12 Things To Do In Saguaro National Park In One Day (2024)

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Want to know all the best things to do in Saguaro National Park in one day? We’ve got you covered with the exact itinerary we followed on our visit!

Saguaro National Park can easily be visited in just one day.

The park is split in half by the city of Tucson.

On one side of the city is the West side of Saguaro and the other side is the East side of Saguaro.

They are about an hour and a half away from each other, but not too far where you can’t do both in one day.

This itinerary has a combination of short hiking trails and short scenic drives on each side of the park.

Saguaro National Park entrance sign

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Things To Do In Saguaro National Park In One Day

Below is the recommended itinerary for seeing both sides of Saguaro National Park in one day.

The itinerary starts on the West side of the park, with a break in the middle of the day for food and gas, before moving on to the East side of the park for the second half of the day.

I’ve also included some extra activities you can do during your visit if you have the time.

When we did this itinerary, we only spent 2 hours on each side and 2 hours in-between.

West Side of Saguaro National Park

You can see the highlights of the West side of Saguaro National Park in about 2 hours.

There are 4 major trails and scenic drives you want to experience: the Desert Discovery Nature Trail, Bajada Loop Drive, Valley View Overlook, and the Signal Hill Petroglyphs.

West Side of Saguaro National Park on a map
West Side of Saguaro National Park Itinerary

1. Desert Discovery Trail

This is a paved, 0.5 mile nature trail.

It’s the perfect trail to get acquainted with the ecology and history of the park with interpretive signage all throughout the trail.

Desert Discovery Trail on Saguaro National Park's west side

2. Bajada Loop Drive

This 6 mile scenic drive takes you along the best scenic overlooks and hiking trails throughout the west side of Saguaro National Park.

The next 2 things on this itinerary can be done while you’re driving this scenic loop.

3. Valley View Overlook Nature Trail

This is a short 0.8 mile roundtrip trail that leads to an overlook.

Nature trails all tend to have additional interpretive signage about the ecology, wildlife, history, and culture of the area, more so than typical hiking trails in national parks.

This makes them better for families traveling with younger kids or those that are looking for an educational experience during their visit.

Valley View Overlook Nature Trail in Saguaro National Park

4. Signal Hill Petroglyphs

We cannot get enough of petroglyphs everywhere we go.

We’ve taken petroglyph hikes in Maui, Capitol Reef National Park (Utah), Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico), and Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque.

It really never gets old.

Depending on the time of the day and the amount of sunlight, some petroglyphs will be more visible than others.

It’s fun to walk along the trail and see what kind of drawings you can find.

This trail is less than a quarter mile roundtrip.

Signal Hill Petroglyphs in Saguaro National Park

East Side of Saguaro National Park

Before beginning your visit to the East side of Saguaro National Park, I recommend having lunch somewhere in Tucson or having a picnic lunch.

We just went through the drive thru at Whataburger since we don’t have it at home, but for a more nutritious meal, check out our best kept secret restaurants in Tucson guide for some ideas.

burger and fries from Whataburger in Tucson

It’s also a good time to top off your gas tank.

When we visited we had about 2 hours in-between the time we left the West side of the park to the time we arrives at the East side of the park.

As you can see in the map below, even if you drive straight through from the West to the East, it will still take about an hour and a half.

map connecting the West side of Saguaro National Park to the East side
The Drive from the West side to the East side of Saguaro National Park

Once we got to the East side of the park, we spent about 2 hours going through the following itinerary: Cactus Forest Loop Drive, Mica View Trail, Desert Ecology Trail, and the Freeman Homestead Trail.

East side of Saguaro National Park itinerary route on a map
East side of Saguaro National Park route

5. Cactus Forest Loop Drive

This 8 mile scenic drive leads you around to a variety of trailheads and overlooks throughout the East side of Saguaro National Park.

There is no parking along the drive for RVs or any vehicles that are particularly large, so you wouldn’t be able to get out and do any trails along the way, but it’s still worth driving.

Cactus Forest Loop Drive in Saguaro National Park

6. Mica View Trail

The Mica View Trail is a paved 1.5 mile out and back trail.

This trail is similar to the Valley View Overlook trail in that it’s views are overlooking Tucson.

7. Desert Ecology Trail

This 0.3 mile round trip paved trail is a short nature walk through the East side of Saguaro National Park.

It’s similar to the Desert Discovery Trail at the beginning of the itinerary, but just on the East side of the park instead.

Desert Ecology Trail in Saguaro National Park

8. Freeman Homestead Trail

The last trail on this one day itinerary is the Freeman Homestead Trail.

This 1 mile round trip trail is quite an eclectic trail.

You can see the foundation of an old homestead, a saguaro grove, and a desert wash.

There are interpretive signs along the way and interactive activities for kids.

If You Have More Time

Here are a few more things you can add to your itinerary if you have more time during your visit or if you’re visiting over multiple days.

9. Saguaro National Park Visitor Center

It’s always a good idea to stop at the visitor center when you visit national parks.

This is where you can get a national park stamp, park maps, and any souvenirs you want to take home with you.

We personally like to get Christmas ornaments when we travel.

There are also restrooms here and you can ask the park rangers any questions you have.

10. Ranger Programs

Throughout the year there are a variety of ranger programs you might be able to participate in during your visit.

The busy season is from January through April, so there will be more frequent ranger programs during those months.

With the heat in the Summer the ranger programs are offered less frequently.

