17 Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park for Families

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Named after the giant Saguaro cacti found only in this region, this national park is a great spot for a family hiking trip. It bookends the Arizona city of Tuscon in the heart of the Sonoran Desert so it’s an easy place to reach and there are a ton of accommodation options.

Plus, almost all the best hikes in Saguaro National Park are kid-friendly!

They boast scenic desert landscapes with an abundance of Saguaro cactus plants, petroglyphs, and lime kilns. Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps paving the roads in the early 20th century, it’s fairly accessible too.

If you have two days to spend here, split them between the eastern Rincon Mountain District and the western Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. Both the separate sections have beautiful scenery and miles of trails. Visiting for only one day won’t be enough!

This guide breaks down everything you need to know about the best hikes in Saguaro National Park for kids. You’ll find recommendations for older and younger kids plus info on amenities so you can have a fun, safe, and memorable hiking trip in Arizona.

three kids next to the Saguaro National Park sign in ArizonaPin
my crew in Saguaro NP

Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park for Families: Interactive Map

Below you’ll find an interactive map that highlights each of the trail recommendations made in this article. You’ll be able to see the relative distance to hikes, as well as other park highlights like visitor centers, etc.

How to Use This Map:

Click on any of the trail recommendations marked with the bed icon in this color. A popup will open discussing the hike in greater detail.

Clicking the star next to the name of the map will save the map to your google account. To access it later on a computer or your smartphone, open google maps and select “Your Places”.

Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park for Younger Kids

1. Cactus Garden

  • Distance: 0.1-mile paved loop trail (approx. 5 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • District: Tuscon Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Red Hills Visitor Center Parking Lot

Okay, so this isn’t technically a hike. But strolling around the Cactus Garden is a great way for new parents taking toddlers to their first national park to gain confidence before trying a longer trail. It’s easily one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park for young kids with short legs and even shorter attention spans.

family on the Cactus Garden Trail at the Red Hills Visitor Center, Saguaro National Park, ArizonaPin
this short, paved walkway is next to the Red Hills Visitor Center

The Cactus Garden is a pathway next to the Red Hills Visitor Center, which all families should check out. It’s a paved walkway and there’s no elevation change. There are educational signs to teach your family about the interesting flora and fauna that lives along the trail.

To extend your walk into more of a “hike” (though still easy/flat/short), take the Javelina Wash Trail AKA Visitor Center Trail (I’ve seen it labeled both), which is a 600 yard, unpaved (but also flat) loop which starts at one end of the Red Hills Visitor Center, and spits you out at the other end.

2. Desert Discovery Nature Trail

  • Distance: 0.3-mile loop trail (approx. 10 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • District: Tuscon Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Desert Discovery Nature Trail Parking Lot

The Desert Discovery Nature Trail is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park for little kids and those with extra accessibility needs. It’s located just off the North Kinney Road on the west side of the park.

Expect only 16 ft of elevation change and a completely paved road. There are interpretive signs of the desert plants and animals and, despite the limited parking, there is an accessible spot.

three children along the Desert Discovery Nature Trail in Saguaro National Park, AZPin
view along the Desert Discovery Nature Trail

3. Desert Ecology Trail

  • Distance: 0.3-mile loop trail (approx. 10 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Desert Ecology Trailhead

The Desert Ecology Trail is similar to the Discovery Nature Trail except that it’s on the east side. You’ll find a variety of cacti lining the trail with interpretive signs and a paved path with less than 10ft of elevation change.

This short trail is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park for strollers and folks with limited mobility.

Desert Ecology trailhead, Saguaro National Park, AZPin
Desert Ecology Trailhead (Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

4. Signal Hill Trail

  • Distance: 0.3-mile loop trail (approx. 10 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • District: Tucson Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Signal Hill Trailhead

One of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park is the Signal Hill Trail. It’s an easy trail (though it does have a bit of an incline) and the scenery here will make that park entrance fee worth it.

