
  • To partake in a picnic with family and friends
  • To enjoy a bit of solitude in the outdoors
  • To challenge yourself on a trail run
  • To go on a hike
  • To ride your horse

How much does it cost to visit Saguaro National Park?

Vehicle permits are $20; the permit admits one vehicle and all its passengers. If you can plan to arrive on foot or by bicycle, you can purchase an individual permit for $10. Kids 15 and under are always admitted free of charge.

Entrance fee paid for admission to Saguaro National Park is good for seven days and includes both the Tucson Mountain District (West) and the Rincon Mountain District (East).

If you plan to visit SNP frequently, you can purchase an Annual Pass for $40. The annual pass is valid for twelve months from the date of purchase for unlimited visits to Saguaro National Park. It admits the purchaser and any accompanying persons in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle or the pass holder and three persons (16 and older) where per person entrance fees are charged.

Admission is free for those who have the America the Beautiful Annual Pass, Senior Pass, Access Pass, Military Pass, or 4th Grade Pass.

Are there any days when I can visit FREE?

The National Park Service offers the following fee-free days:

  • January 21 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
  • April 20 (1st day of National Park Week)
  • August 25 (National Park Service Birthday)
  • September 28 (National Public Lands Day)
  • November 11 (Veterans Day)

What should I wear when I visit Saguaro National Park?

Prepare for a perfect day in the sun with good walking shoes (preferably closed-toe), sunglasses, a hat, and lightweight/breathable clothing.

What should I bring with me when I visit Saguaro National Park?

Without question, water will be your most important concern while visiting Saguaro National Park. Surface water is generally scarce during most of the year. At times, it is non-existent. Carry at least one gallon of water per person per day (more if the temperatures are high).

Sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, snacks, and a camera are also recommended.

What is the best season for visiting Saguaro National Park?

October thru April are ideal because the temperatures tend to be more moderate than in the summer months. That said, you can still enjoy Saguaro National Park in the summer if you go in the wee hours of the morning.

What is the best time of day to visit Saguaro National Park?

Sunrise and sunset offer the advantage of being "quieter" and less crowded. That said, ANY time of day is a good time to be outdoors.

Will I see any wild animals at Saguaro National Park EAST?

The park is home to jackrabbits, packrats, mountain lions, coyote, rattlesnakes, javelina, and gila monsters. Depending on the time and day of your visit, you may see some (or none) of the above animals.

Do I have to get out of my car? I just want to see it.

Saguaro National Park East is known for its Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive. It's a paved 8.3 mile road, which provides access to two picnic areas and several hiking trailheads. Note that trailers/RVs longer than 35 feet or any vehicle wider than 8 feet are not permitted.

PICNICKING

What are the picnic spots like?

There are two picnic areas in Saguaro National Park East - Javelina and Mica View. No water is available at picnic areas or on the loop drive. Parking is free and conveniently located next to the picnic sites, most of which are shaded.

The Javelina Picnic area has grills and most of the tables are shaded. The Tanque Verde Ridge Trail leaves from this picnic area. There is a pit toilet at this picnic area, but no running water.

The Mica View Picnic area has a pit toilet, grills, tables, and one large covered picnic shelter. There are many trail opportunities (all of them good for kids) that leave from this area going out into the cactus forest. Families could plan a 20-minute walk or a full day hike in the cactus forest. Note that there is no running water or toilet facilities at Mica View.

How much does it cost to reserve a picnic spot? 

Reservations are not taken for picnic areas in Saguaro National Park. They are first come, first served. Picnicking is free with park admission. That said, you do need a special use permit (available for $50) for retreats or picnicking in groups of 20+ people.

BIKING & HIKING

Where can I bike?

Bicycling is allowed on the 8.3-mile Loop Drive, as well as on two trails within the park. Note that Loop Drive is a one-way, narrow path with many tight turns and steep hills.

Trail riding is permitted only on the 2.5 mile multi-use portion of the Cactus Forest Trail, which is circled by the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. The trail may be ridden in either direction, but you may not ride against traffic on the one-way portion of the Cactus Forest Loop Drive if you exit the trail on the north end.

Trail riding is also permitted on the shared-use 2.5 mile Hope Camp Trail, located off of Camino Loma Alta at the south boundary of Saguaro East.

How many hiking trails are there? 

There are approximately 128 miles of trails that wind through the desert and mountain country of Saguaro East. A hike in Saguaro National Park can be a stroll on a day trail or a long wilderness trek.

To reach the hiking trails from the visitor center, you must drive into the park on the Loop Drive. The first trailhead is accessed in about 2 miles and begins at the Mica View Picnic Area. There are several trailheads with parking off the Loop Drive. Trailheads are also reached from the east end of Speedway Blvd where it dead ends at the Douglas Spring trailhead; the Broadway trailhead; and from Camino Loma Alta, off Old Spanish Trail, about 7 miles south of the park’s entrance.

CAMPING

Is overnight camping permitted? 

There are no campgrounds accessible by road in the park, but you can venture out into the desert and go "backcountry camping" at 6 designated campgrounds located within the Saguaro Wilderness area. The site closest to a road is the Douglas Spring Campground, which requires a 5.9 mile hike. The other five campgrounds are : Manning Camp, Spud Rock, Happy Valley, Juniper Basin, and Grass Shack. A permit is required for all overnight stays, with a fee of $6.00 per campsite per night. Refunds for cancelled camping permits are not available, but camping trips may be rescheduled within the next 2 months at no additional cost.

Does Saguaro National Park East have an RV park?

No. There are no overnight accommodations for recreational vehicles in the park. Consider Cactus Country RV Resort (approximately 10 miles south).

SPECIAL EVENTS

Can I have my wedding at Saguaro National Park East?

Weddings require a special use permit. To obtain a special use permit, print an application form from the park's website. Complete the application and mail it to the park at 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, Tucson AZ 85730. Costs can vary depending on the ceremony and other administrative needs.

What else do I need to know before I go to Saguaro National Park East?

That just about covers it. Have a great time! 

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