Welcome to my suggested itinerary for spending 3 days at Saguaro National Park! My name is Anna Jackson and I grew up in the midwest (Ohio). I graduated college in 2009 as a high school English teacher and pivoted in my career 10 years ago to work in financial technology.
What I do now is completely different from teaching in every way but I truly enjoy it and am grateful for the flexible schedule my career allows me to have. Believe it or not, I never liked the outdoors growing up! I started traveling for my job and fell in love with it. My husband would get to come on my business trips and we started turning them into vacations.
I have always been drawn to big cities, but after exploring parts of South America and New Zealand, I started craving those outdoor, nature-based destinations. Since the pandemic hit, we have had to change the way we travel and began exploring more of the US. We are always planning our next adventure – next up on our list is Joshua Tree!
3-Days at Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park in Arizona is a truly beautiful destination. Saguaros (tree-like cactus species) are only found in the Sonoran Desert, making this park incredibly unique. You will never see anything else like Saguaro National Park which is exactly why it should be on your bucket list!
We love the southwest of America and kept seeing epic photos of Saguaro National Park on Instagram. It wasn’t long before I planned out all of our hikes and booked a trip for New Years Eve weekend 2021. We spent about three full days in Tucson, Arizona (our home base for the trip). Here is an outline of our itinerary which you are welcome to use for yourself:
Day 1: Saguaro East National Park
We started at the Mica View Loop Trailhead/Picnic Area and followed Mica to Pink Hill. We turned right onto Lomba Verde and continued on the Cholla Trail, taking this back to Mica View. It was an easy 4-mile loop with little to no elevation. Note: This part of the national park is most photogenic and has family friendly trails. We took our time and stopped along the scenic route to take selfies and landscape photos of the Saguaros!
Day 2: Saguaro West National Park
Hugh Norris Trail to Wasson Peak. 10 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2,100 feet. The view from Wasson Peak was the most memorable place for me. The hike up was challenging and it felt like an accomplishment to finally reach the top. The panoramic view had so much dimension and variety. Note: The western section of Saguaro has more difficult trails and the Saguaros are more dense. This was our favorite part of the park!
Day 3: Mt. Lemmon, Summerhaven & Sabino Canyon
We drove up Mt. Lemmon (highest peak in the Santa Catalina mountains) and hiked through a town called Summerhaven. It was the tail end of ski season and there was no snow, so it was quiet (which we didn’t mind). I recommend taking your time to stop at the pullouts on the scenic Byway.
Summerhaven has fun restaurants and a famous cookie shop you won’t want to miss (Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin). After lunch, we drove down the mountain to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. There are many hikes to enjoy at Sabino Canyon and they are just as beautiful as the national park. We hiked Bear Canyon to Seven Falls – an 8.3 mile out and back trail.
Need to Know Before you Go
I recommend staying in Tucson. We found a cute Airbnb right downtown and loved it. You will have easy driving access to Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon. Also, you will be in a walkable location for meals, coffee shops and bars. Phoenix is only a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Tucson and Sedona is only a 2 hour drive from Phoenix. Both of these destinations are perfect stops along an Arizona road trip from Tucson!
One of the most important things to know is that Saguaro National Park has two different districts: Saguaro East and Saguaro West. They have their own entrances that are about 1 hour drive apart. Take the time to plan your hikes in advance so you can explore both districts to the fullest extent.
The summer gets hot in the desert, so winter is a great time to visit. The weather during our New Years Eve weekend was perfect (mid 60’s and full sun). If you are a hiker, I suggest scheduling your trip between October and April. Thanks for reading and enjoy your trip to Saguaro National Park!