The trailhead is at the Signal Hill picnic area. There’s limited parking but there are bathrooms. This loop trail only has 26 ft of elevation change and takes you past the fascinating Signal Hill petroglyphs. There are around 200 prehistoric Native American rock carvings to find here!

petroglyphs in Saguaro National ParkPin
there are many incredible petroglyphs to spot on the short Signal Hill trail

If your kids are handling the hike well, you could continue your hike around Signal Hill via the Cactus Wren, Stock Bypass, and Manville Trails. There are many short paths and turn-offs in this area so keep an eye on signposts to know which one you’re following!

5. Valley View Overlook Trail

  • Distance: 0.8-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 20 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • District: Tucson Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Valley View Overlook Trailhead

All the best hikes have a beautiful waterfall, cave, or view at the end of the trail. So, hiking the Valley View Overlook Trail is a can’t-miss! It’s a fairly level trail with only 50 ft of elevation change that ends with a vista of Avra Valley and Picacho Peak.

There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead just off Hohokam Road near the Hugh Norris Trail.

landscape with blue skies in Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZPin

6. Freeman Homestead Nature Trail

  • Distance: 1-mile lollipop trail (approx. 30 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Freeman Homestead Trailhead

Freeman Homestead Nature Trail is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park thanks to the information boards with activities for children to complete en route. With 120 feet of elevation gain, it’s steeper than other hikes but very short.

There are no amenities and only a small parking lot but you’re only a one-minute drive from the Javelina picnic area. There’s more parking and bathrooms here.

family in front of a Saguaro cactus on the Javelina Wash Trail, Saguaro National Park, ArizonaPin
So many huge saguaros to see in this park! This one is not on the Freeman Homestead Nature Trail, but there are plenty to see on that trail, too!

7. Mica View – Cactus Forest Trail

  • Distance: 2-mile loop trail (approx. 30 – 40 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Mica View Picnic Area

Mica View Trail is one of the most accessible trails in the park and a favorite trail for local dog owners. Like the shorter Desert Discovery Nature and Desert Ecology Trails, it’s an interpretive trail with informational cards about local plant life and wildlife and a partially paved path. You can also see old 19th-century lime kilns used to build adobe houses.

Team the Mica View Trail with Cactus Forest Trail and a tiny section of Javelina Wash Trail (not to be confused with the Javelina Wash Trail in the west end of the park near the Red Hills Visitor Center) and this is a looped, easy hike with only 72 ft elevation gain. There are also bathrooms in the parking lot.

No wonder this is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park!

park ranger standing next to a mature saguaro cactus along the Cactus Forest Trail in Saguaro NP, AZPin
Park Ranger standing next to a mature Saguaro along the Cactus Forest Trail (brewbooks from near Seattle, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

8. Wild Dog Trail

  • Distance: 1.9-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 45 – 60 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • District: Tuscon Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Valley View Overlook Trailhead or Signal Hill Trailhead

This trail is a little more rugged than other trails (the clue is in the name!) but it’s still a good hike for younger kids who know to be careful of cacti prickles.

The path is narrow but the Saguaro cacti are tall and you’ll feel like you’re in the wilderness. This hike has around 183 ft of elevation gain, but it’s gradual. The best place to start this hike is at Valley View Overlook Trailhead.

There’s a very short, paved road between Signal Hill Trailhead and the start of the Wild Dog Trail so that’s also an option. It’s a bigger parking lot with bathrooms.

saguaro cacti at sunsetPin
Saguaro cacti at sunset (not along the Wild Dog Trail, but the landscape is not unlike what you’ll see there)

9. Gould Mine Trail

  • Distance: 2.4-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 45 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • District: Tucson Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: King Canyon Trailhead

Most of the beautiful hikes in Saguaro NP are surrounded by desert plants and mountain views, but the Gould Mine Trail offers something different. You can walk past an old copper mine (no, they didn’t spell ‘gold’ wrong!) which closed in 1954.

