Saguaro National Park#3 in Best Things To Do in Tucson
This 91,327-acre park pays tribute to the infamous saguaro (pronounced sa-WAH-ro) cactus, a common symbol of the American West. It's divided into two districts: The Rincon Mountain District, about 13 miles east of downtown, and the Tucson Mountain District, about 23 miles west of downtown. Each section features a visitor center, miles of hiking trails and, of course, hundreds of towering saguaro cacti.
Deemed a national treasure by recent visitors, this park is the perfect place to come if you want to see some iconic southwestern landscapes. Although both sections of the park are worth your time, many recent visitors recommend the Tucson Mountain District over the Rincon Mountain area for its spectacular sunsets. Reviewers also noted that fall and spring are the best times to visit the park as the summer's heat can get quite unbearable, with temperatures climbing into the triple digits. If you're visiting in the summer, get to the park in the morning before the sun's rays get too strong. Not in the mood to hike? The Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is a paved road that features several trailheads, scenic vistas and pullouts. You can purchase a guide to the natural and cultural history of the Cactus Forest Loop Drive for $2 at the visitor center.
Saguaro National Park is open every day from 7 a.m. to sunset, and both visitor centers are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can walk or bike into the park 24 hours a day. A $15 entrance fee, which is valid for a week and includes both the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District, is required for each car. Those who enter on foot or by bike pay $5. Teens and children 15 and younger enter for free. You can learn more about this park's trails and safety tips for visiting at the National Park Service website.
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#1 Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Although it's called a museum, this facility – about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson – is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you'll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's 98 acres host 230 animal species – including prairie dogs, coyotes and a mountain lion – and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum's trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life. And if you feel hungry after your leisurely hike, you can enjoy a meal at one of the museum's four eateries, all of which have great views of the surrounding desert.
Recent visitors enjoyed their time at the museum and highly recommended future travelers set aside a few hours to explore the attraction's grounds and educational exhibits. Just make sure you come prepared: wear appropriate walking shoes, sun protection and sunscreen (though, if you forget your sunscreen, there are dispensers in the on-site bathrooms). Reviewers also advised stopping by in the morning or near closing as that's when the animals are most active. Aside from the flora and fauna, visitors also praised the knowledgeable docents.
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