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Saguaro National Park West

Summary: Saguaro NP West is considerably smaller, and less remote than its eastern counterpart, but still offers a variety of hiking opportunities in a Sonoran Desert setting.
Hot tip: a good trail map is available for free at the Red Hills Visitor Center (stop here first & pick one up).
Typical plants that can be seen along the trails are: saguaro cactus (surprised?), teddy bear and stag horn cholla, triangle bursage, creosote bush, prickly pear, barrel cactus, palo verde, mesquite, ironwood, acacia, and ocotillo. Be aware that the park lies within the flight line of Tucson International Airport & Davis-Monthan AFB, you are likely to see and hear a variety of personal, commercial and military aircraft overhead.
Directions: There are a variety of ways to get to the park, I will describe the route I took. From Phoenix drive south on I-10. Take exit 242 for Avra Valley Road and turn right (west) at the end of the exit ramp. Follow this road west. Just opposite of the Avra Valley Airport follow the sign for Saguaro National Park and turn left (south) onto Sandario Road which eventually travels right into the park.
To get to the Cam-Boh Picnic Area and trailhead, turn left (east) onto Picture Rocks Road. The picnic area is on the right immediately after the sign marking the entrance to Saguaro NP.
To get to the Signal Hill Picnic Area and trail, continue south, past Picture Rocks Rd. After entering the park turn left (east) onto the well graded, dirt Golden Gate Road. The Signal Hill area lies a few miles ahead on a short spur road on the left.
To get to the Hugh Norris Trailhead, continue further south and turn left (east) onto Kinney Road. Drive a short distance, then turn left onto the well graded, dirt Hohokam Road. Drive a short distance to the parking area on either side of the road with room for about a dozen cars.
To get to the Desert Discovery Nature Trail or the Red Hills Visitor Center, follow the directions above, but continue southeast on Kinney.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Easy - good trail with sign posts at all trail intersections
Length: Various (see description of hikes below)
Date Hiked: November, 2002
Weather Conditions: Nice, breezy & sunny
Required Skills: None
Hike Description: Hugh Norris Loop Hike: This loop hike travels around the mountains in the center of the park, with a short side trip to the highest peak. This loop can also be performed using one of several other entry trails (see the free map). From the Hugh Norris Trailhead, walk past the signs and begin climbing the stone stairs. You will soon pass a register, then it's a moderate climb up the switchbacks for a while (using the step mill at the gym will have prepared you for this). Eventually the path tops out at a rise, then descends briefly to a saddle (trail construction work in progress when the author was here). The path then begins climbing once again skirting a few peaks to the north. Shortly after passing the fenced in remains of an old mine shaft to the left you will arrive at the signed junction with the Sendero Esperanza Trail (which leads left and right). Continue straight on the Hugh Norris Trail (2.7 miles). The trail begins climbing once again towards the ridge of rocks to the east. Eventually skirting the rocky Amole Peak on the right before descending a short distance to a saddle and the signed junction with the Wasson Peak Trail (4.6 miles). Wasson Peak, which has nice 360 views (since it's the highest point in the park), lies 0.3 miles up this side trail and is worth the trip. After returning from your detour to the peak (5.2 miles) continue your progress on the Hugh Norris Trail as it begins descending past more fenced in abandoned mine shafts 0.9 miles to the junction with the King Canyon Trail (6.1 miles). Turn right onto the King Canyon Trail towards the Mam-A-Gah Picnic Area (left will take you 3.4 miles to the El Camino del Cerro Trailhead) and continue your moderate descent. The rocky path descends beside a few dry washes (I guess one of which is Kings Canyon) before leveling out at a junction with the right branching Sendero Esperanza Trail (7.5 miles). Turn right on this level path past the left branching trail for the Mam-A-Gah Picnic Area, then past the remains of an old stone foundation and another fenced in mine shaft to the junction with the left branching Gould Trail (7.9 miles). Continue straight on the Sendero Esperanza Trail which begins climbing moderately, arriving back at the junction with the Hugh Norris Trail 1 mile later (8.9 miles). Turn left on Hugh Norris and follow it the remaining 2.7 miles back to the trailhead and your car (11.6 miles).
Cam-Boh Loop Hikes: In case you were wondering Cam-Boh is the Tohono O'odham word for 'Camp'. All trails around the Cam-Boh Picnic Area are dual use, allowing both hikers and equestrians (warning bells should be going off right about now). These paths are all essentially flat, have been pounded into deep sand by horse hooves, and never move far enough from the Picture Rocks Road to escape traffic noises. If that sounds like a good time to you, here's the poop (coincidentally, you'll be dodging poop the entire hike). I won't go into much detail, since there is little to report, and you can look at the map as well as I can. Here are three loop possibilities:
1) Do a 4.2 mile loop using the Cam-Boh, Panther Peak Wash and Roadrunner Trails.
2) Hike a longer 7.3 mile semi-loop by hiking the Cam-Boh out, forming a little loop using the Ringtail, Picture Rocks Wash and Ironwood Forest Trails, then hiking Cam-Boh back.
3) Combine the above two hikes by performing hike #2 out and around the loop, then on the way back detour north around the Panther Peak loop (10 miles). This is the one I did. Can't say it was a total loss as I saw many small flocks of Gambel Quail and startled a group of javalinas.
Signal Hill Petroglyphs Trail: This is an easy 0.25 hike to a low hill which contains dozens of ancient Indian art works. Along the way you will pass interpretive signs which detail the history of men in the region from ancient Indians, to early pioneers, to the CCC.
Desert Discovery Trail: A 0.5 mile wheelchair accessible paved trail with many interpretive signs detailing the natural history of the Sonoran Desert.
Rating (1-5 stars): For the Hugh Norris Loop
For the Cam-Boh hikes
The author completed all the hikes on this page in one day with an early start and a brisk pace.
Maps: Free trail map available at the Red Hills Visitor Center (best)
National Geographic Trails Illustrated - Saguaro National Park
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Wasson Peak from
the Hugh Norris Trail.
Panther Peak (left) and Safford
Peak (right) as seen from the
wash that is the Panther Peak Trail
Petroglyphs on Signal Hill.