It’s a little steep with a 222 ft elevation gain but short enough that kids in elementary school should manage. If this hiking trail is too easy for your older kids, you can turn it into a loop with King’s Canyon Trail.

best hikes in Saguaro National Park: view along the gould mine trailPin
view along the Gould Mine Trail

10. Garwood Trail

  • Distance: 3.4-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 60 – 90 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Moderate (because of distance and a bit of elevation)
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Douglas Spring Trailhead

Garwood Trail is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park, ending at the earthen Garwood Dam. You’ll end up walking a little further than 3.4 miles to reach the dam, but it’s worth it.

It has 210 ft of elevation change so it’s a more strenuous hike but achievable for most middle schoolers. There’s a small covered picnic area next to the parking lot too.

lone saguaro cactus at sunsetPin
this pic is not along the Garwood Trail, but it’s such a great example of the beautiful colors you’ll see at the beginning and end of your days in the Sonoran desert

11. King Canyon Wash Trail

  • Distance: 2-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 50 – 60 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Tucson Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: King Canyon Trailhead

King Canyon Trail is one of the great hikes of Saguaro NP, ending on Wasson Peak. This is the highest point in the national park, but it may be too strenuous for young kids.

That said, this was one of our family’s favorite hikes in the park (mine were 9, 11 and 13 at the time, and they did great). There are a few places the kids can scramble up rocks, which is always fun, and the view around this valley is quintessential Saguaro NP.

best hikes in Saguaro National Park: girl jumping on a the King Canyon TrailPin
Jumping for joy on the King Canyon Trail

Walk as far as the Mam-A-Gah Picnic Area and you’ll still be able to see the dry washes and petroglyphs on the rock faces here. It’s a high-trafficked trail so you’ll most likely see other people admiring the rock paintings before you arrive.

best hikes in Saguaro National Park: family sitting on some rocks along the King Canyon TrailPin
along the King Canyon Trail (we are only about 4′ max off the ground right here, to give you an idea of the terrain)

It has a 259 ft elevation change, but at least you and your kids can see the petroglyphs and take a break before heading back.

There’s a large parking lot and this trailhead is across the road from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, so bathrooms are nearby too.

Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park for Older Kids

12. Tanque Verde Falls Trail

  • Distance: 1.9-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 60 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Tanque Verde Falls Lower Trailhead

While the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is one of the most popular day hikes in Saguaro NP, it’s a little too much for most kids at 11 miles long. However, the Tanque Verde Falls Trail is perfect for older kids.

This beautiful pass is fairly steep with an elevation gain of 462 ft. Most of that is on one hill, but the gushing waterfall at the end will all be worth it. Visit in December or January when the winter rainfall is highest. There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead.

view along the Tanque Verde Falls trail, Saguaro NPPin
Tanque Verde Falls Trail

13. Cactus Wren Trail

  • Distance: 3.9-mile loop trail (approx. 75 – 90 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Tucson Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Cactus Wren Trailhead OR Signal Hill Trailhead

Cactus Wren Train might be one of the longer hikes on this list, it only has 20 ft of elevation. It’s ideal for kids (and parents) who enjoy walking in nature without breaking a sweat! This trail loops around the base of Union Peak but if you don’t have much time, you can walk only as far as Signal Hill before turning back.

There’s very little parking at the Cactus Wren Trailhead and it’s off-road, not a parking lot. You might prefer to park at Signal Hill Trailhead and start the loop from there. Either way, it’s one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park if you have older kids who are hiking newbies.

cactus wren sits on top of a saguaro cactusPin
Not a picture of the trail, but it is the trail’s namesake! Here a cactus wren sits atop a saguaro.

14. Loma Verde Loop Trail

  • Distance: 3.7-mile loop trail (approx. 75 – 90 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Loma Verde Trailhead

This might be listed as a moderate trail, but with only 157 ft of elevation change, pre-teen kids should be able to handle the Loma Verde Trail. On its own, this is an out-and-back trail but team it with the Squeeze Pin Trail then it’s a more interesting loop.

Much of the path continues uneven rock slabs which is why you might have a hard time with little kids. Otherwise, it’s one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park with some very tall cacti to check out!

large saguaro cacti at sunset in the Sonoran DesertPin
If your family wants to spot some particularly large saguaros, the Loma Verde trail is a great place to see some! (The ones in this pic aren’t on that trail, but are also really tall!)

