East or West Saguaro National Park – Which Should You Visit?

West Side Sign of Saguaro

Having just traveled to Saguaro National Park for the first time in 2018, I had no idea the park was split in 2 (East and West). One of the biggest choices was which side to see first. We only had a day and a half. 

I heard before that it was desert setting, so my expectations weren’t really high. I am usually not a big fan of the desert since there is very little shade to be had and playing around in sand makes me thirsty. Saguaro is different, this desert is alive with so much going on around it.

The cactus is known for its towering arms. However, the hills and trails are fun to explore. We went in December, so it wasn’t that warm (I actually needed a sweater).


Saguaro is the only national park that has a city right in between it. Established in 1994, there was an effort earlier in the century to preserve the location as a monument because ranchers and settlers in the area were decimating the Saguaro cactus through road building and cattle trampling the seeds, preventing their replenishment. 

Since becoming a national park, this unique location provides a unique perspective into desert landscape of Arizona, with mountains at its east called the Rincon.


The biggest difference between the east and the west portions of the park are the different mountain districts (Tucson and Rincon). Both sides of the park have a loop drive but the West (Tucson) side has unpaved roads that lead around it.


We traveled here the first day. The Bajada Loop drive is a five mile loop unpaved road that leads to some great trails with views of the valley. 

I am referring to the area near Signal Hill which has some great picnic spots and petroglyphs.

The Desert Discovery Trail is a fun walkable and paved trail. It doesn’t take very long to walk it but if you are traveling with small kids, elderly or a pet, this may be one of the few area trails that you can traverse during the visit to this National Park.

Since there are no pay fee booths in the east, you’ll have to go to the Red Hills Visitor Center to pick up your pass.

The weather during December can change relatively quickly. This day in the picture above started with sunshine and large clouds, however, it wasn’t long before darker clouds covered the area and rain started pouring down. Many washes along trails hold potential flash flood dangers when rain comes, so you’ll want to be prepared in case rains come.Enter your text here...


On the second day, after a great stay at a local hotel, my family visited the East Side. Because so much rain poured the previous day, the weather was cold enough to snow on the upper elevation of the Rincon Mountains.

Tucson East - Rincon Mts

The east has a nice loop drive. While I think there is quite a bit of land there, it's mainly mountainous. You can also see some of the neighborhoods nearby. I guess it wouldn't be a bad place to live, right up against a national park. There are little hills on the road and it's not that wide so make sure to lookout for people walking or riding their bikes.