Southern Pacific

Northwest of Tucson, the more popular half of Saguaro National Park protects extensive stands of saguaro cactus as well as ancient petroglyphs, spring wildflowers, and generally gorgeous desert scenery. From I-10 at Cortaro (exit 246), a loop road runs southwest, then back east through rugged mountainous terrain, which, though popular, is a great place to get a feel for the Sonora Desert landscape. A visitor center (520/733-5158, daily, $15 per vehicle) has details of the many hikes here, like the popular Hugh Norris Trail, which winds along a mountain ridge to the 4,687-foot summit of Wasson Peak.

There’s more hiking, plus camping and the excellent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (520/883-2702, daily, $21) in the adjacent Tucson Mountain Park.