Desert Ecology Trail, Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Located in the Sonoran desert, this paved interpretative, signed trail gives an overview of the plants, animals, and weather encountered in the desert.

National Recreation Trail

Designated in 1982

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in the NRT Database

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Saguaro National Park is split into two separate sections, divided by the city of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District sits about 10 miles west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District sits roughly 10 miles east of Tucson. Both sides of the national park have a visitor center, a scenic drive, and a paved, accessible desert trail.

This unique desert is home to the most recognizable cactus in the world, the majestic saguaro. Visitors of all ages are fascinated and enchanted by these desert giants, especially their many complex interrelationships with other desert life. Saguaro cacti provide their sweet fruits to hungry desert animals. They also provide homes to a variety of birds, such as the Harris' hawk, Gila woodpecker, and the tiny elf owl. Yet, the saguaro requires other desert plants for its very survival. During the first few years of a very long life, a young saguaro needs the shade and protection of a nurse plant such as the Palo Verde tree. With an average life span of 150 years, a mature saguaro may grow to a height of 50 feet and weigh over 10 tons.

The Desert Ecology Trail in Saguaro National Park starts on the scenic loop in the east section of the park. The Desert Ecology Trail is about a half mile past the Mica View Picnic Area turnoff on the scenic Cactus Forest Loop Drive. The parking area is a wide pullout with six standard parking spots and one accessible spot. The trail is clearly marked, and the cars move in and out quickly, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding the trail or parking at the trailhead.

This quarter-of-a-mile nature trail gives an up-close view of many of the common plants you will find at Saguaro National Park, with accompanying educational signage on the ecology of the Sonoran desert. This trail has interpretive signs that take you through the different varieties of cacti that can be found in the area. It gives information on the famous Saguaro Cactus, but also points out the teddy bear cholla, chain fruit, prickly pear, and barrel cactuses. It is a nice informative stroll for small children.

It is one of two trails in Saguaro East that is constructed to ADA standards. The typical grade, or slope, of the loop is 1.8% with a maximum of 4.4%. The typical cross slope, or grade in the trail side-to-side, is 0.5% with a maximum of 1.8%. The width of the trail is 60 inches. The trail is a hard-packed, paved surface accessible to mobility devices.

You will encounter mainly hikers, with an occasional dog on a leash, as this is one of the few places in the park where dogs are allowed.


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