An absolutely beautiful place, Saguaro National Park is a must-visit location for cacti fanatics and can be a lot of fun for anyone who loves beautiful plants, amazing views, and spending time in the great outdoors.
As with any national park, we feel the best way to experience this place is by visiting in a van or RV so you can fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the place. That said, there are some things you’ll want to know before you set out to do some Saguaro National Park camping.
In this article, we will help you understand the ins and outs of visiting this amazing national park in a van. That way, you can head into your trip knowing what to expect and ensure your getaway goes off without a hitch.
Can You Go Van Camping at Saguaro National Park?
First, let’s answer that burning question: Is Saguaro National Park camping actually a thing? Can you even park an RV in Saguaro National Park?
Technically, the answer to this is no. There is, unfortunately no RV or van camping inside Saguaro National Park. There are places where tent camping is allowed, but vehicles cannot reach these sites. Since you have a van and probably aren’t looking to tent camp, these campsites won’t be very useful to you.
The good news? You can actually park right outside of Saguaro National Park. This is wonderful because you can still get some great views of the magnificent cacti out your window while staying in the comfort of your home on wheels.
Camping Near Saguaro National Park
Wondering where you should go to do some Saguaro National Park camping? You actually have several options! Below are some of our favorite camping spots near the park:
Snyder Hill BLM
Snyder Hill BLM is the place to go for free dry camping. It isn’t glamorous by any means, and there are no amenities whatsoever. That said, it is right outside of the park, there are cacti all around, and the other campers are generally friendly. Besides, it’s free!
Gilbert Ray Campground
If you’re on a budget but want some creature comforts, you might want to head over to Gilbert Ray Campground. This is as close as you can get to the national park when it comes to RV or van camping, and the nightly fee is very reasonable. Families are welcome, water and electricity are available, and the views can’t be beat.
Mission View RV Resort
Finally, for those looking to do some glamping, there is Mission View RV Resort. This one is a little further out, but some find it’s worth the drive for full hookups and a whole host of other amenities. Unfortunately, like so many other RV parks in the area, this is an ages 55+ resort, meaning you won’t be able to bring the kids if you plan on camping here.
When to Experience Saguaro National Park Camping
In our opinion, winter is the best time to see Saguaro National Park. While you will have to be sure to book campsites early during this time, you will also be treated to lovely sunny days and a nice escape from the cold and snowy weather you may be having back home. Just be aware that Saguaro does sometimes get chilly during the winter and nights will always be cold.
Spring is also nice in Saguaro National Park. Temperatures are usually mild during this time, and the wildflowers are in full bloom, giving the park lots of colors. This is the ideal time to be boondocking near Saguaro, as the night temperatures are still cool, but a heater isn’t usually needed.
Summertime in Saguaro National Park is hot. It’s also the monsoon season, as well as the tourist season. Therefore, we recommend avoiding visiting during this time of year if possible.
Lastly, there is the fall. While the months of October and November are slightly cooler than the summer months, it is still quite hot in the fall in Saguaro, and very little will be blooming.
What to Do in Saguaro National Park
Once you get to Saguaro National Park, you will need to know what to do to fill your time. Honestly, there are tons of amazing things to see and do in this park. Below, we will list some of our favorites for you to choose from.
Check Out the Visitor Centers
There are two visitor centers in the park. The Red Hills Visitor Center is located on the west side of the park and the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center is on the east side of the park. Both centers offer awesome videos, exhibits, and ranger talks, and both are well worth visiting.
Cruise the Bajada Loop Drive
From the Red Hills Visitor Center, be sure to hop on the Bajada Loop Drive. This is a well-maintained dirt road that takes you through the cactus forests. There are many pull-offs, scenic areas, and picnic areas along the way.
Walk the Desert Discovery Trail
One of our favorite stops on the Bajada Loop Drive is the Desert Discovery Trail. This is actually more of an easy sidewalk stroll than an honest-to-goodness trail, but it offers tons of information on the plants and animals that make themselves at home in this desert environment. It’s the perfect nature walk for kids.
See the Signal Hill Petroglyphs
Another cool spot to stop on the Bajada Loop is the Signal Hill Petroglyphs. You will have to take a short hike to see these, but it is worth your time. You’ll get to see art that was drawn by the Hohokam people over 800 years ago.
Cruise the Cactus Forest Loop Drive
When you’re on the other side of the park, be sure to check out the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. This is a one-way loop through even more amazing cacti, and you will get a whole new set of gorgeous views while driving it.
Walk the Desert Ecology Trail
While driving the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, we highly recommend a stop at the Desert Ecology Trail. This is another super easy walk through some cacti and other native plants. There is signage to give you information along the way, and we found it was a great option for both our 11-year-old and our toddler.
Take a Short Hike
Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long enough to check out any of the true hiking trails in the park. We plan to return, though, because many of these trails looked fantastic. If you can, try to hit up the short-and-sweet Valley View Trail—or if you’re feeling more adventurous, you might check out the Loma Verde Trail or Wasson Peak Hike.
Dining and Shopping Near Saguaro National Park
Forget to bring something from home while doing some Saguaro National Park camping? Not to worry, the park is just outside of the city of Tucson, making it easy to find a Walmart or a grocery store and pick up just about anything you need.
There are also plenty of dining options around. These include El Taco Rustico, Rollies Mexican Patio, Bobo’s (yummy breakfast food), and more!
Your experiences, tips, and favorite spots are invaluable to fellow travelers. Have you visited Saguaro National Park? Share your stories in the comments below, and let us know your favorite trails, views, and camping spots. Your insights not only enrich our community but also help others plan their perfect Saguaro adventure. Join the conversation and be a part of this vibrant community of nature lovers and van life enthusiasts!