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Are you planning a trip to Saguaro National Park with kids? We have you covered! From the Junior Ranger program to family friendly hikes inside Saguaro National Park, we have tips to help make your trip to Saguaro National Park with kids a success.
Saguaro National Park covers a total of 91, 445 acres and is split into two sides-the East and West. If you’re wondering if Saguaro National Park East or West is better, keep reading! Saguaro National Park was named a National Park in 1994 and it’s named for the saguaro cacti that you will spot all over the park. There are many unique desert species that live in the park. You can spot Gila monsters, desert tortoises, jack rabbits, rattlesnakes and western coral snakes, kangaroo rats and javelinas, among many others! The saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran desert and can grow over 39 feet tall!
How to get to Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts, the Tucson Mountain District on the west and the Rincon Mountain District to the east. Are you wondering which side of Saguaro National Park is better to visit? The East side larger with more mountains and hiking trails. The West side is smaller and perfect for those who only have a day to explore the park though we highly recommend seeing both sides. The West side also has a more dense saguaro forest, which is probably the reason you are visiting in the first place! We recommend 2 days set aside for the parks so that you can visit both sides of the park. It’s really hard for us to recommend one side over the other as we really enjoyed visiting both.
We suggest staying in Tucson, which has many family-friendly hotels and is a short drive to both sides of the park. You can easily fly into Tucson from many US cities.
Best time to visit Saguaro National Park
The best time to visit Saguaro National Park is going to be November to around April, when the weather is mild. In the spring, the cacti bloom and you will see beautiful spring flowers. Summers here are often in the triple digits, not ideal for exploring the park. We visited in December and the weather was perfect, 60s and felt warm. We were able to wear short sleeves during our hikes and the nice cool breeze felt great during the hikes!
Where to stay when visiting Saguaro National Park
Camping near Saguaro National Park
There are several campgrounds in the area that require permits. You can find complete list of campsites on the NPS site.
Best Family-Friendly Hotel near Saguaro National Park
There are quite a few kid-friendly hotels in Tucson to choose from when visiting Saguaro National Park with kids. We stayed at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa, which is an excellent choice for families with young kids.
Another great option is the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. Both properties have family-friendly amenities and great pool areas, making them great kid-friendly hotels in Tucson.
We stayed at the Sheraton Tucson Hotel & Suites, which has nice suites and is close to everything in town. This property was 25 minutes to both sides of the park, making it a great central location.
AirBnB near Saguaro National Park
If you prefer to rent an entire home for your trip, then AirBnB may be your best options. There are countless options in Tucson and you can get a discount on your first rental by using our AirBnB referral link.
Things to bring when visiting Saguaro National Park with kids
- Hiking Backpack: We hike quite a bit and I always have my Osprey Daylite backpack on day hikes. It’s light and fits quite a bit of stuff!
- Kid-Sized Binoculars: There are lots of things to spot in nature so don’t forget some kid sized binoculars! Milana has been using these and they’re great.
- Snacks: Our entire family loves RX bars and they’re great to take on hikes. Clean ingredients without any added junk is a plus too!
- National Parks Journal: Milana uses this National Parks Journal to document her trips. We put our passport stamp in here instead of in a separate passport booklet, so everything is nice and neat in one place.
Books for kids about Saguaro National Park and the desert
- What Do You Find on a Saguaro Cactus?
- Desert Giant: The World of the Saguaro Cactus
- Cactus Hotel
- Guess Who’s in the Desert?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
Things to do in Saguaro National Park with kids
Go on a hike! There are lots of kid-friendly hiking trails in Saguaro National Park to explore. Something to keep in mind when bringing or renting a vehicle is that a good portion of the roads inside the Western section of the park are not paved, so an SUV is probably a good idea. This is what the roads looked like for a good portion of our drive on the West side:
The East side loop is paved, and unless you turn off to one of the roads that lead to hiking trails, you’ll be on paved ground the entire time.
Best kid-friendly hikes in Saguaro National Park
Since we visited both sides of the park, I will mention hikes on both sides of the park.
- Desert Discovery Nature Trail: This will be one of the first trails you come across on the West side, after leaving the visitor’s center. It’s perfect for kids of all ages and is paved all the way around, so you can even bring a stroller. It’s a short hike, at just 0.4 miles but a great introduction to the desert landscape, with signs explaining everything about the park.
- Valley View Overlook Trail: This 0.80 mile out and back trail is located on the West side of the park. Since there are other trails where this one is, you can make your hike a bit longer if you have older kids. We coupled ours up with the Wild Dog Trail.
- Wild Dog Trail: This trail starts where Valley View does, but instead of turning left, you will continue going straight. It’s a 1.9 mile out and back trail with easy terrain.
