Click here for an interactive map of this road trip.
For an introduction to the natural Saguaro landscape without being too far from hotels and amenities, make a beeline to Saguaro National Park West. You can quickly get into one of the most beautiful National Parks in the U.S. and immerse yourself in the Saguaro universe. Here you’ll find easy walks, hikes, and scenic drives that feature many different views of interesting mountains, petroglyphs, birds, and wildlife everywhere (hawks, ravens, Desert Cottontail bunnies, roadrunners, and squirrels are common to see). From the Marana Road exit 236 off the I-10 southbound from Phoenix, about 14 miles north of Tucson, you will be in Saguaro National Park West in less than 30 minutes. Continue to the west on Sandario Road. From there it’s a direct route that quickly changes from farmland to Saguaro landscape.
A road trip that you can complete in an hour or two starts at the Saguaro National Park West Red Hills Visitor Center where you can pay for your pass, pick up a map, and grab some souvenirs. Then head a little more than two miles away to Signal Hill Picnic Area and take a 5-7 minute walk from the parking area to a spectacular lookout of petroglyph-covered rocks. If you have more time, you can explore hiking, walking, or scenic driving loops in the Park.
From the Red Hills Visitor Center the world-renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is just a couple of miles down the road. Here you will find the animals of the Sonoran Desert in their natural habitats. From mountain lions to raptors to javelina to hummingbirds. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is half a day in itself and has dining options and a large gift shop for visitors only.
Another easy half-day trip is to Ironwood Forest National Monument, just 30 minutes north of Saguaro National Park West. You can keep your home base in Marana for this trip, as Ironwood Forest is only 44 minutes from the nearest hotel in Marana. Ironwood Forest has craggy mountains and a lush desert landscape of Saguaro cacti, Ironwood trees, and Palo Verde trees. Ironwood trees are thought to be the oldest trees in the southwest, living to be as old as 1,500 years. They have dense clusters of lilac purple and white flowers in the spring that, from a distance, resemble Cherry Blossoms or orchids. Palo Verde trees have bright yellow blossoms in April or May. The explosion of color from these, and other flowering Sonoran Desert trees, is sometimes surreal.