The Saguaro National Park lies in two sections to the east and west of Tucson, Arizona. The park covers approximately 143 square miles of which some 111 carries the designation "wilderness." Visitors to the Saguaro National Park can expect to view vistas of the Sonoran Desert as well as the Tucson and Rincon Mountains.
The name, Saguaro National Park, refers to the saguaro cactus. This tree-sized variety of cactus develop slowly over a period of seventy-five years. The plants, which may survive two hundred years, average five "arms" or branches, and can be thirty feet in height.
Saguaro National Park has been in existence since 1933 as a national monument and received its designation as a national park in 1994. It boasts more than one hundred and fifty hiking trails that are well laid out and maintained. Park officials strongly recommend against summer hiking, however, due to intense heat in the region. The best times of the year to visit Saguaro National Park fall between November and April. Although the park has more than one hundred and fifty hiking trails the only months recommended for such activity are those between November and April due to the intense heat in the park during the summer months.
Four times a year a birding guide takes visitors on early morning walks in an effort to spot some or all of the twenty-five species indigenous to the park. The park rates the walking involved as "easy" but asks participants to bring bottled water and sun protection. Bird guide books and binoculars are also recommended.
The staff at Saguaro National Park hosts various interpretative programs. Near the visitor centers these may take the form of talks on the patio and strolls through the cactus garden. Moonlight hikes and full-moon talks are also provided. Activities held near the visitor centers are wheelchair accessible.
The Rincon Mountain District Visitor Center is open all year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is fifteen miles east of downtown Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District Visitor Center maintains the same schedule and is fifteen miles west of downtown Tucson. Both facilities are closed on Christmas Day. Both offer exhibits on the desert environment and a fifteen minute orientation film is played throughout the day.
In the winter temperatures average sixty-five degrees during the day, forty degrees at night. In the summer it is not uncommon for the mercury to soar above 105 degrees in the shade with evenings never falling lower than 72 degrees. Headgear is recommended at all times as is sunscreen and water. (One gallon per person per day is the recommended consumption level.)
Other attractions near the Saguaro National Park include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which features exhibits of live animals indigenous to the desert in carefully crafted natural settings. The facility has an international reputation as a zoo, preservation institution, natural history museum and botanical garden. A visit to the Museum greatly enhances an understanding of and appreciation for the larger Saguaro National Park.