Saguaro National Park is a desert garden sprinkled with too many towering giant saguaro cactus to count. To the east, these cactus are set against the backdrop of the Rincon Mountains, creating scenery just waiting to be photographed.
This national park is split into an east and west portion, separated by the city of Tucson. Both regions have drive-able scenic loops, although the west’s scenic loop was not paved at the time of our visit. We visited this park in an RV, so elected to avoid the unpaved road. But if you are visiting in a car, I hear both sides are well worth the visit.
Most of the park is off-limits to dogs, but there are some notable exceptions.
At Saguaro East:
When we entered the park and asked about dog-friendly hiking options, two spots were recommended. The Mica View Road is said to provide a trail-like 1.5 mile loop through the cactus. Unfortunately, while we were visiting, this road was under construction.
A second option was the Desert Ecology trail, which is a paved 0.25 mile trail.
Although not one of the options recommend by the ranger we spoke with, dogs can also walk the paved Cactus Forest loop. There was a fair amount of traffic on this road however, so be safe if electing to walk on the road. We ended up driving the Cactus Forest loop. It was a very hot day. We ended up not being too disappointed about the closed Mica View road, as the dogs were fatiguing fast in the heat.
At Saguaro West:
The unpaved Bajada Loop Drive is reported as dog-friendly. There is also a 0.5 mile paved Desert Discovery trail that allows dogs.
The official NPS site also has a great guide to other dog-friendly options in the area. Check out their pet policy page for the link.
If hiking with dogs in this region, remember to be aware of the desert environment. Bring plenty of water and try to hike during cooler times of the day (morning and evening). Watch for rattlesnakes and keep your dog away from the cactus.
Saguaro is another national park that does not have a front-country campground. No vehicle camping is allowed in the park, although backpacking permits can be obtained.
Luckily there are plenty of good camping options nearby, including the lovely Catalina State Park (see next section).
Activities in the Surrounding Areas
While we enjoyed our visit to Saguaro National Park, we loved our stay at Catalina State Park. The campground was lovely with hook-ups (if desired) and clean showers! But best of all was the scenery and great trail system. Honestly this trail system was one of the best state park trail systems we encountered on our trip.
Check out the list of trails here. And all of them allow leashed dogs. We spent an extra day at this park just to enjoy some extra desert hiking near plenty of giant Saguaro cactus.
During our stay, we made it to the Romero Ruins trail, which was wonderful. There was even some wildlife along this route. This included a coyote that was visible to the side of the trail for part of the walk. The Canyon Loop trail was another wonderful place to explore. We started on the Romero side, which had very little shade. And ended on the Sutherland trail, which had a river bed with a small amount of water left in May. This allowed the dogs to take a dip in the water and cool off. The Bridle Path was a simple trail that connected the campground to the some of the other trails. And we only had time to explore a small portion of the 50 year trail, but it is a nice long trail.
There were many other hikers, several of which also had dogs, enjoying the trails on the weekend. This meant the trails were full, but not overly crowded. The 50 year trail also had a fair number of mountain bikers, so make sure you are aware of other trail users when walking dogs on this trail.
We really enjoyed our time spent near Tucson. Although Saguaro did not have a lot of dog-friendly space, there was plenty to do with dogs in the surrounding area.
Do you have a favorite dog-friendly spot in Tucson, Saguaro, or the surrounding area? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to read about a different national park? Visit our National Parks Adventures page and find our national park blog posts there.