Plus they’re completely free!

11. Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger Program is meant to be a way for kids to be entertained and educated while exploring national parks.

You can go to the visitor center or download the booklet online before your visit.

Kids can go around the park to complete the booklet, then return it to the visitor center and be sworn in as a ranger.

They also have a “not so junior” ranger program for any adults that want to complete an activity booklet too.

12. Watch the Sunset over Saguaro National Park

Another free activity!

Stay in the park long enough to enjoy the sunset views.

You can Google the sunset time at the park for whichever day you’re visiting and plan out your spot at least 30 minutes to an hour in advance to enjoy the full sunset.

Some of the previously mentioned trails have great overlook spots for watching the sunset or you can go just about anywhere else in the park.

sunset at Saguaro National Park

Where To Stay When Visiting Saguaro National Park

Below are my two best recommendations for where to stay when you’re visiting Saguaro National Park.

One for those who want to camp and one for those who want all the amenities of a hotel.

Best Campground: Gilbert Ray Campground

Gilbert Ray Campground is located just outside of Saguaro National Park, about 5 miles from the first stop on our itinerary.

It is the first place JP and I ever camped together and is still one of my favorite campgrounds we’ve ever stayed in.

The views were just phenomenal at sunrise, sunset, and during the day.

The campsites are dispersed amongst all the cacti throughout the campground.

Everything was spaced out nicely and the restrooms weren’t very far either.

Camp Gilbert Ray Campground

Best Hotel: Varsity Clubs of America Tucson

Varsity Clubs of America in Tucson is actually a timeshare resort, but you don’t have to be a timeshare owner to stay here.

You can book it directly or through your preferred 3rd party provider just like you would any other hotel.

We love to stay here when we’re in Tucson because these rooms are one bedroom villas with a full kitchen all for the same price as a regular hotel room.

You can see a full walk-through of the one bedrooms here in this video on our YouTube Channel.

Click Here To Book Your Varsity Clubs of America Tucson Stay Today!

Resources For Planning Your Visit To Saguaro National Park

If you need help planning your trip to Saguaro National Park, check out our Tips For Planning A Trip To Anywhere (A Step-By-Step Guide) and our Tips For How To Plan A National Park Road Trip.

Read our Best Tips For Staying Safe When Traveling During Extreme Weather if you’re traveling during the extreme heat in Summer or the snow in Winter.

Also check out our Best Tips For Staying Well While You Travel if you’re prone to getting colds or have allergies when you travel or have other ailments.

Lastly, if you’re traveling on a budget, read up on our Best Tips For Traveling On A Budget: Your Guide To Planning An Affordable Trip.

More National Parks To Visit In Arizona

Arizona is home to 3 national parks: Saguaro, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forest.

✔️ Petrified Forest National Park One Day Itinerary

Petrified Forest National Park is in eastern Arizona, along Route 66, near Holbrook.

The park is best visited by driving the scenic route through the north side and then the south side.

There are several trails where you can pull over and hike amongst the petrified wood.

It’s not what you would expect at all, but it is still cool to see.

petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park

✔ Grand Canyon National Park Sunrise Itinerary

Grand Canyon National Park is just a little further down Route 66 from Petrified Forest National Park.

We visited during this same drive home to California from Ohio that we stopped at Petrified Forest.

It was January and a snowstorm blew in overnight.

The snow made it difficult to do anything but enjoy the sunrise, but it was worth it.

It’s a completely different Grand Canyon experience than you’d expect and I highly recommend doing this at least once.

Grand Canyon National Park Sunrise

More Fun Things To Do Near Tucson

Tucson is an amazing destination for tourists.

There are so many historical sites nearby, natural wonders, and a booming wine country!

✅ Tombstone Day Trip Itinerary

Tombstone is the town too tough to die.

You may know it from the mega blockbuster back in the early 90s.

There are so many cool things to do here from dining in a local saloon, antique shopping, wine tasting, re-enactments of the OK Corral, and tons more.

We loved it so much we actually went twice in the same trip!

Tombstone, Arizona - OK Corral

✅ Elgin and Sonoita Wine Tasting Guide

Just south of Tucson is the Elgin and Sonoita wine tasting region.

We’ve visited wine regions all over the US and let me tell you, we like it better than Napa!

Our favorite wine we’ve ever tried was here – a red wine infused with habanero peppers.

I don’t do anything spicy at all, but this wine gets the flavor of the peppers without the burn of the spice.

Elgin and Sonoita Wine Tasting Region in Southern Arizona

✅ Best Affordable Attractions Near Tucson

There were so many places we went in Tucson that we decided to put them all together in one post.

Check out historic missions, underground caverns, and popular National Park Service sites.

Tumacacori National Historical Park in Tucson, Arizona

✅ Dine at the Best Kept Secret Restaurants

Tucson is a designated UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

The soil of Tucson has been used to grow food for over 10,000 years continuously.

There are different designations within UNESCO that allow specific restaurants to be recognized.

We decided to try a variety of them because local cuisine is a huge part of travel.

Ensenada Street Tacos - Birria Tacos - Tucson, Arizona

Conclusion: Things To Do In Saguaro National Park In One Day

There are so many things to do in Saguaro National Park in one day, even though it’s split up across the city.

This itinerary is perfect for a half day or full day experience if you do some of the extra activities.

It’s a beautiful park that has so many accessible and short trails for just about anybody.