Saguaro National Park has two incredible scenic drives that are perfect for visiting any time of year. This is an especially fun activity to do in the summer months when it’s more difficult to get out for a hike.
The park is broken up into two districts east vs west, and each have their own scenic drive that you can’t miss.
We highly recommend driving both if you have the chance, but if there’s only time for one then head to the east side of the park and drive the Cactus Forest Loop!
Cactus Forest Loop Scenic Drive
Located in the Rincon Mountain District on the east side of Saguaro National Park is the Cactus Forest Loop Scenic Drive.
The road is 8-miles long so it won’t take you all day, but there are plenty of rock outcroppings, hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and nature trails to keep you occupied for hours.
The drive begins and ends at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center right off Freeman Road in Tucson, Arizona.
Unlike many of the other roads in the park, the entire Cactus Forest Loop Road is paved so it’s a much more comfortable driving experience.
This road is also a popular route for road bikers who want to enjoy the gorgeous desert scenery.
The Driving Experience
The drive has many tight twists, turns, steep climbs, and sharp drops which makes the experience akin to an amusement park. It’s a fun little loop that weaves through the rolling foothills of the Rincon Mountains.
The roadway is one-direction only and very narrow so vehicles wider than 8 feet and RV trailers longer than 35 feet are not permitted.
The scenic drive starts off by heading towards the Santa Catalina Mountains. Along the way you get picturesque views of every imaginable cactus, and the Rincon Mountains.
- Freeman Homestead Hike
- Javelina Rocks Overlook
- Loma Verde Trailhead
- Desert Ecology Trail
- Cactus Forest Overlook
Several hiking trails branch off the roadside. The Freeman Homestead hike is a short, 1 mile nature trail that will keep you captivated with stunning desert wildflowers and blooming cactus plants.
The Javelina Rocks overlook is a can’t miss pitstop. It’s also the only picnic area on the scenic drive so it’s the perfect place to bust out the snacks.
Kids will enjoy climbing and crawling on the granite rockfaces, and adults will love the scenic views of the Saguaro Cacti against the Tucson Valley.
Javelina Rocks is known for having the best sunsets in Tucson, Arizona. You won’t find a more breath-taking view of the colorful sky against Tucson and the Saguaro Cacti anywhere else in the world.
Visitors who are looking to do more than just drive should check out the hikes available at the Loma Verde Trailhead. You can find miles of hiking trails both short and long from this area of the park.
One of our favorite hikes is the Loma Verde Loop which is 3.8 miles long and leads you through an impressive variety of cactus.
The east side of the park is known for its picturesque wilderness camping. And it’s the only side of the park where primitive camping is permitted.
Tourists who are traveling with their dog should stop at the Desert Ecology Trail. It’s one of the few dog-friendly paths on the east side of the park.
Finally, don’t forget to stop by the Cactus Forest Overlook. It gives a great overall view of the park and it’s name doesn’t disappoint!
Bajada Loop Scenic Drive
Travelers visiting the west side of Saguaro National Park should not miss the Bajada Loop Scenic Drive. It starts at the Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District.
Unlike the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, the Bajada Loop is unpaved, grated dirt so it can be a bit bumpy. You’ll have to take it slow, but with the breath-taking views you’ll want to anyway.
The route is only 6 miles long, but there are several stops along the way that you can’t miss.
From the Red Hills Visitor Center, take Kinney Road until you reach Hohokam Road then turn right. The first section of roadway allows two-way traffic, but it will quickly narrow into a one-way street.
To complete the route, follow Hohokam Road to Golden Gate Road then turn left to head back to the visitor center.
- Sus Picnic Area
- Bajada Wash Trailhead
- Hugh Norris Trailhead
- Valley View Overlook
- Signal Hill Picnic Area
The Sus Picnic Area is located in a thick forest of Saguaro Cacti. The beautiful location is a great place to stretch out your legs and get ready for a hike. Ambitious travelers can set off on the Bajada Wash Trail which extends all over the west side of Saguaro National Park.
The Valley View Overlook is one of the top Scenic Overlooks in Saguaro National Park. It’s a short and sweet hike that’s less than 1-mile round-trip and leads to picture perfect views of the valley below.
Along the route, you’ll pass by numerous wildflowers, Saguaro Cacti, and colorful plants. This is also a popular spot for birdwatching. We like the Valley View Overlook trail because there is lots of interesting signage along the way. So you can get educated on the native cacti while taking in the views.
The Signal Hill Picnic Area is a short stop off the road that you would be crazy to miss. Signal Hill offers the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the park.
You can find over 200 Native American Petroglyphs decorating the rocks and boulders in the Signal Hill Area. Not only is the rock art entertaining to look at, but the backdrop of the Tucson Mountains and the Saguaro Cacti is one that you’ll never forget.