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Saguaro National Park is amazing and the west side of it is the best. I love it. There are so many great hikes on the west side of Saguaro and you’ll be able to do a lot of them.
Today, I’m going to help you plan the best one day in Saguaro west possible. It’s a day full of hiking and you’ll want to get started early, especially on warmer days.
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
Discover Cars – I recommend Discover Cars for rental cars.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
See all my resources here.
I would not recommend this on a summer visit because it will be approximately 5,000 degrees celsius. If you are visiting in the summer, I would pick one or two short trail and bring a ton of water then drink all of that water and more.
But I wouldn’t do this in the summer. Spring, fall, and winter are best for hiking in Saguaro. Anyway, you want to get started early because your day is going to be packed full of great hikes and mind-blowing cacti.
You really probably don’t need to start this at sunrise or anything but how early you start your day will mostly depend on where you’re staying in Tucson and the season. Like, in winter you won’t have as much daylight so you’ll want to start earlier.
If you just have one day in Saguaro, I would pick the west side of the park over the east side and that’s what I’ll be focusing on today: one day in Saguaro west.
I’ll include total hiking miles as the list progresses and a sort of generous timeframe with that. I’ll round up on time, so you could probably expect something less than the total but that just depends on your hiking speed and how often you stop.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Start your day at the visitor center. Here you can ask any questions you have, get your mugs and stickers, and grab a map of the park. This is also where you pay the entrance fee or show your national park pass.
If you’re starting your day before the visitor center opens, I would do the Desert Discovery Nature Trail first then head here since the trail is just a couple of minutes’ drive from the visitor center.
Total hiking amount so far: none, 20 minutes
Desert Discovery Nature Trail
The first hike of the day is the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. This trail is just 0.5 miles, flat, and paved. The trail is dotted with signs telling you about the plants, animals, and human history of the area.
If you like plants (especially desert plants), this is like, the best trail ever. You can see so many different plants on here, it’s wild. In any one scene, you can see like, four different types of cactus alone!
This is a super quick trail and can be done in 30 minutes, maybe more depending on how much you stop or how fast you walk.
Total hiking amount so far: 0.5 miles, 50 minutes
Valley View Overlook
The Valley View Overlook trail is one of the most popular trails in Saguaro and a must-do with one day in Saguaro west. It’s an easy trail that is also great for seeing a variety of plants and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views at the end.
The trail is less than a mile, just 0.8 miles round-trip, with only 49 feet of elevation gain. This is a great spot to enjoy the sunset, but it’s great any time of day.
Total hiking amount so far: 1.4 miles, one hour fifty minutes
Sendero Esperanza Trail
This is a good hike if you want to be away from people a little more. It’s not extremely low-trafficked but its much less busy than Desert Discovery, Signal Hill Petroglyphs, and Valley View Overlook.
It’s a great hike that’s not short but not long to experience more of the park with just one day in Saguaro. We did this trail then up the Dobe Wash Trail and I enjoyed it.
If you do the full Sendero Esperanza trail, it’s a five-mile round-trip hike. It’s perfect if you want a longer hike that isn’t too long. Some of it is pretty sandy though, which can make it feel more difficult than it would be with a packed trail.
Total hiking amount so far: 6.4, four hours fifty minutes
Signal Hill Petroglyphs
The Signal Hill Petroglyph trail is just 0.3 miles round-trip and is the perfect way to end your day. If your hiking itch still hasn’t been scratched today, you can keep hiking here on the Cactus Wren Trail or Manville Trail.
This is a short trail to petroglyphs with one of my favorite views in the park of the mountains around you. This is a busy trail but it’s worth it and it doesn’t take too long to do the whole thing.
Total hiking amount so far: 6.7 miles, five hours thirty minutes
Gould Mine Trail
I haven’t done this trail but if you want to squeeze in one more hike and don’t mind a lot of hiking, the Gould Mine trail is a great option. It’s a 2.3-mile loop along Kinney Road.
It’s a good trail for views and birding and takes you to an old copper mine. I would like to do this one next time, I think. It also sounds like there are some petroglyphs nearby (the wash before the dam on the left and right up higher).
And AllTrails thinks this trail is moderate, which makes NO SENSE to me because it’s only 2.3 miles with 380 feet of elevation gain but Hugh Norris at 8.9 miles with almost 3,000 feet of elevation gain is also moderate?! What?! Help me understand these ratings if you understand this.
Total hiking amount so far: 9 miles, six hours forty-five minutes
Hugh Norris Trail
If you would rather just do one long hike, the Hugh Norris Trail is perfect. It’s challenging but probably very rewarding to make it to the end/turnaround point.
If you do the whole Hugh Norris Trail, you’ll be here a good portion of the day, like probably around six hours. It’s 4.9 miles one-way, somewhere between 8.9 and 9.5 miles round-trip.
AllTrails says it’s a moderate hike but it’s 8.9 miles (according to AllTrails) with 2,400 feet of elevation gain and there is no part of me that would consider that moderate?
So, if you do this, I would skip the Sendero Esperanza Trail. And you can always do part of this trail instead of the whole thing. We did some of this and I liked it a lot. I would love to do the whole thing.
I’m sure the further you hike, the fewer people you’ll see. You can enjoy the desert solitude and sprawling valley views along the way. If you do this whole trail, be sure to bring tons of water and wear sunscreen!
What to bring hiking in Saguaro National Park
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
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 Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes, or a visor. A baseball hat should be fine but I like my giant sun hat, too.
Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.
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.
Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking, just in case.
So, there you go! Two great ways to spend one day in Saguaro west. Whichever you choose, you’ll get to do some great hiking and have incredible views along the way.
Have you been to Saguaro? What do you think of it? Do you want to go? How would you spend one day in Saguaro west?
3 thoughts on “West Is Best: How To Make The Most Of One Day In Saguaro West”
Megan, I’ve done most of these, and I agree Hugh Norris is difficult (not moderate). You can also take a portion of Sendero Esperanza to meet up with Hugh Norris. (If you do that, you would start from somewhere that doesn’t require paying park entrance fees. I have a park pass, so that’s not why I did it.) Described here: https://daringdayhikes.home.blog/2022/01/07/wasson-peak-saguaro-np-west/
That’s good to hear from someone who done it! Is there more than one place to start sendero Esperanza? We did it (part of it) from the little dead end parking area, to the right when you get to the T on the bajada loop drive after the valley view overlook trail
Yes, you can get to Sendero Esperanza from King Canyon trailhead (walk up in the wash for a while then take the turnoff for the picnic area). I think there’s also a trailhead for Gould Mine that gets you there. Both are on Kinney Road.