Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - The Desert Museum tops our list of fun things to do in Tucson and is a must see. Here you'll see live animals and plants in their natural desert setting, plus hands-on interpretive displays. Everyone in the family, from toddlers to teens, will find the outdoor Desert Museum fascinating.
Start your explorations with reptiles that live in the desert - spiny tailed iguanas, chuckwallas, rattlesnakes, king snakes, gila monsters, tarantulas - and wildflowers - ocotillo flowers, golden poppy, saguaro flowers (Arizona's state flower).
At the Earth Sciences Center, explore a limestone cave, complete with stalactites and stalagmites, a real cave experience with twisty passages, plus an amazing collection of minerals, gems and fossils. Outside, dig for fossils and pick up your own rock treasures.
On the Desert Loop Trail (1/2 mile) spot javelinas sleeping in the shade and coyotes amongst the cactus. Tip: There are drinking fountains and shade ramadas along the trail.
Check out all the different kinds of cactus in the Cactus Garden - totem pole (it does look like a totem pole), cholla, Christmas cactus, ocotillo, agave, hedgehog, saguaro, prickly pear, pincushion, creeping devil cactus, and more.
At other exhibits, you'll see mountain lions, Mexican wolves, bighorn sheep, roadrunners, bobcats, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, and hummingbirds. And throughout the park are lots of volunteers in white shirts to answer kid's questions.
Allow plenty of time to explore the Desert Museum, this is a day trip. Inside the park are restaurants, snack bars, cold drinks and ice cream. At the entrance are strollers for rent, and the schedule of live animal demonstrations.
Saguaro National Park West - Tucson Mountain District
The Sonoran Desert is one of the hottest and driest places in the United States, but it's also an amazing habitat, and the saguaro cactus is prime example of plants and animals that survive in this environment. The saguaro cactus grow very slowly, use every bit of water, provide homes for woodpeckers and owls, and can live 150 - 200 years. Saguaro cactus, with their arms waving, are simply appealing - kids can imagine all sorts of faces in the cactus.
Tip: The park entrance fee is good for both Saguaro National Park West and East.
Red Hill Visitor Center - In the visitor center, watch a 15 min. movie, color pages of desert animals and play with stuffed animals in the Kids Corner, a touch table has samples of a desert tortoise shell, cholla skeleton, mule deer antler and javelina pelt. Pick up trail maps, Junior Ranger program, Discovery Pack, and walk around the small cactus garden outside. Click here for the schedule of naturalist led walks, including night walks.
Discovery Trail - A paved half mile loop trail, perfect if you have a child in a stroller or little ones. Plaques explain how plants and animals adapt to the desert environment and there's lots of saguaros to see close up. Just walk down the trail as far as you like.
Signal Hill - Everyone in the family can take the short walk to see the Hohokam petroglyphs at the top of Signal Hill. Check out the thousand year old stick figures, spirals, circles, dogs, lizards, snakes, geometric figures, and leaping game animals. The meaning of the petroglyphs isn't known, though they may be clan symbols or calendar markers. Tip: The road to Signal Hill is dirt, but level and well-graded.
Picnic areas - There are shaded picnic tables at Signal Hill and the Sus picnic areas.
Safety tips: When you're out hiking, even on a short hike, bring lots of drinking water. Stay back from cactus, especially the cholla cactus. A cactus might look fuzzy, but you don't want to spend your time picking spines out of little fingers and arms. When climbing on the rocks, watch where you put your hands; there are rattlesnakes in the park. Weather in summer can be unpredictable, and thunderstorms and lightning are common in July and August.

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