What Is Saguaro National Park?

Debra Barnhart

Named for the saguaro cactus, Saguaro National Park is located outside of Tucson, Arizona, and is home to a variety of species of plants and animals. The park was designated as a protected wilderness area in 1975 and is now managed by the US National Park Service. Visitors to the park can hike, camp, bird watch and enjoy other wildlife. Saguaro National Park is one of the largest habitats in the US for the saguaro cactus.

Park activities include bird watching.
Park activities include bird watching.

Saguaro National Park has a varied terrain, which includes the Rincon and Tucson mountains. It is also part of the Sonoran Desert, which covers major portions of Arizona and some of Mexico. The Sonoran Desert is one of the largest deserts in the US and is richly populated with wildlife.

Saguaro National Park covers part of the Sonoran Desert, one of the largest deserts in the U.S.
Saguaro National Park covers part of the Sonoran Desert, one of the largest deserts in the U.S.

In addition to the giant saguaro cactus, which is a symbol of the American West, the Saguaro National Park of over 91,000 acres has numerous varieties of plants and animals. Approximately 60 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, and 100 species of reptiles reside in the park. A nearby area is one of the only remaining habitats for jaguars in the US. Other common wildlife includes jackrabbits, quail, roadrunners and desert tortoises.

Over 70,000 acres of Saguaro National Park were designated as a wilderness area in 1976. A wilderness area is a tract of land dedicated by the US government to preserve clean water, natural habitats and endangered species. In 1994 the area achieved federal park status and is now managed by the US National Park Service.

Park activities include hiking, camping, bird watching and guided walking tours. Curriculum materials about geography, wildlife and Native American culture are available for school field trips. In winter the temperature averages about 65°F (19°C) during the day and 40°F (5°C) at night, making it a popular winter destination. Summer daytime temperatures exceed 105°F (41°C) in the shade with an average of 72°F (22deg;C) at night.

Officials of Saguaro National Park conduct a census of the saguaro cactus every ten years. This symbol of the American West is vital to the ecosystem of Saguaro National Park. The saguaro cactus is long-lived and not an endangered species. It is also not susceptible to plant disease. The biggest threat to the saguaro cactus population is the encroachment of humans as the population of Arizona expands.

Woodpeckers, purple martins, finches and even owls nest in the cactus and eat the insects that live there. Bats feed off the nectar and pollen of the saguaro flower, which is the official state flower of Arizona. Saguaro fruit was harvested by native Americans and made into jam, syrup and wine.

Many visitors to Saguaro National Park choose to go hunting.
Many visitors to Saguaro National Park choose to go hunting.

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Discussion Comments


Until you have seen a giant saguaro, you cannot imagine just how large they can get. These are the highlight of the park in my opinion, but when you go be sure to set aside enough time to visit the on-site museum when has a lot of interesting things to see.


I would like to go to Saguaro National Park for one major reason and it is not to see the saguaro cactus. I would like to see a jaguar in the wild. I did not know there was even a chance of that happening until I heard that they might be present in the park.

Of course, the park is very large, more than 91,000 acres according to this article, and a jaguar would be very difficult to find. The animal is very elusive, but I would like to get the opportunity to try to glimpse one.


Many people automatically dismiss Saguaro National Park because they wonder how beautiful and colorful can a park in the middle of the desert, and named for a cactus be. Well, contrary to what you might think of a desert environment, the landscape can be quite colorful and remarkable in the spring when all of the many local wildflowers bloom.

The flowers bloom in colors of red, blue, yellow, gold and more. Some of the scrubs and bushes in the park produce colorful blooms, too. However, you might want to call ahead to see what the park is predicting that season in terms of blooms before you plan for a spring visit.

If the area does not get the usual amounts of rain during the winter then the flowers may not be as spectacular and then you are left with a lot of brown sand and a large number of cacti.

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