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Sunset and Moonlight Hikes and Talks at Saguaro National Park

Saquaros at sunset.

Saquaros at sunset. NPS photo.

Late fall is a great time for outdoor activities at Saguaro National Park near Tucson, and if you're in that area and want to work off some Thanksgiving dinner calories, the park is offering some special sunset and moonlight hikes and programs in late November and early December.

Saguaro National Park includes two separate units on the eastern and western fringes of Tucson, Arizona, and the staff is offering a number of walks, talks and other programs this fall. Although it's a bit too warm for many folks to enjoy a late afternoon hike at Saquaro during the summer, late November usually provides great weather for enjoying a desert sunset—or an early evening walk in the moonlight.

The park is a perfect location for the evening hikes. The desert usually features dry air and clear skies, a combination which makes the moonlight more intense than you'll experience in some other climates.

Here's a summary of four upcoming programs in the park's Tucson Mountain District, located on the west side of Tucson. Note that reservations are required for several of the following hikes.

Saturday, November 28 at 3:45 p.m. “Twilight Glow to Moon Shadows.” This hike is an easy 2½ -mile, 3½-hour stroll that affords an opportunity to experience the desert in the twilight glow and then discover the mystic moon shadows which will accompany us to the end of the hike. Advanced reservations are required, and can be made by calling 520-733-5158.

Sunday, November 29 at 3:00 p.m. "Sunset Hike." The Sunset Hike is a 3½ to 4 hour, 3½-mile round trip that climbs 700 feet to a beautiful ridgeline for the sunset. The descent of the trail is solely under the light of the moon. As space is limited, advanced reservations are required, and can be made by calling 520-733-5158.

Monday, November 30 at 3:45 p.m. “Moon Take Night Make Day” Hike. This gentle, relatively flat, 2½ mile hike travels up a desert wash during the transition from day to night. The hike takes approximately 3 hours. Enjoy the sunset and stroll in the moonlit desert. As space is limited, advanced reservations are required, and can be made by calling 520-733-5158.

Wednesday, December 2 at 5:00 p.m. “Moonrise Over the Mountains” Patio Talk. This campfire talk on the patio of the Red Hills Visitor Center provides a relaxing view of the full moon as it rises above the cactus forest. The program is approximately 45 minutes long. Bring a lawn chair and warm clothing. No reservations are required for this program - everyone is welcome. This program is wheelchair accessible. The visitor center is located in the park's Tucson Mountain District at 2700 North Kinney Road.

Additional programs are available in both units of the park during the remainder of the month. You'll find a complete schedule here.

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, Arizona, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of Tucson. The park website includes driving directions to both units of the park, along with other information to help you plan a visit.

Both districts of the park were established to protect forests of their namesake plant: the Saguaro Cactus.

Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.

If you're not familiar with these fascinating plants, here's a tip to help you sound like a local when you visit the park: The name of this cactus is pronounced "Sa -WAH – ro." Even if you're just passing through southern Arizona on I-10, plan a short detour to at least sample this park. It's well worth a visit.


Thanks tomp -

Not sure what calendar I was looking at when I added the day of the week to the park's list of dates for the programs, but it must have been for a different planet. I've made the correction for Dec. 2.

1: I highly recommend these hikes. Up in the Chisos in Big Bend can be even more spectacular, with a moonlit view of a huge expanse of desert.

2: Since establishment, there have been at least 2 major pushes to decommission Saguaro National Monument because it appeared that the saguaros were dying out (for 2 different assumed reasons). We now have a much better understand of the population dynamics and demography of saguaros and how the numbers increase after recruitment pulses and decrease after freezes where they don't thaw for 2 nights & 1 day; some things just take 100 years of data.

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