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.