To orient new visitors to our magnificent Sonoran Desert, we always recommend they spend some time at our Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This is not a museum in the ordinary sense, but rather a combination botanical garden and zoo.
Click on this link to view our four brief videos with several docents at the Desert Museum.
The Desert Museum is a big place, so there’s lots of walking involved. If you are handicapped, they do have wheelchairs and electric scooters available on a first come first served basis.
When you enter, there will be a docent handing out maps and telling visitors the times of special events, such as the incredibly popular Raptor Free Flight program. This program does not run in the heat of the summer.
Behind The Scenes Tours
The Desert Museum offers several Behind The Scenes Tours that gives visitors a much richer, more in depth experience than general admission. We’ve enjoyed two so far: Walk On The Wild Side and the Warren Aquarium. Both were fascinating, educational, and totally suitable for school-age children.
To get to the Desert Museum from Downtown Tucson, take Speedway west and just keep going for about 30 minutes. Almost halfway there, you will find yourself at the top of Gates Pass. For a magnificent view, stop at the turnout at the top. You will find yourself in an extremely rare and beautiful saguaro forest.
Then continue west and follow the signs. Plan on at least 3 hours at the Museum. They have two very good restaurants. The Ironwood Terraces is informal cafeteria-style dining. The Ocotillo Café is fine dining and you may need reservations (520-883-5705). If the weather is good, ask to be seated on the patio.
Saguaro National Park West
If, after you've explored the Desert Museum, you still have some time & energy, we recommend you turn left as you exit the parking area and continue down Kinney Road a couple of miles to the Saguaro National Park West Red Hills Visitors Center.
There you can get an orientation, watch a short video, pay your fee to enter the Park, and get a map to the various picnic areas. The main attractions out here are (1) the saguaro forest and (2) the many petroglyphs on Signal Hill. The hike from the Signal Hill Picnic Area to the top of Signal Hill where the petroglyphs are is short and fairly easy.
For a list of the Best Park and Gardens visit our page.