Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

Know Before You Go, Shaka Guide's Saguaro National Park Tour



saguaro tour map

Start Planning!

You’re about to experience one of the world’s most amazing deserts, but there are a few things you should know about the tour before you get started.

  • The tour begins on Route 86 outside of Tucson.
  • Saguaro National Park has two areas, separated by the city of Tucson. This tour is for the western side, known as the Tucson Mountain District, or TMD, or Saguaro West.
  • The other side is on the east, and known as the Rincon Mountain District (RMD), or sometimes Saguaro East - the tour does not go here. 
  • The entry fee for Saguaro National Park is $20/vehicle and it’s good for 7 days on either side.
  • There are no restaurants or places to buy food in the park, so stock up on snacks beforehand. 
  • Pack plenty of water.
  • This tour takes 1-2 hours if you’re just driving. Plan to spend 4-6 hours with stops. 
  • When you’re driving, go slow: Snakes and even Gila monsters are often crossing the road or basking on it, so please, please be alert for wildlife, other cars, and pedestrians.

What to Expect

hikers in saguaro Shutterstock Image

To Get an Early Start

We recommend going as early as you can for two reasons:

  • One, the desert is cooler in the morning, meaning you’ll be more comfortable and safer on those hikes.  
  • But two, it’s also prettiest in morning light, making for great photos. There’s an increased chance of spotting wildlife as well.

To Spend 2 to 6 Hours Here

Unless you’re going to just drive through, stopping only for the briefest of selfies before heading on, you’ll want to spend some time here.

Even if you’re a non-hiker, you’ll want to allow a bit of time on some of the easier trails, as there’s a lot to see and learn.

Moderate to serious hikers will likely want to plan on a visit to Wasson Peak, the highest mountain in the TMD, and that’s a good 3 to 5 extra hours, best done early so you beat the heat.

To Be Active

There’s a lot to see here, and some of the nicest viewpoints and some of the coolest attractions require a bit of trail walking.

Wear good-fitting, comfortable shoes, and clothes that protect you from the sun, and again, bring plenty of water. 

To Drive on Paved and Unpaved Roads

Much of the roads are paved, but the Bajada Loop is on a well-graded dirt road, some of it one-way.

This means taking it slow and being especially careful to look out for animals crossing the road.

It’s not uncommon to see snakes, lizards, roadrunners, or even Gila Monsters out and about on these roads.

Some of your best wildlife encounters may be right there in front of you!

To Learn About the Desert

desert at sunrise

Part of being here means understanding how special the plants and animals are, how incredibly they’ve adapted to the harsh environment, and why it’s important to respect and protect them.

This desert ecosystem is the second most diverse in the entire world, second only to the Amazon. Incredible!

To be Wowed by the Beauty Here

There’s something indescribably beautiful about this landscape, something that nearly anyone who visits can’t help but understand.

It’s exciting to know that Shaka Guide will be here for part of your journey, and we hope you’ll tag us in some of those selfies or landscapes you post on social media. You’ll be wowed, I promise.

To be a Desert Guardian

This is a mystical, magical place with incredible biodiversity and many plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world.

It is up to us travelers to not just view the scenery, but to leave it as clean or cleaner than we found it, and to experience it in ways that do no harm and leave no trace.  

download shaka guide saguaro


Of course, a lot of the costs will depend on what you choose to do, what you want to eat, where you stay, and so on.  

But here are our estimates to help you plan:

  • Park entry: $25/car good for 7 days in either section of Saguaro National Park
  • Lunch: $10-20/person (Important: there are no restaurants inside the park. The closest is in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, just outside the park border.  Not much further is the Coyote Pause Cafe.)
  • Water: $10
  • Gifts/Souvenirs:  $20-50  (Who doesn’t like getting a stuffie, cap, or t-shirt, right?)
  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: $25/adult, $14/youth (This isn’t an official stop on the tour, but it’s highly recommended.)


desert trail

For the most part, you’ll be doing things that are fun and safe for all ages, but keep a few important things in mind:

  • Water: Bring plenty of water and drink it. Dehydration can happen long before you’re really thirsty.
  • Sun: Wear protective clothing and use sunscreen. Many of the trails have no shade.
  • Cacti: Getting poked is no joke. Wear closed-toed shoes with good soles and be careful to protect leashed pets.
  • Road hazards: Go slow at all times. Look for animals crossing. Never enter running water that’s of unknown depth or deeper than 4 inches. Check with the rangers for up-to-date closure information.
  • Animals: Keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter, for their sake and yours.
  • Pets: Leashed pets are allowed in parking areas only, and not on any of the trails. Nor are you allowed to have a pet unattended in the car, even if the motor is running.

Though many people don’t encounter problems, be aware that the desert’s biggest dangers are thirst and heat exposure.

Many people also step on cactus thorns or brush against them, leading to painful pokes.

Though unlikely, bites from snakes or insects might occur as well. An animal attack is very unlikely, but it’s possible, too.

Protect yourself by being aware of yourself and your surroundings, heed ranger warnings, and be prepared with plenty of water and sun protection.

Start Packing!

Here’s our packing list for this tour. It may seem a little long, but remember, what you bring depends on the activities you choose to do for the day.

  • Car charger 
  • Phone Car Mount
  • Sneakers/Hiking shoes
  • Hiking Clothes
  • Water Bottle (it is the desert afterall), EXTRA water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses and hat
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Snacks
  • Cash
  • Binoculars
  • Telephoto lens for camera
  • Birders should get the awesome bird checklist PDF

Shaka Guide’s Saguaro West By the Numbers

cock fighting

Let us break it down for you!  This tour features:

  • 1 Highest Peak
  • 1 Excellent Visitor Center
  • 1 Site with Petroglyphs
  • 3 Desert Hikes
  • 3 or more hours of fun
  • 5 Scenic Spots
  • 25 species of cactus
  • 30 miles/48 km covered

(Extra points if you can sing the above to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas.)

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Saguaro National Park Itinerary.

download shaka guide saguaro


The Origins of Saguaro National Park

7 Amazing Hikes in Saguaro National Park

Shaka Guide's Saguaro National Park Tour Itinerary

Things to Do in Saguaro National Park

The Ultimate Saguaro National Park Travel Guide


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