15. Packrat and Passey Loop Trail

  • Distance: 3.1-mile loop trail (approx. 75 – 90 minutes)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Tuscon Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Scenic Drive Trailhead

One of the northernmost trails on the west side of the park, you can extend the Packrat Trail by continuing onto the Passey Trail and turning it into a loop. This is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park for views over the entire Tuscon Mountain range.

To see those amazing views, the path will increase in elevation by 348 ft, but at least you can reap the rewards! There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead which you can reach from outside the national park.

landscape full of saguaro cactiPin
landscape full of saguaro cacti (NOT along this particular trail, but beautiful nonetheless!)

16. Sendero Esperanza Trail

  • Distance: 5.4-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 2.5 – 3 hours)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Tucson Mountains (West)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Sendero Esperanza Trailhead

Sendero Esperanza Trail is one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park for teens. It traverses along the base of Wassan Peak so there’s no steep hill climbing, although there is a total 489 ft elevation gain across the whole trail.

It’s a fairly level path and can be narrow in parts, but it will offer the desert adventure you’re looking for in Arizona. Take a break at the Mam-A-Gah picnic area before heading back, and you’ll also be able to check out the Kings Canyon petroglyphs if you walk a little further.

Sendero Esperanza Trailhead has a large parking lot and bathrooms which is always a welcome bonus!

group of people wandering along the Sendero Esperanza Trail, Saguaro NPPin
Group enjoying the Sendero Esperanza Trail (Aaron Jacobs from Sydney, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

17. Bridal Wreath Falls Trail

  • Distance: 5.7-mile out-and-back trail (approx. 2.5 – 3 hours)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • District: Rincon Mountains (East)
  • Trailhead/Parking: Douglas Spring Trailhead

This can be a tough hike with a 1,060 ft elevation gain, but it’s hands-down one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park. You and your kids will be glad you made the effort! Bridal Wreath Falls is a series of seven cascading waterfalls that are absolutely magical after heavy rain (but could also end up being nothing more than a trickle if you go during a dry spell).

Bridal Wreath Falls Trail is fairly short, so you’ll walk along Douglas Spring Trail most of the way until you see a sign for the falls. The trailhead only has a small parking lot and it’s a popular trail so get there early!

waterfall with large cactus atop falls, Saguaro NPPin
the best time to Bridal Wreath Falls is after a rain so there’s a better chance you’ll see a waterfall rather than a paltry trickle

Tips for Families Trekking the Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park

  • Be Aware of Wildlife – Mountain lions are indigenous to Saguaro National Park it’s still a prime habitat. The park is also home to many reptile animal species (some of which are poisonous). Stick to the path, wear bright colors, and keep your kids close.
  • Don’t Miss the Scenic Drives – Many of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park are located off some epic scenic drives. Check out Cactus Scenic Forest Loop Drive in Saguaro East and the Bajada Loop Drive in Saguaro West.
  • Visit in Cooler Months – If you’ve never visited Arizona, you might underestimate how unbearably hot it gets during the summer. Temperatures regularly exceed triple digits. The best time of year to visit is between October to April. It’s one of the best places in the United States for winter sun!
  • Stop by a Visitor Center – It’s always good practice to stop by the Red Hills Visitor Center in the West or the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center near the park entrance in the East on your first day. Park rangers can inform you about weather conditions, animal sightings, and the Junior Ranger Program.
  • Bring Sun Protection and Water – Saguaro, on the whole has VERY little shade. Wear large brimmed sun hats with SPF, and slather on the sunscreen. Bring Camelbaks or large water bottles on every trek whether short or long!
family at Saguaro National Park with large cacti in backgroundPin
Have a WONDERFUL trip to Saguaro National Park!!

Pin these best hikes in Saguaro National Park for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

2 thoughts on “17 Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park for Families”

  1. Great hiking suggestions, Heather! I’m delighted to be featuring your post this week at Tuesday Turn About!

    Reply

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