Signal Hill is a picnic area off of Golden Gate Rd. There is a longer than average access road to the area. There are several cement picnic tables and stone structures that offer some shade. There is no camping here. Signal Hill is also the trail head for the Manville Trail and the Cactus Wren Trail.
This is another interpretive trail just down the road from the visitor center in the west district. The entire trail is paved. It meanders for less than a 1/2 mile and is a loop walk. It is completely flat and very easy. There are rest points scattered along the way with seating and a trellis. Metal signs along the path tell of the cycle of desert life for plants and animals.
Located in the west section of the park, Sus is a short distance off the road. Most of the picnic tables are completely exposed to the sun. There are two tables under some shelter but these are the only two. All picnic tables also has standing grill and there is one fireplace near the shelter with the two tables.
The Cactus Garden Trail begins to the left of the visitor center. The trail is paved and is very short. This is an interpretive trail with signs identifying plants and cactus indigenous to the park. If you want to learn about this plants and be able to identify them as you do other hikes, I highly recommend this trail.
This trail starts at the end of the Cactus Garden Trail. Javelina drops down into a wash that circles behind the visitor center. The trail is only about 600 feet long. This is a very boring trail and you would be better off just to avoid.
The Red Hills visitor center is located in the west section of the park. It is a little bigger the the visitor center in the east. They have a self pay station but you have to get out of you car. It is to the right before you enter the visitor center. Inside the visitor center they have a little display and a desk with several rangers. The rangers are very helpful with suggesting hikes and things to do. However, they were a little misinformed about road conditions of Golden Gate road from Sendero Esperanza trail head to Picture Rock road. I was told the road was only passable with high clearance 4x4, which was not the case. The road was completely smooth.
Mica View is located in the east section. This is a nice picnic area but there are better ones. Most of the grills and picnic tables are completely exposed to the sun. Nice in the mornings but can be dusty if the wind blows.
This is a pleasant drive that starts just after the Ranger booth at the Rincon District (east) visitor center. The drive starts to the left and becomes a one way the entire time. The total drive is 8 miles long. At 1.5 miles, there is the Cactus Forest overlook. At 2 miles there is a turn off for the Mica View picnic area. Continue pass to the 4 mile mark for the Riparian Overlook. There are a few more view points along the way.
This road is shared by many cyclists and joggers. Be careful.
If you want to hike or check out the East section (also called the Rincon Mountain District) of Saguaro N.P., is a good place to start is the East visitor center. At this visitor center you can purchase your pass which is good for 7 days and cost $10. It is also good for the West section of the park. This visitor center has a small store for souvenirs and a nice relief display of the Rincon Mountains.
This is a very nice and established picnic area. There is an open shelter, three cement picnic tables and a great fireplace/grill. This is all great with the exception that it is 1 mile from the King Canyon Trail head. So you would have to carry everything back to the site. Also, there is no camping permitted at the picnic area.
The last stop along the Cactus Forest Drive. This trail is about a one mile loop trail that descends and rises through the valley. Among the highlights are a site of an old homestead. There are more elevation changes along this trail than most of the others in the park. Once you pass the home site, keep your eyes open for signs to make sure you are still on the trail (at one point you do cut through a wash.) Once again, I had moments of doubt from time to time that I wandered away from where I was supposed to go, but quickly determined things were OK.
Due to the elevation changes, staircases, etc. - plan on at least a good half hour for this one.
I didn't stop for a picnic - but I did get out to stretch my legs thinking I was at the Freeman Homestead Trail. Oh well, after I realized my error, I did check out the surrounding area. There are a few small picnic tables, and the traihead for the Tanque Verde Ridge trail. Rather than heading out there, I just moseyed up around a few of the large rocks and took in the surrounding beauty. While it isn't much of a stop if you're not eating or doing a major hike - it certainly isn't a waste of time either. There is elevation changes to get up amongst the rocks...
As the day was wearing on, I wanted to do a piece of this trail, but because it was nearly a 3 mile out (and 3 mile back), I needed to pick a spot to turn it into a much shorter hike. So, consulting the map, I decided to make it out to the lime falls spur, and turn around from there. Note that I started at the north end of the trail along the drive.
There is not a ton of elevation change, but there is a little bit of looser footing here. The main trail is fairly well marked, and the spur off to Lime falls is also well marked. However, the spur ends in a wash, and that's where I got a tad nervous. The wash was much looser footing, and the spur trailhead out of the wash was NOT the easiest thing to find. Be very sure you make note of where it is. I'm not sure if I made it to the falls or not - I did find some smooth stones that looked like they could be my destination. At that point, I hiked back to the car.
Not sure I would recommend the spur trail, but the out and back to the spur was a nice 40 minute or so walk - very scenic cactus views the whole way.
So after the long drive from the West section of the park to the east, the first stop was of course, the visitor center. Then it was on to the Cactus Forest Drive, and after a few minutes, the first hike on this side of the park - the Desert Ecology Trail. This one is probably the easiest in the park - less than a half mile long, paved, and very flat. There are a few interpretive signs along the way. The highlight of the trail for me was my last wildlife sighting of the day - a roadrunner hiding behind a bush before I spooked it and it took off!
This trail is a nice warm-up before you head across the street and take on part of the cactus forest trail.
Adjoining the picnic area about half way along the Loop, you can take time to do a very short climb to the top of Signal Hill. The hill has many large rocks - so as the sign notes, watch out for rattlesnakes. As you start at the bottom, you can see some of the petroglyphs that give the hill its name - and at the top you will be able to check out a few others. As you come back down, you may notice one of the few "lush" areas I saw in the park - green oasis in the desert!
There is a little bit of elevation change here, but again, this is a modest hike and won't be more than 15-20 minutes.