Do you want to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert at sunset and the night sky? Look no further than a family friendly ranger guided sunset hike at Saguaro National Park East near Tucson! Here you will find a unique opportunity to explore and appreciate nature at dusk and under the stars. And you will have an amazing hiking adventure in the desert without having to worry about getting sunburned! After a lovely sunset time hike in our local national park, Buddy and I are sharing 7 simple tips for a sunset hike at Saguaro National Park East
As residents of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is (almost!) in our back yard! We love our unique hometown national park and it’s one of a kind cactus forest. Because we live closer to Saguaro National Park East, we visit that one a bit more often than the West. But we have visited and hiked both locations and recommend it to locals and visitors alike. Day or night, we love hiking Saguaro National Park and with these tips, we hope you enjoy it too!
The details: A Sunset Hike at Saguaro National Park East
According to the website, each sunset hike in the east district begins at a different location depending on the day. So check the website to find out where the sunset hike will be meeting up and which trail they will be hiking during the time you want to visit. Also note that the duration might be different depending on the trail. For example, when we visited, your hike was 2 hours from 6-8pm meeting at the Loma Alta Trailhead. The hike the following week was from 5:30-7pm meeting at the Javelina Picnic Area.
Saguaro National Park is divided into two areas, the Rincon Mountain District (east) and the Tucson Mountain District (west). For this post we are focusing on Saguaro National Park East.
The Visitor Center for Saguaro National Park East is located at 3693 South Old Spanish Trail Tucson, AZ. For the most up-to-date information including hours of operation and entry fees, visit the website.
If it is your first-time visiting Saguaro National Park Rincon Mountain District (east), I highly recommend you drive into the park and explore the one lane Cactus Forest Drive that loops through the park. The views are spectacular. And the loop offers access to five trail heads plus the Visitor’s Center. It is worth a trip!
If you visit during the day, you can always come back to hike at night!
In addition to the five trailheads accessible on Cactus Forest Drive, Saguaro National Park East – Rincon Mountain District has four additional trailheads that are reachable on the edges of the park. Our guided night time hike took place at the Loma Alta Trailhead, which is a 15-minute drive south and east of the visitor center. We have another post about daytime hiking in Saguaro National Park East that highlights all the trailheads at the park.
Our Unforgettable Night at Saguaro National Park East
As a family, we have hiked trails on both the east and west districts. Both parks have numerous trails that make for some beautiful views and fun desert exploring. But, for the past few years, we have been wanting to do a sunset hike in the park. Unfortunately, the sunset hikes were suspended due to the pandemic. But luckily, they resumed Spring 2023!
To kick off Buddy’s spring break, we decided to do a sunset hike on the first Friday of his break. It was a lot of fun!
Because I was rushing to the trail from work, we arrived late to the trailhead parking there at 6:05pm. Fortunately, they did not leave without us as they were still in the process of doing the safety briefing and introductions. We began the hike around 6:15pm and were finished by 8pm. All in all, we hiked 3 miles.
We hiked with the ranger and a group of about 15 other hikers of all ages. There was a family with kiddos as young as six and elders with walking sticks. Most of the hikers were local, which the ranger said is a rarity. Usually, hikers are from out of town. And the hike was very easy. There was a bit of a slight incline towards the midpoint of the hike, but nothing strenuous. Overall, it is a fun experience for families of all ages.
Pro Tip: Do not arrive late like us because you do run the risk of the hike leaving without you!
The guided sunset hike went from the Loma Alta Trailhead to the Line Camp and back. The trail continues on and meets up with the Arizona National Scenic Trail, an 800-mile path that extends from Utah to Mexico. On this hike, we did not go that far! Rather, we hiked 3 miles out and back to the Line Camp. The park ranger timed it so we walked the first 1.5 miles during sunset and dusk, and the last 1.5 miles in the dark. The best part about this hike, it is free! A fun and free family friendly activity under the stars– you can’t beat that!
But remember, each hike is different!
