Saguaro National Park East - Rincon Mountain District
Saguaro cactus are a marvel of the desert. They grow very slowly, use every bit of water, provide homes for woodpeckers and owls, and can live 150 - 200 years. In the Saguaro National Park East, kids have a chance to see ancient saguaro cactus forests. Look for saguaro with multiple arms - these are the oldest ones (the first arm doesn't grow until the cactus is 60 years old).
Visitor Center - Stop at the visitor center to pick up maps, Junior Ranger program, Discovery Pack and a guide to the Cactus Forest Drive. Tip: Park entrance fee is good for Saguaro National Park East and West. Click here for the schedule of naturalist led walks, including night walks.
Cactus Forest Drive - This 8 mile scenic loop drive is a wonderful way to experience the remarkable landscape that's home to the saguaro and animals, such as javelinas, desert tortoises, screech owls, bats, cactus wrens and desert spiny lizards. If you come in summer, it may be too hot too hike much, so this drive is a good alternative.
Mica View Picnic Area - From the picnic area (with shaded tables), walk down the Mica View Trail a bit - not only are there saguaros to see close up, but fuzzy cholla and prickly pear galore. The road to the picnic area is dirt, but well-graded.
Desert Ecology Trail - This paved 1/4 mile loop trail is good if you have a toddler or child in a stroller. Plaques along the trail explain how plants and animals adapt to the desert environment and seasons in the desert.
Freeman Homestead Trail - Hike this one mile loop trail to see where the Freeman family (including children) lived in the early 20th century. There's nothing left of the adobe house except a dirt mound, but on the trail you'll see amazing old saguaro cactus, including one with thirty arms! Also on the trail are interpretive signs with activities for kids to do (e.g. go down to the wash, dig in the dirt, and you'll find moisture just before the surface).
Javelina Picnic Area - A large picnic area with plenty of shaded tables, and your best bet for picnicking when its hot.
Safety tips: When you're out hiking, even on a short hike, bring lots of drinking water. Stay back from cactus - you don't want to spend your time picking spines out of little fingers and arms. Weather in summer can be unpredictable, and thunderstorms and lightning are common in July and August.
Sabino Canyon - Sabino Canyon is an amazing oasis in the desert, a (almost) year-round creek flows down through a canyon dotted with saguaro cactus forests. A shuttle goes in a loop up and down the canyon, so you can hike as much as you feel like with kids, then hop on the shuttle bus. Bring your picnic lunch and spend the day splashing in the water, playing on the rocks and hiking in Sabino Canyon.
Visitor Center - At the visitor center, check out exhibits about plants, animals, and geology of the canyon, touch a rattlesnake skin, saguaro rib, white tail deer antler at the touch table, work on a jigsaw puzzle, and pick up trail maps and shuttle bus tickets.
Sabino Canyon Shuttle - The shuttle departs from the visitor center; there are 9 different stops, and the shuttle goes both directions in a loop. You can get on and get off the shuttle, or ride the complete loop (it takes about an hour). The bus driver narrates useful information about the natural history of the canyon and points out animals, plants and trees to look for.
Shuttle stops 1, 2 and 8 have drinking water, stops 1 - 6 have picnic tables, and every stop except 7 has restrooms.
Sabino Beach - Get off at stops 5 or 6 and walk to Sabino Beach, a white sandy beach along the creek, perfect for little kids. Stops 5 and 6 also have very nice picnic tables along the creek.
Sabino Creek Trail - Ride the shuttle to stop 9. From shuttle stop, go the trail 100 ft or so, bear to left at the sign for Sabino Creek Trail (the other trail, the Phoneline Trail, goes up the canyon, away from the creek). It's a half mile trail, one mile round trip, to the creek. At two places on the trail, follow the cairns (rock piles) that mark where the trail goes. Bring your lunch and play along the creek (if the water is high, be careful).
Bear Canyon - If you have older kids or teens, go for a hike up Bear Canyon to the dramatic Seven Falls cascading off a rocky cliff, 4 miles round trip. From the visitor center, take the Bear Canyon shuttle to the Bear Canyon Trailhead. The trail crosses the creek and has switchbacks up the side of the canyon. Tip: Don't attempt to cross the creek during high water.
Trail Dust Town (E. Tanque Verde Rd.) - A little bit of the wild west, right in Tucson. Ride the CP Huntington train, go inside the jail in the sheriff's office, wander past Alkalai Flats ghost town, an Indian village with teepees, covered wagons, stage coach, and vintage wooden carriages. Ice cream and cowboy steakhouse restaurant on-site, plus free wild west stunt shows, every night.
Golf N Stuff - Next door to Trail Dust Town, here's a family fun center with go-karts, bumper boats, climbing wall, and every one in the family will enjoy 18 holes of mini-golf.
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