Part of the Sonoran Desert, Saguaro National Park and is actually split into two different districts: Saguaro West, the Tucson Mountain District; and Saguaro East, the Rincon Mountain District.

There are more than 175 miles worth of trails to explore in these two areas and each is just a short drive from downtown Tucson. It’s one of the most unique landscapes in the country to log some miles. Are you ready?

Bajada Scenic Loop to Signal Hill

Our first run takes place in the western part of the park. You’ll run the Bajada Scenic Loop, a wide, dirt road that takes you past the Valley View Overlook Trail and Signal Hill.

Both are worth the side trip but if you only have time (or energy) for one, head up the short trail and steps to Signal Hill where you can see ancient petroglyphs as well as a stunning view. (Beware of rattlesnakes as you run up the steps of Signal Hill and make the last turn up the trail.)

Picture Rocks Trailhead

The parking lot for this trailhead is actually across the street. (Be aware when crossing, there’s a pretty sharp bend in the road and cars tend to fly through this area.) After making your way to the other side, look for the gap in the fence (don’t worry, you’re allowed in here) and start running. The first section of the run actually starts in a dry wash.

You can choose to follow the road for a bit via the Cam-Boh Trail or head away from the sound of traffic and follow any number of trails (we love the Ironwood Forest and Ringtail Trail). Almost every single direction you choose is gently rolling and flat. It can be hard to follow the trail in some areas but the lack of clear signage means you’re likely to have it to yourself (we only passed two horseback riders while out there.)

Mica View Road and Trail

If you're running along Cactus Forest Loop Drive and want to add some more miles, take Mica View Road, a wide dirt road that will lead you to a nice picnic area with a restroom as well as a paved trail also named Mica View. Alternatively, You can drive to the Mica View picnic area, park your car and start your adventure there.

The trail from the parking lot is short, paved and flat, and is a great section to warm up on if your legs are feeling sore. It leads through a beautiful forest of saguaros and offers numerous options to add on more mileage once your muscles get warmed up.

Cactus Forest Loop Drive

The gate to Cactus Forest Drive opens at 7 a.m. and shuts around sunset. The speed limit for vehicle traffic is anywhere from 5-20 miles per hour and much of the road is one-way. Running this road means sweeping views and the ability to navigate the course with very little effort. Plus, if you get sick of running on asphalt, there are a couple of options to jump on trails.

Cactus Forest Trail

Cactus Forest Trail is a gem of a trail and one of our favorite places to run because it's winding, rolling, not too technical and far enough from the road that you can't hear any vehicles.

If you want to do a tempo run or a fartlek in the desert, this is as good a place as any to do one. Mountain bikes and horses are allowed on sections of this trail so be on the lookout for them.

What to Know Before You Go

We saw rabies warnings posted at some trailheads. Be on the lookout for odd behavior from animals and be sure to report it.

Respect the desert. Hydrate before running and carry enough water so that you don’t put yourself in danger of a heat-related illness.

Run in the morning or evening when the sun is not as intense. There’s very little shade on the runs we’ve recommended.

Carry the proper navigational tools and know how to use them. Ask a ranger at a visitor center for a more detailed map of the area. They had some on-hand at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center when we visited. We also found some under a rock at the Douglas Spring Trailhead.

Wear shoes with cushioning. The trails are rocky and hard, and minimalist shoes might not be the best call for these trails. We also recommend gaiters to keep the grit out.

Don’t put your hands or feet where you can’t see them. Rattlesnakes are not uncommon in Saguaro National Park.

Monsoon season is mid-June to late September. Some washes (dry riverbeds) are designated as trails in this park. This makes knowing the forecast ahead of time super important. Think twice before going for a run in or along a wash if rain is in the forecast because flash flooding is a real threat and can occur quickly.

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