Backcountry camping is available by permit. There are no accommodations for any vehicle camping (including RV). Please download the Saguaro Wilderness Area (PDF) for more information on backpacking. This booklet contains information you will need in order to start planning a backpacking trip here at Saguaro National Park. Permits may be obtained up to 2 months in advance, but no later than 12:00 noon on the day of the trip.
Winter Weather and MonsoonsContrary to popular belief, the Sky Island Mountain ranges do experience large snowstorms and very cold conditions from time to time during the winter. Typical winter storms may dump 2-6 feet over 48 hours, often reducing temperatures to the single digits (5500 feet +). Some storms even come down to the valley. Check local weather station for Mount Lemmon (NOAA) for conditions similar to Manning Camp and Spud Rock.
The Monsoon Season offers amazing shows of lightning, danger and flash flooding. Do not get caught in a canyon by a drainage when storms are near. Take cover from lightning and stay cool in the sweltering, if not deadly summer conditions.
This campground is a strong day hike up the Tanque Verde Ridge over 6.9 miles and 3,000 feet of gain. Exceptional views can be seen throughout the hike, and habitats change quickly from desert scrub to oak savanna and pine/ juniper woodlands. Water here is very seasonal, and often dry during the spring and fall. Fires are allowed here, only from collecting dead and downed wood.
Douglas SpringThis campground is a 7.5 mile hike with approximately 1800 feet of elevation gain. There are plentiful cottonwoods and oaks in the area that do provide some shade for the hotter months. This is the lowest campground and as such is ideal during winter storms that blanket the higher elevations with feet of snow. The hike up offers beautiful views down towards Tanque Verde Falls and of multiple drainages including Tina Larga tank. Water is usually more plentiful than Juniper Basin, but is still very seasonal. Fires are not allowed here as a lack of firewood and extremely fire prone grasslands occupy the area.
Grass ShackGrass Shack is a great campground that offers shade from large sycamores as well as other riparian species. Two of the larger streams-Chimenea Creek and Madrona Creek run through and by the campground, providing water most of the year. Fires are not allowed here being in a fragile riparian ecosystem surrounded by a thick grassland. Access is from Camino Loma Alta, and this ten mile hike climbs 2,200 feet to a campground often not affected by winter storms. Views are exceptional to the south as you climb through and above the saguaros. This is the first of two campgrounds on the Arizona Trail.
Happy ValleyAround the back side of the Rincon Mountains is Happy Valley Road and access to the Miller Creek trailhead and Turkey Creek trailhead. Take exit 297 from Interstate-10 (Mescal Road). Be advised-This is a rarely maintained dirt road that has multiple stream crossings. During wet winters and the monsoon season this road may be impassable.
This is the shortest hike to a campground, covering 3.9 miles and over 2000 feet of elevation gain. Water at this campsite is variable, only occurring during wet times. This campground offers a resting point to climbing Rincon Peak, and sits at an elevation of 6200 feet. There are many dangerous dead pine trees in the area, and this area is often affected by winter storms. However, during the summer the trailhead elevation is much higher and offers excellent views to the east.
Spud RockSpud Rock is the most isolated of our six campgrounds, sitting on the east side of the range at 7200 feet. Access is generally from the east, but Turkey Creek trailhead is very difficult to drive and requires a lifted truck or a jeep. Views to the east are exceptional, and water is available at multiple areas along the trail during wetter months. During the winter this area is often under feet of snow-call for current conditions. However, this area offers exceptional cover under pines and aspens and much lower temperatures to beat the summer heat. Water is available seasonally, but Manning Camp is not far away and offers year-round water (most years).
ManningBuilt by former Tucson Mayor Levi Manning, this camp was his family's summer home. Now it serves as a high elevation (8000 feet) base for many of our fire and natural resource studies. A Ranger is stationed here from April- September (normally) and six campsites exist. The hike is from 14-18 miles from Tucson, and accumulates from 5500-6500 feet of elevation. Extraordinary views and amazing changes in flora and fauna composition exist, passing through riparian zones and dry cliff alike. This area is a savior from the sweltering heat in the valley below, rarely exceeding 85 degrees. A perennial water source near the cabin has only dried up twice in Saguaro's history, so water is almost always available. A sign leads down to it. Fire are a must at night with fire rings as lows typically are below 40 degrees until late-May.
Without question, water will be your main concern while visiting the Saguaro Wilderness Area. Surface water is generally scarce during most of the year. Occassionally, it is non-existent with the exception of Manning Camp, which provides water nearly year-round. Start your trip with plenty of potable water, and plan your trip according to water availability. For current water reports, inquire at the visitor center (520) 733-5153. It is recommended that you treat/filter all water used for human consumption.
Leave No Trace
The ethics and techniques of "Leave No Trace" camping were developed by the National Outdoor Leadership School to assist outdoor users in minimizing their impacts on wild places. When camping in the Saguaro Wilderness Area, we ask that you adopt these ethics and techniques to help us protect and preserve this Sonoran Desert treasure.
Principles of Leave No Trace:
1. Plan ahead and prepare.
Last updated: September 12, 2019