- Mica View Loop Trail: This 3.7 mile trail is on the East side of the park. If your kids can’t handle a hike this long, you can shorten it to just 2 miles. If you’re using an app like All Trails, they won’t have this shortcut so be sure to pick up a hiking map at the visitor’s center that will tell you how you can make this a 2 mile hike. Milana is 9 so she had no issues hiking the entire thing. We even saw a jack rabbit on the trail!
- Desert Ecology Trail: Have toddlers? This is a perfect trail on the East side to let them stretch their legs. This trail is only 0.3 miles long, but paved around the entire loop. There are signs describing the desert ecosystem every 20 feet or so, so it’s a great educational experience too!
- Cactus Forest Trail: This is probably the most popular trail on the East side and while I don’t recommend doing the entire 10 miles with young kids, definitely do portions of it!
Junior Ranger Program
One of our favorite things to do when visiting a new National Park is the Junior Ranger program. Each park has their own activity book for kids to fill out, all based on the park you’re visiting. They will learn about the park and the plants and animals that live there. After they complete the activities, they will receive a Junior Ranger badge to add to their collection. Be sure to stop at any of the visitor centers to pick up your activity booklet!
Things to do in Tucson with kids
There are lots of things to do in Tucson with kids! Looking for the best playgrounds in Tucson? There are quite a few playgrounds in the city, and we visited two of them. While they don’t have the wow factor that others we have been to had, they were great to expend some energy and make new friends.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
While not in Tucson, it’s about 45 minutes away and well worth the drive. This was a huge hit with Milana! Book your tour in advance, since they book up quickly. If your kids like caves and want to visit a real one, this is the place for you. Milana learned so much on this tour, we both really enjoyed it. Keep in mind, the tour was close to 2 hours long and it’s dark and very humid inside the cave, and you aren’t allowed to touch anything. So this is best for older kids who can follow directions!
Reid Park Zoo
In the middle of Tucson, is a 24 acre zoo. Admission is only $10.50 for adults and $6.50 for kids, so we didn’t really expect much. But it was one of our favorite zoo experiences to date! We don’t visit many zoos but Milana has been asking to go for over a year so we decided to try it. The animals here are very active and you can see them up close. If your kids want to see some animals, this is a great little zoo to visit. After the zoo, you can walk around Reid Park and check out the playgrounds.
Where to eat in Tucson with kids
Milana loves cheese boards and bruschetta, so when I stumbled upon a restaurant that serves both, I knew we had to try it! We had the bruschetta board and chose 4 different ones. We also got the pub board, which was really good! They have a nice outdoor patio for dining which is perfect when traveling to Tucson with kids.
Do you like salads? Then this place is for you! When you walk in, there are build your own salad forms where you select your toppings and dressing. I had a salad and Milana had a sandwich with broccoli cheese soup, her favorite. It’s a great place to grab a quick lunch!
Street-Taco & Beer Company
Just like SoCal, Arizona has tons of awesome taco restaurants. We asked locals for recommendations, and several recommended this place. Located in downtown, you can expect big lines during peak lunch hours! They have amazing street tacos, with several meat and fish options. We couldn’t decided so we got one of each to try. You can have your taco topped two ways here, which we thought was cool. First, the traditional cilantro and onions that we have at home in SoCal. The other is the gringo way, with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. We chose that for something different and it was great! Definitely check this place out if you’re looking for great tacos in Tucson.
I was so happy to find a real Polish restaurant in Tucson! I grew up in Poland and of course love the food. Milana loves Polish food as well, so we decided to go for dinner one day. Try the pickle soup! Sounds weird but it’s a Polish staple. Theirs was really good, but not as good as my mama’s. Milana chose the gołąbki (stuffed cabbage) for her meal and I had kiełbasa. We really enjoyed our meal here!
If you’re looking for a great kid-friendly breakfast spot, then try the Baja Cafe! The food here is really good and they have a wide variety of pancakes to choose from. Try the lemon blueberry ones, you won’t be disappointed!
We love Indian food and always attempt to try it wherever we are visiting. This one was really good and definitely lived up to the reviews! Milana and I shared some chicken tikka masala and garlic naan, which was some of the best naan we’ve had.
The Screamery HandCrafted Ice Cream
Looking for the best dessert in Tucson? This place won’t disappoint! They have an extensive selection of flavors, which makes it hard to choose. But don’t worry-they have a flight option where you can sample 6 flavors, which is what we did. All were excellent however I loved the gooey butter cake one the most and Milana loved the blueberry cheesecake.
We hope this guide has helped you plan your trip to Tucson and Saguaro National Park with kids. Planning trips to other National Parks with kids? Check out all of our National Park guides to help plan your trip!