Saguaro East Vs. West Showdown: Which Side Of Saguaro Is Better?

Ahh, Saguaro National Park. One of the newest parks I visited and one of my new favorites! This is such an underrated national park, I’m surprised at how little I hear about it. The big question when visiting though, is which side of Saguaro National Park is better and I’m here to help you pick a side.

We finally visited for two days in march on our way back out to Lake Powell and I’m so glad we made it happen. We spent three nights in Tucson so we had two full days in the park which was perfect for a quickish visit.

It still let us see more of the park though, which was great. We stayed at The Tuxon and it was so cute! The rooms are small but it’s perfect for visiting both sides of the park, especially the west.

The original plan was one day in each side of the park, but then I wanted to try and go to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, too. Well, the forecast said lots of wind and it was a long drive so we ended up doing two days in Saguaro.

On the first day we drove through the West side of the park and did the Valley View Overlook Trail and just kind of enjoyed the area. We even saw a coyote on the Golden Gate Road towards the Sandero Esperanza trail.

Then, that afternoon, we made the trek over to the east side of the park to check it out. I won’t share exactly what I thought of it right here because you’ll find out below.

Which side of Saguaro is which?

There are two sides of Saguaro National Park, the east and the west. The west side is the Tucson Mountain District and the east side is the Rincon District.

On the west side, you’ll find the Red Hills Visitor Center and on the east side you’ll find the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center. Definitely put in the visitor centers on Google maps when you look it up, not just Saguaro west or Saguaro east because that takes you to a random spot.

Which side of Saguaro has more cactus?

The west side of Saguaro has more cactus, for sure! It’s so impressive the number of them over here and even just on the drive in you’ll see tons and some incredibly large saguaros. I wanted to stop and admire all of them but there were too many to choose from.

The east side still has saguaro, of course, but nowhere near as many.

So I will definitely have to say, the west side is better if you want to see lots of saguaros, which is probably what you’re here for, after all.

East Saguaro

Which side of Saguaro is more remote?

The east side, for sure. The west feels more remote because it’s a little more out of the city, but the east is easier to get away from people.

You can also only do backcountry camping and hiking on the east side and that’s how you get to the really remote parts. If you’re just driving through, it’s not that much more remote than the west. And it’s paved, but the west is dirt.

So here the winner is definitely going to be the east side as far as remoteness goes.

East Saguaro

Which side of Saguaro has more hiking?

While the west side has some hiking options that I enjoyed, there is going to be more of it on the east side. As far as short hikes go though, the east really only has one or two more.

If you want to go backpacking and really put in the miles, the east is where you’ll want to (and have to) be for that.

Again, the east side is going to win because it has all of the backcountry hiking and camping.

Which side of Saguaro National Park is better?

Definitely the west. Sure, the east side wins for hiking and remoteness, but the west side wins overall for awesomeness.

I was actually really let down by the east side and we literally just drove through it. After seeing the west side it didn’t seem all that impressive on the east, but maybe that would change with seeing the backcountry.

The cactus on the west side are soooo much more dense and impressive. I was blown away with the drive even though it’s short. I just kept saying “Look at them! They’re amazing!”

So, if you only have one day in Saguaro, you can see both sides, but if you only want to see one and spend a lot of time there, I would absolutely recommend the west side. It was so much better, I still can’t get over it. I love it!

Is Saguaro National Park worth visiting?

Yes! A thousand times, yes! This was such an amazing park and I feel like I never hear anything about it. But I love it! This is seriously one of my favorite national parks now and I can’t wait to go back, especially to see the Saguaros bloom.

How long does it take to drive through Saguaro National Park?

If you’re just driving through and not hiking at all, you could do each side in an hour or less. Plus an hour drive between the two sides, so you could technically see the whole thing in three hours, but if you want to do anything, you’ll need more time.

The Cactus Loop Road on the east side is paved and eight miles with little parking for RVs and larger vehicles. The Bajada Loop Drive in the west is dirt and six miles. It’s an easy dirt road though and any car can do it.

What is the best time to visit Saguaro National Park?

Definitely winter because it’s like, a thousand degrees in the summer. But, if you want to see the cactus bloom (which I would LOVE) you’ll have to go most likely in May.

Saguaros start to bloom in the last two weeks of April and peak is the last week of May and first week of June. It will be hot then, too, not peak summer hot, but hot enough.

If you’re not concerned about seeing them bloom, then anytime in the winter is good. Early March was perfect for us, but it was a little windy one of the days we were there. Other than that it was great!

What to bring hiking in Saguaro National Park

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  Even if it’s not hot you need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are, time of day, and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.

Good hiking shoes – If you’re hiking when it’s warmer, Chacos will be good.  If it’s fall, muddy, or a little cooler out, you’ll want closed toe shoes.

Have you been to Saguaro National Park? Which side of Saguaro did you think was better? Do you want to go? Is there a better place to see saguaros?

12 thoughts on “Saguaro East Vs. West Showdown: Which Side Of Saguaro Is Better?

    1. Thank you! 🙂 The coyotes were so cute, I loved seeing them with the saguaros

  1. Hi, Megan! I spend a lot of time in Tucson, so I’m familiar with both sides of the park. I agree with your conclusions. Some more Tucson places worth visiting are Sonora Desert Museum (a zoo, art, nature, plants, educational place near Saguaro West), Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area (in the northeast) and Tucson Mountain Park (near Saguaro West). If you’re curious, check out the first three links from: https://daringdayhikes.home.blog/?s=tucson . The Yetman one is funny (I think).

    I haven’t been to Organ Pipe either, maybe doing it soon.

    1. Thank you! We definitely want to go back and hike the area more so I’ll be checking those out for sure! We almost went to the museum this time but decided to wait on that one.

    1. It’s such an amazing park, I hope you get to see it sooner than later 🙂

  2. Love this article. I am a Wisconsin native (On Wisconsin!) living in Ann Arbor (feel my pain lol) but our daughter went to U of A and we LOVE Tucson. I especially like Saguaro National Park (both sides). Will have to check out Organ Pipe next!

    1. Thank you! I’ll always be a cheesehead, even out in the desert haha. Saguaro is so amazing, I’d love to visit Organ Pipe as well

  3. Thanks, very helpful for planning our upcoming visit to Saguaro! We visited the West side in 2007 and loved it. We’re from humid Houston, and kinda fell in love with cactus and other desert plants!

    We also visited Organ Pipe. It is a long drive, but well worth it. Beautiful scenery, and the organ pipe cacti are amazing! There are also lots of ocotillo, which is my favorite desert plant.

    1. Enjoy your trip! I love the cactus so much, all of them but especially the Saguaro.

      We considered Organ pipe this time but it was supposed to be windy and decided to save it but this makes me want to go more! The Ocotillos are so cool, too!

  4. Excellent write-up! My wife wants to check out Mt. Lemmon tomorrow, but I vote for the west side of Saguaro park. Is Mt. Lemmon worth it?

    1. I wish I could say! We didn’t make it to Mt. Lemmon this trip but it does look pretty cool

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