So, you've made it to Phoenix — naturally, you want to see a saguaro cactus for a solid selfie or perfect photo op. This desert flora is one of the most iconic symbols of the American Southwest, and it's important to experience one up close. Luckily, you can find saguaro cactus just about anywhere you go in Phoenix, whether you're in the city or out on a hike.
Check out some information about the saguaro cactus and what makes it so unique below, as well as the best spots to find a saguaro cactus while you're in Phoenix.
What to Know About Saguaro Cactus
The saguaro is one of 51 species of cactus that are native to Arizona, but it is undoubtedly the most well known. You may have seen one in a Western movie set in Texas or New Mexico, but chances are the filming actually took place right here, because the cactus can only be found in the lush Sonoran Desert of Arizona, as well as our southern neighbor state of Sonora, Mexico, and in some areas of southeastern California. Here are some other fun facts about the saguaro cactus:
Saguaro cactus are massive — but they grow slow. Saguaros reach over 50 feet tall, and can grow as many as 50 arms, or branches. But the saguaro cactus only grows about a foot a year, and it won't grow an arm until it ages at least 50 years. Saguaros tend to live anywhere between 150 to 200 years. Some of these cactus don't ever grow arms. If that's the case, it's called a "spear."
It's illegal to damage or harm a saguaro. There are some exceptions, but interrupting a saguaro's natural growth is prohibited in Arizona. If a saguaro gets in the way of construction, a special permit is required to transport and plant it somewhere new.
The saguaro produces fruit and flower blossoms. The saguaro blossom is the official state flower of Arizona. The cactus blooms in the springtime with beautiful flowers on the tops of its spear and arms, accompanying the wildflowers that pop up in the Sonoran Desert every spring. Almost every desert animal — including birds, bats, tortoise, javelina and coyotes — enjoy the bright red fruit, which has a mild sweet flavor. Arizona's native peoples, including the Tohono O'odham, Pima and Seri, used every part of the cactus for food and tools. The fruit is still used today to make things such as jams, syrup and wine.
Don't touch the saguaro! This might be obvious, but the saguaro is covered in extremely sharp spines. These spines act as leaves would on a tree or bush, absorbing sunlight and catching rainwater. They are known to be as sharp and strong as steel needles, and can injure both animals and humans. So when you're taking your photo, look, but don't touch!
Hotels & Attractions
If you want to see plenty of saguaros, but don't feel like venturing too far from the comfort of the city, check out some of these hotels and attractions that have dedicated spaces to the majestic cactus.
This luxurious resort boasts its own cactus garden, which is home to more than 250 species of succulents and cacti, including the saguaro. The garden spans the northern edge of the resort grounds at the base of Camelback Mountain, and during holiday season, the plants are accompanied by festive lights. You can schedule a tour with The Phoenician's resident horticulturist, or just take a walking tour by yourself.
CIVANA's focus is all about enhancing your mind, body and spirit with a variety of activities and spa treatments, including a saguaro garden. The garden winds through the property and ends in a labyrinth, where guests are encouraged to walk and focus on mindful meditation. You'll find plenty of saguaros and other desert plants, such as agaves, palo verde and mesquite trees.
One of the most popular attractions in Phoenix, the Desert Botanical Garden is your one-stop shop for all things Sonoran Desert and cactus. The 140-acre garden features 50,000 plant displays and almost 500 rare and exotic desert plants. Among these are nearly 1,000 saguaros, some of which are more than 50 feet tall. Take the Desert Discovery Loop Trail to get a good look at some of the saguaro cactus, as well as permanent and seasonal art installations.
The Arizona Center is home to several restaurants, offices and shops, but it's also the the only place to find a saguaro in downtown Phoenix. If you're attending a meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center, or staying in one of downtown's hotels, make sure to stop by for a quick photo with our favorite saguaro, Prickles.
Other Hotels & Resorts with Saguaros:
Why not get some extra desert scenes when you tee off on the links? These golf courses have the best saguaro views, so you can pretend the cactus are cheering you on when you get that hole-in-one.
JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, Arizona’s largest hotel and convention complex, is home to Wildfire Golf Club and two picturesque 18-hole championship courses designed by two of golf's greatest legends: Arnold Palmer and Nick Faldo. They knew the centuries-old saguaro cacti and surrounding mountains were the perfect accompanying scenery to 18 holes.
