Saguaro National Park is home to some of the most iconic desert scenery and one of the best national parks to visit in Arizona. The park straddles the city of Tucson and there are two districts: a West district and an East district. The Desert Ecology Trail is located in the East District just off the scenic loop (Cactus Forest Drive).
In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about the Desert Ecology Trail, so you’ll know exactly what to expect on your hike.
Desert Ecology Trail information
- Distance: .3 mile
- Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Easy
Getting to the trail head
The trail head is located within the first half of the scenic loop (Cactus Forest Drive).
You will easily be able to find the trailhead for the Desert Ecology Trail because there will be clear Desert Ecology Trail signage along Cactus Forest Drive.
You should see the brown roadway sign when it is coming up and then also an additional sign near the trail head.
You will find a small number of parking lots (five plus on accessible spot) near the trail head that could be filled up during busy times so you might want to arrive early to secure parking for this trail.
Once you park, you will need to cross the roadway to get to the trail head so just make sure there is not oncoming traffic.
The Desert Ecology Trail hike
This is only a .3 mile round-trip loop hike so it is very short which makes it great for people looking for something easy and not very strenuous.
It’s short enough that in extreme heat it could also be very doable but keep in mind that the black pavement could get very hot. So if you are bringing along a pet consider protecting their paws along the pathway. Also, there is no shade along the way so apply sunscreen and wear hats when in direct exposure to the sun. You can look into getting proper desert gear here.
It’s also worth noting that this is the only official pet friendly trail in the park. I thought it was pretty safe for our pup but your pet will inevitably come close to getting into cactus since there are many of them right along the paved path.
So just keep an eye on your pet and it is probably not a bad idea to bring along some tweezers or a cactus comb in order to make sure your pet does not get stuck with thorns in them.
The trail itself is very flat and paved so it is extremely easy to find your way to navigate through. It requires basically no planning so its difficulty level is very easy, so I won’t get into the step-by-step trail description. This is also an accessible trail.
Along the trail you will find several interpretive panels that will help you understand the environment better. They will give you insight on some of the wildlife you could encounter such as Gila monsters, rattlesnakes, owls, javelina, and much more. Unfortunately, we did not spot any wildlife during our short hike.
These panels are a great introduction to anybody who is not experienced with the desert environment and you will find out some interesting tidbits about the vegetation and wildlife. For example, I thought it was cool that the temperature inside the saguaro cactus can be 15° cooler on a hot day.
You will also encounter a variety of different plants/cacti native to the region like the cholla (jumping cactus) and mesquite trees.
If you want to get up close to saguaro cacti this is not the very best trail for that because there are not too many of them. Don’t get me wrong, you will still come close to some like the ones pictured below but there are better hikes if you want to be immersed in saguaro cacti (especially in the west park).
Still, I think it is a good introductory trail and also quite good for kids given how it is paved and so short.
There are some decent reviews of the surrounding terrain during the hike. Nothing too extraordinary but enough to take a few moments to appreciate.
Overall, this is not the most impressive trail that you can find at the park. But it will offer a good introduction to desert vegetation and wildlife and is pet friendly. If you are simply driving through the park and looking for an easy stroll to get close to some of the local landscape this is a pretty good option for that.
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