7 Simple Tips for a Sunset Hike at Saguaro National Park East
1. Check the Saguaro National Park website or sandwich board for a sunset hike
For the sunset hikes, check the Saguaro National Park website or the sandwich board outside of the Visitor’s Center for up-to-date information about sunset hikes! The hikes are not well publicized, and are often not shared on social media, so you will have to do a bit of digging for information prior to your visit.
I stumbled upon this hike when I was looking for more information about the Saguaro National Park East Stargazing event that I saw on social media. I saw on the website that both a sunset hike and the Stargazing event were happening on the same night and we decided to do both. But had I not been looking, I would have missed this hike entirely!
Buddy says, “Spread the word about these things because no one really knows about these really. It is kind of like hidden. People don’t check their web page, and no one really goes, so make sure you spread the word about the sunset hikes. That is what I say.”
Also, the sunset hikes are seasonal, with no hikes offered in the height of summer. So if hiking in a cactus forest under the stars in the Sonoran desert is for you, plan your trip to Saguaro National Park at a season in which sunset hikes are offered. Speaking of seasons, that brings us to tip #2.
2. Do not visit Saguaro National Park in the summer
Summertime temperatures in the Sonoran Desert can be fatally hot. So much so that even guided sunset hikes are not offered during the summer months. If you are keen on a guided sunset hike, plan to visit in spring. Currently, the sunset hikes are only offered in the Spring. And the spring is lovely because the desert wildflowers are in bloom, and they can be quite the sight!
However, winter is a great time to do some desert hiking because our reptile friends, like the rattlesnake, are in brumation, a state like hibernation. This means that in the winter there is less chance of an encounter with a reptile friend like a rattlesnake while hiking the trails at Saguaro National Park East.
Please note, that Buddy and I have yet to see a snake while hiking on any trail in the Sonoran Desert. We have, however, encountered numerous snakes while walking around our Tucson neighborhood! All this to say, if you are worried about meeting a snake while hiking the desert trails, in my experience it less likely than finding one while trick-or-treating in our neighborhood! And on this hike the only wildlife was saw was the coyote crossing the street on the drive home!
3. Check the Moon phases before a sunset hike
If you want to hike under the stars, and really see the stars, check a moon phase calendar to make sure you are visiting and hiking during the new moon. The best time for a night hike is during the new moon phase when darkness covers most of the sky and stars are especially bright.
But, if your travel plans do not allow for you to visit during a new moon, no worries! Tucson is a dark sky city, and you will be able to see the stars most on a waxing or waning moon too. And, of course, there is always the option to hike under a full moon if that better suits your interests and travel plans!
When we did the sunset hike in Saguaro National Park East it was a was in the last quarter heading towards a new moon and we saw a lot of stars! It was really nice! Especially because when we visited Death Valley last spring break, we were there during a full moon so missed the opportunity to see the many dazzling stars. Silver lining, we did a moonlit hike at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which was a lot of fun!
4. Bring a red flashlight for a Sunset Hike at Saguaro National Park
If you are doing a guided sunset hike in Saguaro National Park East, bring a red flashlight. Preferably a headlamp. I used the Black Diamond SpotLite headlamp in a red light setting. This headlamp is one of our favorite items for camping and hiking (and even doing work around the house!). We have been using these for a few years now and they are one of our top recommended items for family camping and sunset hiking!
The rangers prefer hikers to use red flashlights as it is better for your eyes and the desert creatures of the night. If you do not have a red flashlight, you will be asked to hike near the back of the group on the second half of the hike. This is so hikers with red lights, whose eyes are adjusted to the dark, are not blinded by the lights from the hikers with regular flashlights.
It can also be helpful to bring a spare flashlight just in case yours loses power during your excursion. Or to charge your rechargeable batteries before you hit the trail.
When we hiked Saguaro national park’s Loma Verde Trail, we accidentally brough two red flashlights. One was a headlamp, and one was a handheld flashlight, both of which have red and white lights. We grabbed them on the way out the door, which was lucky for us. We also charged the batteries before we went. And we carried some back up batteries in our backpack, just in case!
Buddy says, “Bring your own strong red flashlight, a head lamp is preferable. My hand-held flashlight was dull. So, bring a bright one if possible.”
