Saguaro National Park West
Tucson, Arizona is home to the nation's largest cacti and the Saguaro National Park West is an amazing place to view these symbols of the American west. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States and Saguaro National Park West provides one of the best chances to see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.
Saguaro National Park has many great hiking trails, including several that are wheelchair-accessible. The Cactus Garden Trail is a great way to view desert plants, while the Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a short, paved trail with great views of the saguaros for all age and skill levels.
The Javelina (Pecari tajacu) is a peccary, not a pig, common in Saguaro National Park. Everyone here uses the Spanish name which refers to the sharp tusks of the male: like javelins. Other desert mammals found in the park include bobcats, jackrabbits, gray foxes, coyotes, cougars, deer, and ringtails. There are also a number of reptiles inhabiting the parks including a wide variety of lizards, snakes, and desert tortoises.
The west district’s visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas day. All unpaved roads are open to vehicles from 6 a.m. to sunset - April through September and from 7 a.m. to sunset - October through March. There is an entrance fee to enter the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. Golden Age, Golden Access, National Park Passes and Saguaro National Park Annual Passes are accepted and available at the visitor center.
The saguaro cactus bloom peaks in May and June. Summer: June to August A tremendous variety of cactus means that blossoms can be seen from mid-April into September. Summer heat reaches its peak in June and July. Throughout the summer, most animal activity occurs in early morning, late evening or at night. July and August also bring the summer rainy season of intense thunderstorms. Fall: September to November Fall is a quiet time. Cooler temperatures make for great hiking and camping conditions throughout the area.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park is a state park of Arizona on the western slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Catalina State Park is 5,493 acres and has an average elevation of 3,000 feet (910 m) but varies dramatically with high ridges and low creek beds.
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking and bird watching — more than 150 species of birds call the park home.
The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.
This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti and wildlife.
Ironwood National Monument
The Ironwood Forest National Monument is located 25 miles northwest of Tucson, and about one hour by highway south of Phoenix. The Ironwood Forest National Monument is made up of 129,000-acres and contains a significant system of cultural and historical sites covering a 5,000-year period. Possessing one of the richest stands of ironwood in the Sonoran Desert, the monument also encompasses several desert mountain ranges including the Silver Bell, Waterman, and Sawtooth, with desert valleys in between.
A significant concentration of ironwood (also known as desert ironwood, Olneya tesota) trees is found in the monument, along with two federally recognized endangered animal and plant species. Keeping company with the ironwood trees are mesquite, Palo Verde, creosote, and saguaro, blanketing the monument floor beneath rugged mountain ranges named Silver Bell, Waterman and Sawtooth.
In between, desert valleys lay quietly to complete the setting. More than 200 Hohokam and Paleo-Indian archaeological sites have been identified in the monument, dated between 600 and 1450.
Three areas within the monument, the Los Robles Archeological District, the Mission of Santa Ana del Chiquiburitac and the Cocoraque Butte Archeological District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Tortolita Mountains border the northwest edge of the Tucson valley, near the towns of Oro Valley and Marana. The smallest of Tucson's mountain ranges, the Tortolitas feature rugged peaks, gullies, canyons and alluvial fans, with rocky soil and vast stands of cacti.
The Tortolita Mountains include extensive cultural resources. Native American peoples known as the Hohokam heavily occupied the area for approximately 700 years beginning around AD 500.
The Town of Marana offers guided hikes, horseback rides, and mountain bike tours of trails within the Tortolita Mountains.
Picacho Peak State Park
Picacho Peak State Park is a state park surrounding Picacho Peak in Picacho, Arizona. Its centerpiece spire is visible from downtown Tucson, a distance of 45 miles (72 km). The summit rises to 3,374 feet (1,028 m) above mean sea level.
The park is celebrated for wildflowers that appear mid-March to early April following good winter rain. The park's west face possesses an unspoiled Sonoran Desert setting. The park offers a natural habitat for many of the animals found in the Sonoran Desert. This includes many species of mammals and reptiles as well as a large number of birds. The park is home to a number of invertebrates as well.
A small flat space on top of the spire can be reached via two trail heads. Portions of the trails are precarious, and hikers are aided by cables and catwalks, making the routes some of the few via ferrata in the United States. From the top, there is a view south to the Santa Catalina Mountains near Marana/Tucson, northwest to Tabletop Mountain near Casa Grande, north to the many mountain ranges surrounding Phoenix, and west to where the north-running Santa Cruz River runs underground supporting farms in a quaint desert valley.
There are several trails from a short and easy Children’s Cave Trail, to longer, more challenging trails several miles long. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground and picnic areas.
Ironwood National Monument photos courtesy Bureau of Land Management and the Friends of Ironwood Forest.