Red Hills Visitor Center fast facts
|Description||Home to the nation’s largest cacti, Saguaro National Park is a national treasure filled with thousands of towering saguaros. The city of Tucson bisects the park into two parts, an East and West. In the West park, the Red Hills Visitor Center is the gateway to starting your visit in the nearby majestic cactus forest.|
|Hours of Operation||Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except closed on Christmas)|
|Admission||$25 per vehicle (weekly pass) or the America the Beautiful Pass is accepted. (pricing subject to change)|
|Current conditions & Closures||NPS.gov|
|Address||2700 N Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743.|
Things to do at the Saguaro National Park West Visitor Center (aka Red Hills Visitor Center)
- Enjoy the view of the saguaros from the patio area
- Learn about the local wildlife and history of the area with a multitude of exhibits
- Watch the 15-minute program called “Voices of the Desert”
- Pick up a keepsake at their well-stocked gift shop
- Peruse the bookstore run by the Western National Parks Association
- Gain insider tips & tricks from knowledgeable park rangers
- Listen to a ranger led talk about the area during the winter months. Call ahead for availability.
- Take a drive through the nearby Bajada Loop drive
Our experience at Saguaro National Park (West)
We arrived at the visitor center in the late afternoon on a Friday in October. There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot and one other couple wandering around the grounds.
The back porch area of the visitor center has great views of the hillsides covered with saguaros. You can also read about the history of the area on their multiple sign boards. As we were low on time, we didn’t get the chance to view the natural history exhibits inside the cultural center (a good excuse to go back!), but we did get the opportunity to speak with the local park rangers. They graciously provided some valuable information and tips about visiting the park in the short time we had available.
The rangers recommended we complete the Bajada Loop which was only a 0.5-mile drive from the visitor center. They also recommended we stop and complete the short hike up the Valley View Overlook trail (0.6 miles round trip) and see the petroglyphs at Signal Hill (0.2 miles round trip).
Bajada Loop Drive
After our quick stop at the visitor center, we took the rangers advice and drove to the start of the scenic loop. We were assured a sedan could make the trek on the hard packed dirt/rocky road. The ranger did describe a place along the one-way stretch that was “uphill and pockmarked.” Unfortunately, we didn’t take a video of the worst part of the road, but you can see a sample of the better part of the road here.
While we didn’t have any major issues on the road, our car did need a good washing afterwards and it was far bumpier than we were expecting. We’re pretty sure the front emblem on our car was loosened so much that it fell out either there or shortly thereafter on the freeway (we’ll never know).
Unless it has recently rained, you should be fine taking a sedan on the road, just go slow and watch out for rocks that look sharp. If you have a truck or a jeep, you’ll have a blast.
Valley View Overlook trail
Along the Bajada Loop are two points of interest worth checking out. One is the Valley View Overlook trail. You’ll find this 0.6-mile round trip trail at the end of the one-way portion of the Bajada Loop. The well-established trail winds through the saguaro forest and up a small hill before arriving at a beautiful view of the Tucson valley. Along the trail are multiple information markers and a bench awaits those who reach the summit.
Signal Hill Petroglyphs
Another stop along the Bajada Loop is the Signal Hill Petroglyphs. This short trail is only 0.2 miles round trip. The site has over 200 prehistoric Native American petrographs which can be viewed along the trail. It’s worth a stop if you’re already on the loop.
Attractions in the Saguaro National Park West
- Bajada Loop Drive
- Hike the Valley View Overlook trail
- Hike up the Signal Hill trail to view the petroglyphs
- Visit the Red Hills Visitor Center
- Explore the Desert Discovery Nature trail
- Search for the largest saguaro you can find
- Hike the Hugh Norris trail
- Visit the nearby Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (just outside the park)
- Enjoy a ranger-lead talk in the garden at the Red Hills Visitor Center
- Stay to watch the sunset at Gates Pass (the end of the Speedway Blvd) – keep in mind the road closes immediately after sunset.
Should you visit Saguaro National Park (West)?
Rating: 4.0 Mooses
What we liked
- We enjoyed the visitor center, though we would have liked more time to thoroughly check out the exhibits and watch the “Voices of the Desert” program.
- The views of the saguaros from the west side of the park were breathtaking. We’ve been to both sides of the park and far prefer the west.
- The rangers were extremely helpful in giving tips about the area.
What we didn’t like
- It was pretty hot the day we were there and we wished we had been able to go when the temperatures were cooler.
- The Bajada Loop drive was beautiful, but the road wasn’t great and we didn’t like taking our car on it. We’re pretty sure the rough ground shook loose the emblem from the front of the car as it fell off sometime during or just after our trip there. Those things are not cheap to replace!
Verdict: This is a great national park to stop for a quick visit if you’re passing through Tucson. We recommend allotting around 3 – 4 hours to properly see the west side of the park and at least one day if you’re planning on seeing the East and West sides of the park.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Saguaro National Park West
What is the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center (West) called?
The visitor center is officially called the Red Hills Visitor Center.
What is the Saguaro National Park West Visitor Center address?
The Red Hills Visitor Center is located at 2700 N Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743.
Should I visit Saguaro National Park East or West?
If you’re short on time, we recommend visiting Saguaro National Park West. The Park is easily accessible from I-15, contains the Red Hills visitor center and boasts the scenic Bajada Loop. The saguaros are more densely packed on the west side of the park and set within the Tucson Mountain Range adding to their beauty.
How many days do you need in Saguaro National Park?
One day is enough to see both sides of Saguaro National Park unless you’re planning on some of the longer hikes.
How do you pronounce Saguaro?
The proper pronunciation of saguaro is: “sa-WAH-roh”.
When is the best time to visit Saguaro National Park?
The Park is busy year-round as many of the activities are short walks or scenic drives, making this an ideal national park to visit anytime. However, we recommend visiting the park between October and April. The cooler temperatures make this time ideal for hikers and anybody else hoping to avoid 100-degree temperatures.
How much does it cost to get into Saguaro National Park?
Vehicle permits are available for $25 (for a week), or the America the Beautiful Pass is also accepted. You may also purchase a permit for a bicycle or arriving on foot as an individual permit for $10.
What is parking like at Saguaro National Park West?
There is plenty of parking available at the visitor center along with several larger spots for a bus or larger camper van.