Boulders Resort & Spa, which earned “Best Golf Resort in Southwest” honors from Golf Digest, is home to two award-winning Jay Morrish-designed courses that stretch across an enchanting and rugged landscape that inspired the resort’s name. The jaw-dropping rock formations are peppered with towering saguaros which can easily take your breath away — good luck not getting distracted on your swing.
Some courses, such as We-Ko-Pa golf club at the We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center, occupy lush desert landscapes, where civilization feels a world away. As if the surrounding saguaros weren't enough to set the scene, the golf club also has a course named after the cactus — the Saguaro Course — a traditional course which follows the natural movement of the landscape.
Any time you take a hike or have an outdoor experience in Greater Phoenix, there's no doubt about it: you're going to see a saguaro. While that may be the case, here's some of our favorite spots with an abundance of cactus. While you're taking your saguaro selfie, make sure to stay on the trail. Check out some outdoor safety tips while you're at it too.
South Mountain Park & Preserve
South Mountain Park & Preserve, just a few miles south of downtown Phoenix, is one of the largest municipal park in the United States. Throughout the multiple trails and peaks of the park, you'll find saguaro cactus that have been growing there for years. One of the most popular areas is Dobbins Lookout, the highest point in the park at 2,330 feet, which you can access by foot or bike, as well as by car, if you're in the mood for a scenic drive. While there, take in the sights of the saguaros, and the downtown Phoenix cityscape.
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Phoenix Mountains Preserve in central Phoenix is the perfect balance for folks who want an outdoors experience without straying too far from the city. Nestled just 10 miles north of downtown is a group of small mountains and adjacent foothills perfect for hiking and biking, including two of the city's most popular summits, Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. Whether you venture to one of those, or opt for other spots such as Lookout Mountain Preserve or North Mountain, there are plenty of saguaros that call these lush peaks home. Most of the time, you'll be able to see both cactus and the downtown skyline while you're on the trail.
Cave Creek Regional Park
This park, just north of Phoenix in the upper Sonoran Desert, offers breathtaking views of desert scenery, including a healthy dose of saguaro cactus. The landscape is made up of deep and rocky slopes — a perfect environment for saguaros and other desert flora. Take the Go John Trail, one of the best hikes in Greater Phoenix, to enjoy the views. If you don't want the experience to end, Cave Creek Regional Park is also a great spot for camping.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
This massive park along the lower Verde river spans more than 20,000 acres, so you'll have plenty of space to check out the abundant saguaros there. McDowell Mountain Regional Park was named "The Best Place to See a Cactus" by the Phoenix New Times in 2015, and for good reason. Check out the saguaro cactus while you're trekking on the 50-plus miles of hiking trails, including the popular Tom's Thumb Trail. You may even spot some desert animals feeding on the cactus fruits, including deer and javelina.
Four Peaks Wilderness
Right next to McDowell Mountain Regional Park is Four Peaks Wilderness, a 60,000-acre area designated by the United States Congress in 1984 and part of the Tonto National Forest. The name of the area comes from the iconic Four Peaks, the highest elevation point in Maricopa County (7,600 feet). Due to its location and sprawling size, Four Peaks has a vast ecosystem, where you can see the shift from lower desert to upper desert. That means you'll get plenty of massive saguaro cactus to take a look at, but as you ascend in elevation, the cactus are replaced by pine trees, dirt is replaced with snow in winter months, and coyotes are replaced with black bears.
Lost Dutchman State Park
With Four Peaks still in sight to the north, venture to the popular Lost Dutchman State Park to continue your saguaro cactus expedition. The 320-acre park is home to the iconic Superstition Mountains and the Apache Trail, an absolute must for scenic drive fans. The park, as well as the surrounding Superstition Wilderness, is one of the most well-known spots for desert views. You'll see saguaro cactus at every turn in this park, whether you're looking for a nearby lake, petroglyphs, or a great hike.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
The largest regional park in Maricopa County, White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 30,000 acres of beautiful desert scenery in Phoenix's West Valley. Many locals who live in nearby cities, including Surprise, Goodyear and Litchfield Park, frequent this park for its awesome hikes, and epic saguaro cactus sights.