Saguaro National Park is located in the southeastern region of Arizona, United States. The park covers an area of 143.30 square miles (371.16 sq km).
The national park is divided into two regions with the city of Tucson straddling in the middle. The Rincon Mount District, accounting for about 2/3 of the park, is about 10 miles (16 km) east of the city with the Tucson Mountain District found at approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of the city.
The elevation of the Ricon District varies from 2,670 to 8,666 feet (814 to 2,641 m) while the elevations in the Tucson Mountain District vary from 2,180 to 4,687 feet (664 to 1,429 m). Mica Mountain is the highest point of the two districts.
The protected area features the Sonoran Desert ecosystem which includes the giant saguaro cactus. The saguaro cactus is the largest of the cactus species located in the United States.
The landscape features an abundance of the saguaro cactus spread out across the national park terrain. The cactus stands like a magnificent statue with arms raised up in the air. There are approximately 1.8 million of the saguaros. As you drive or hike through the park, it may feel like this army of cacti is watching over you.
The local Tohono O’Odham people actually consider these stellar cacti as respected members of the tribe while it also serves as the symbol of the southwest. The saguaro symbol is renowned and incorporated into many logos of businesses and services located in the southwestern United States. In addition to the saguaro cactus, there are 24 other species of cactus.
The two districts combine to deliver at least 30 species of medium to larger species of wildlife. Some of the hopeful sightings include bobcat, cougar, coyote, gray fox, javelinas, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. Gila monster and diamondback rattlesnake are some of the more startling but exciting sightings as well.
Hiking is one of the most common activities of the park, however, biking and horseback riding are permissible in both districts of the park.
The desert landscape blanketed with the saguaro cactus is the pinnacle attraction of the park. This Sonoran Desert landscape is the epitome of what is known as the southwest and the saguaro cactus is the renowned icon representing it all.
The saguaro resembles a tree more than cactus. It is the largest cactus species in the United States. Many of the cactus will reach heights around 40 feet (12 m) making it as tall as some trees. The tallest one ever recorded reached a height of 78 feet (23.8 m).
The cactus is found in elevations from sea level up to around 4,000 feet (1,219 m), however, it is only found in the Sonoran Desert which extends beyond the borders of the national park.
The saguaro cactus grows incredibly slow. It takes about 10 years for the cactus to grow 1 inch (2.54 cm) and about 200 years before it reaches its full height.
The root system of the cactus is uniquely remarkable. There are two different root elements associated with the saguaro. The first is a tap-like root that burrows deep into the ground about 5 feet (1.5 m) accessing deeper water beds. The second root system functions like a net stretching out all around the cactus body and only about 3 inches (7.64 cm) below ground.
Trails of Saguaro National Park
The two areas of the national park offer about 165 miles (266 km) of hiking trails to explore this Sonoran Desert terrain. Take plenty of water because dehydration is a real concern.
Freeman Homestead Trail: This is a 1-mile (1.6 km) trail that provides views of large saguaros, a desert wash, and an old homestead foundation providing a taste of history.
Loma Verde Loop Trail: This is a 3.8-mile (6.11 km) that meanders through a grove of mesquite trees and up a bluff, past the Loa Verde Mine. It gives access to a view out over the cactus forest and Tanque Verde Ridge.
Hope Camp and Ridgeview Trail: This trail has a 400-foot (121.9 m) ascent in elevation. It provides views of Ricon Peak and then a panoramic view down into Box Canyon.
Garwood Dame and Wildhorse Trail: This trail meanders through one of the thicker saguaro cactus forests and makes you feel like you are in the namesake part of the park. The trail is 6.4-miles (10.2 km) giving a view of the Garwood Dam and the Little Wildhorse Tank, which is one of the areas that has perennial water.
Wild Dog Trail: This is a 1.8-mile (2.89 km) that meanders amongst the saguaro cacti.
- Largest cactus species
- Iconic southwestern landscapes
- American Southwest, Saguaro National Park – West Section (Tucson Mountain), https://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/saguaro/west.html, retrieved June 2020.
- Britannica, Saguaro, https://www.britannica.com/plant/saguaro, retrieved June 2020.
- Britannica, Saguaro National Park, https://www.britannica.com/place/Saguaro-National-Park, retrieved June 2020.
- National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
- National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
- National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
- National Park Service, Saguaro, https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm, retrieved June 2020.
- Visit Arizona, Saguaro National Park, https://www.visitarizona.com/uniquely-az/parks-and-monuments/saguaro-national-park, retrieved June 2020.