a guide to riding your bike at saguaro national park on the forest cactus loop drive

A Guide to Cycling Through the Pristine Beauty of Saguaro National Park and Tucson's Bike-Friendly Vibe

Towering sentinels...
     guiding the way
          wheels spinning
               the thrill of the ride

"Patchwork" ~ my original painting inspired by cycling Saguaro National Park

As the morning sun painted the desert landscape with warm hues of orange and gold, I embarked on a journey through the mesmerizing Saguaro National Park. Pedaling through the iconic Cactus Forest Loop Drive, I was engulfed in a surreal world of towering saguaros, rugged mountains, and vibrant flora. But this ride was not just about exploring nature's marvels; it was a testament to Tucson's profound love affair with cycling.

The Journey Begins: Saguaro National Park's Cactus Forest Loop Drive

My ride began at the Rincon Mountain visitor Center, where the Saguaro National Park fee entrance is located. There is minimal parking scattered about with tiny parking lots and pull offs, on the road to the right of the entrance to the Cactus Forest Loop, so get there early!

As I set out on my bike, the crisp desert air filled my lungs, invigorating my spirit for the adventure ahead, one I had been longing to do since first visiting the park in 2022. The Cactus Forest Loop Drive, a renowned one way 8-mile paved road, winds its way through the heart of East Saguaro National Park, offering a front-row seat to the splendor of the Sonoran Desert. Towering saguaros stood like sentinels, their majestic forms casting elongated shadows across the sandy terrain. 

cycling the forest cactus drive loop at saguaro national park

Each bend in the road revealed a new tableau of natural beauty – from clusters of prickly pear cacti to the delicate blooms of desert wildflowers. The gentle hum of my bicycle tires on the pavement was the only sound, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the tranquility of the desert landscape. The cars were few and far between, and even as they approached they were going at a slow enough pace to easily, and safely pass me by. Even though this is a shared road, I felt just as safe as if it were only a bike path, even as a solo rider. Some sections of the loop also offered dedicated bike paths, but they weren't a necessity to feeling safe on the shared road.

the diversity in cactus is stunning at saguaro national park


cycling the forest cactus drive loop at saguaro national park, dedicated bike lanes throughout

The terrain is hilly, with some gradual climbs, nothing any rider can't achieve. I hadn't rode my bike but once in the previous month and was able to do the ride with moderate effort. This is an absolute must for any cyclist traveling through Tucson! I had actually visited Saguaro National Park in the fall of 2022, but the temps were in the 90s and I couldn't leave my cat Mikee behind in the van in those temperatures, even though she loves heat, I still make her safety and comfort a top priority. On that trip I did a scenic drive through the West side of Saguaro National Park on the Bajada Loop, a 6 mile, one way, lone gravel road winding through the heart of the Sonoran Desert. If you have time I highly recommend visiting both sides of the park, one for the scenic drive and the other to ride your bike. Both offer something unique to experience in the terrain and endless views of towering saguaros cresting the hills like marching soldiers.

saguaro national park
towering sentinel saguaros standing tall at saguaro national park

About the Cactus Forest Loop Drive:

  • The one way 8.0 mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a scenic drive through the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park East that affords stunning views of the Sonoran Desert with scenic vistas, cycling and hiking.
  • The road is open from 7:00 am to sunset daily.
  • Trailers longer than 35 feet or any vehicle wider than 8 feet are not allowed on the winding Cactus Forest Drive. 
  • The Weather in Tucson can vary drastically from chilly morningx to temperatures in the 100's in the summer, so check the weather and prepare accordingly.
riding a bike through saguaro national park

Tucson: A Haven for Cyclists

I wish my biking adventure didn't have to end at the borders of Saguaro National Park, but alas I was on to my next van life/cycling adventure.  I plan on returning soon and taking advantage of all the wonderous cycling opportunities the area affords. Tucson, affectionately known as "The Biking Capital of the Southwest," beckons with its extensive network of cycling trails, bike-friendly streets, and vibrant cycling culture.

1. Cycling Trails: Tucson boasts over 800 miles of dedicated bike paths and trails, catering to cyclists of all skill levels. Whether you're a seasoned mountain biker seeking adrenaline-pumping trails in the nearby Catalina Mountains or a leisurely rider exploring the city's scenic river paths, Tucson has something for everyone.

2. Cycling Community: One of the most striking aspects of cycling in Tucson is the sense of community that permeates the city. From organized group rides to local cycling clubs and events like El Tour de Tucson, cyclists here are united by their passion for pedaling. 

3. Year-Round Riding: With its mild winters and abundant sunshine, Tucson provides ideal cycling conditions year-round. Even in the scorching summer months, early morning or evening rides offer respite from the heat, allowing cyclists to continue exploring the city's diverse landscapes without pause.

4. Bicycle Infrastructure: Tucson has made significant strides in becoming more bike-friendly, with dedicated bike lanes, bike racks, and bicycle boulevards scattered throughout the city. Local initiatives and advocacy groups have worked tirelessly to promote cycling as a sustainable and healthy mode of transportation, resulting in a city that embraces two-wheeled travel with open arms. 

riding a bike through saguaro national park


As I completed my ride through Saguaro National Park and reflected on Tucson's cycling-friendly ethos, I couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to experience the beauty of the desert landscape from the saddle of my bike. From the serene solitude of the Cactus Forest Loop Drive to the bustling energy of Tucson's cycling community, I am beckoned to return and fully immerse myself in the vibrant cycling lifestyle that Tucson affords.

MeganAroon standing with a saguaro cactus after riding her bike through Saguaro national park


Subscribe to our VIP Newsletter to immerse yourself in stories of cycling and biking inspired art. I will be detailing the rides I've done and epic places I've visited in future blog posts. And creating some new travel cycling inspired art and products for all the cycling enthusiasts!

Here is a link to my Amazon shop with many of the products I have used in my cycling journey. 

*This blog is a participant in Amazon's Associate's Program" 

Save on Pinterest

the best place to ride your bike at saguaro national park save to pinterest

Back to blog

Leave a comment