5. Bring water and wear layers for a desert nighttime hike
Even though you are hiking at night, you are still hiking in a desert! Bring plenty of water in your refillable water bottle.
Also bring layers! In general, there is a 30-degree Fahrenheit difference in daytime and overnight temperatures in the Sonoran Desert. The day could be warm and sunny and then temperatures will drastically drop when the sun goes down on your hike! It is best to be prepared and bring layers.
On our hike, I wore a , I wore a North Face woman’s jacket and my sturdy hiking shoes And Buddy wore a sweatshirt and sweat pants. He was slipping and sliding in the shoes he had on, so we are not recommending those!
6. Watch for horse poop when hiking Saguaro National Park East
Eww – poop! Yes, poop, unfortunately.
The trails at Saguaro National Park East, is frequented by people, horses, and mules. And with lots of horses comes lots of horse poop. Watch out for horse poop! Loma Verde trail, especially at the beginning near the trailhead, was littered with horse poop when we visited. Be careful where you step.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid the horse poop in the dark. So, anticipate that you will step in it at some point and wear shoes that you don’t mind getting a bit dirty.
The day we hiked, we passed three horses and their riders on the way to the Loma Verde trailhead. Unlike daytime hikes in Saguaro National Park East, there were no horses on the trail at dusk and at night. However, there was poop. A lot of poop.
Buddy says, “You will step in it, especially in the dark. You are going to step in poop about 90% guaranteed.”
7. You will learn about the Sonoran desert
As this is a ranger led hike, you will make stops along the trail and the ranger will share information about the Sonoran desert. It is a great way to learn about the iconic Saguaro cactus while standing amidst a cactus forest!
Buddy says, “You will learn that cactuses don’t explode their arms off when they get too much water in them, and you can’t tap a cactus to get water like in the cartoons. More seriously, you will learn about nurse trees and reptiles. It is interesting.”
BONUS! Saguaro National Park East Stargazing
Occasionally, Saguaro National Park East hosts a Stargazing event at the park. These events are once in a while and they are announced on both social media and on the website. Stargazing events take place near the visitor center. Generally, these events are free and do not require the parks entrance fee.
It just so happened a Stargazing event took place the same day that we did the sunset hike. After our hike ended, we hopped in the car and drove 15 minutes to the Visitor Center to attend the Stargazing program.
Buddy says, “I liked the telescopes and how the amateur astronomers explained things to us. We saw a couple of double stars, some nebulas, and they pointed out some planets. They had four telescopes, but what made it interesting was that the people who operated them kept switching what they were pointed at so we were never seeing the same thing over and over again, which made it nice. We got there later in the evening when the lines were short.”
And what does mom say – I saw a shooting star! And the images in the telescopes were so brilliant, they did not look real! It was amazing.
A Teenager’s Perspective on a Sunset Hike at Saguaro National Park East
As the only teenager on the trail, I suppose that teenagers who aren’t from the Sonoran desert and who want to visit Tucson will be interested in this hike. I suppose it’ll be a great place for them. For those of us that live here, eh, perhaps not.
As far as Saguaro National Park East Stargazing goes, yes, I would recommend that for teens. Especially teens interested in astronomy and that stuff. Or if you just want to see the night sky.
So, we recommend. The guided sunset hike is definitely one of the best hikes in Saguaro National Park East. Thumbs up!
If you’re looking for something fun and different that your entire family can enjoy together, consider a night hike along the Loma Verde Trail at Saguaro National Park East! Not only will you get to explore one of Arizona’s most beautiful parks after hours, but you’ll also get a chance to see stunning views of stars and constellations.
Have you visited our hometown of Tucson or Saguaro National Park East? If so, let us know in the comments below!
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
If you enjoyed reading this, check out these blog posts!
- The Beautiful Saguaro National Park East: Helpful Tips for Hiking
- How to Have a Perfect Family Staycation at Tucson’s Starr Pass Resort
- Travel Made Easy: Tips for Visiting Montezuma Castle
- 4 Good Reasons Why You Should Visit Sister Cities Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, SON
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