the mountains of saguaro national park

7 Interesting Stops To Make On A Saguaro To Petrified Forest Road Trip

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Traveling on a road trip from Saguaro to Petrified Forest is a great way to explore the diverse beauty of the American Southwest.

Located in Arizona and spanning nearly 400 square miles combined, the parks offer visitors breathtaking views of cacti-studded deserts, ancient petroglyphs, unique rock formations, and vivid colors of the region’s varied landscapes.

Whether you’re looking for a short trip to squeeze in both parks or an extended vacation, Saguaro and Petrified National Parks are two of the best ways to experience all that Arizona offers.

How Far Is It From Saguaro To Petrified Forest

The most direct driving route from Saguaro National Park to Petrified Forest is 263 miles.

It will take around 4.5 hours to drive between the two national parks without any stops or traffic delays.

the mountains of saguaro national park with the saguaro cactus dotting the landscape
Saguaro National Park

📖 Want to hit up all three Arizona national parks? We have another awesome road trip from Houston to Grand Canyon.

Best Way To Get Between The Two

While we are discussing Saguaro National Park to Petrified Forest National Park as a road trip for this post, we want to mention that there are other ways to get between the two national parks if you wish.

Flying Between The National Parks

The first is to fly. You will want to hop on a plane from Tucson (the closest city with an airport to Saguaro National Park) heading to Show Low (the nearest town with an airport to Petrified Forest National Park).

From Show Low, you will need to get a car to drive the rest of the way to the national park. It is about an hour away.

You need to take into account that most flights from Tucson to Show Low have a stop in Phoenix.

By the time you arrive an hour or two before the first flight, have a layover in Phoenix, arrive in Show Low, and then drive to Petrified Forest National Park, we wouldn’t be surprised if this were a 7+ hour day.

So you are not saving any time, or money, with flying. In fact, it will take longer if you compare the flight to the direct drive without any stops.

heading from saguaro to petrified forest gives you the opportunity to see petrified wood like what is shown here
Petrified Forest National Park | Photo Credit: Caleb Jack

📖 Even though there are only three official national parks, there are still tons of other national Arizona monuments to check out within the state.

Taking A Bus Between The National Parks

If you don’t have a car in the area and don’t wish to rent one, you can still take a road trip from Saguaro National Park to Petrified Forest National Park.

You can catch a bus in Tucson with an ending point in Holbrook. You will still be about 30 miles from Petrified Forest National Park, so you will have to get a taxi to the national park.

The upside of this option is that you can physically get between the two parks without having a car on hand.

The downside is that the bus trip is quite long, around 10 hours, and the stops are based on what is convenient for the bus. You won’t be making any scenic stops along the way.

📖 Make sure to check out our tips on what to do with a day in Saguaro National Park.

Self-Driving Between The National Parks

This is the best option to get between Saguaro National Park and Petrified Forest National Park.

Not only will you be able to stop at places along the route that piques your interest, but it is also the most direct way for you to get between the parks.

As we mentioned, it is the quickest route, only taking about 4.5 hours, but we suggest you make a day or two of the trip and stop at some interesting places along the way.

Let’s talk about the route options and interesting stops to make!

a saguaro cactus stands tall in the national park
Saguaro National Park

📖 Wondering when you should be making this road trip? We discuss the best time to visit Saguaro National Park.

Optional Routes When Driving From Saguaro To Petrified

We have chosen to discuss two different routes, though there are other possibilities. These two routes will take you north in entirely different ways, so which attractions are close by will vary.

AZ-77 N / US-60 E

Option one is the fastest time-wise and the shortest in mileage.

the first route option to get from saguaro to petrified forest via google maps

I-10 W / AZ-87 N

Option two is 40 miles longer but only takes a few extra minutes.

Because this route is only a few minutes longer, we feel like you should pick which route you want based on the nearby stops you are interested in seeing.

google maps option two to drive between two arizona national parks

Best Stops To Make When Traveling Between Saguaro And Petrified Forest

There are tons of stops you can make along the route. If you wanted to spend three days getting up to Petrified Forest from Saguaro National Park, there would be plenty to keep you busy.

But we have chosen to highlight just a few from each route we thought you would enjoy.

Along The AZ-77 N / US-60 E Route

1. Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon, located near Saguaro National Park, is a great place to explore during your road trip.

The mountain features a multitude of outdoor activities ranging from easier strolls to challenging hikes.

For stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape, head to Windy Point Vista. This viewpoint overlooks the entire Tucson basin and provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city.

The viewpoint is located about 18 miles up Catalina Highway. Even though that doesn’t seem like a long car trip, people have been known to take hours to travel to and from the vista because of the fantastic views along the way.

If you’re looking for a more outdoor experience, take the Marshall Gulch Trail for a gorgeous hike in the pine forest. The trail is an out-and-back, but you can connect it with other trails for a loop (consider the Alpine Trail).

With a stream and wildflowers, it is a gorgeous hike with some incredible views of the mountains.

And for you super adventurous folks, you can try your hand at rock climbing and canyoneering. For safety, we recommend you go with a group. We recommend this tour that leaves from Tucson.

Book Your Mt Lemmon Half-Day Rock Climb & Canyoneering

Address: 930 Catalina Hwy, Mt Lemmon, AZ 85619 (windy point vista)

a road leads into the painted desert section of petrified forest national park
Petrified Forest National Park | Photo Credit: Yifu Wu

2. Biosphere 2

Along the route between Saguaro and Petrified National Park sits Biosphere 2, an ecological research facility in Oracle, Arizona.

Built as a self-sustaining artificial environment, Biosphere 2 is home to several unique ecosystems and a wide variety of plants. Visiting the complex offers you a chance to explore the beauty of nature while also learning about exciting new developments in biosphere science.

During a quick visit to Biosphere 2, you can explore the indoor rainforest and desert ecosystems and tour the facility’s research laboratories.

You can also learn about sustainable living practices in the facility’s educational center and even participate in hands-on activities.

If you visit, be sure they don’t lock you in for the next ten years as part of another experiment!

Address: 32540 S Biosphere Rd, Oracle, AZ 85739

3. Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Located near the town of Winkelman, Aravaipa Canyon is a desert canyon with scenic views and abundant wildlife. The area is known for its lush vegetation, dense cottonwood forests, and diverse bird species.

One important thing to note about this area is that it is a wild wilderness area. As such, there are no specific trails to hike within the canyon.

Instead, it is about you getting out in nature and exploring what the canyon offers.

One of the reasons this one makes our list is because it has a very unique aspect. And that is that the canyon has water year-round, which is quite rare for a desert area like Arizona.

Whether you stay for a few hours or spend the day in this magnificent environment, Aravaipa Canyon is sure to be a highlight of your Arizona road trip.

📎 Note: Aravaipa Canyon requires permits to hike inside the canyon. You will need to plan for this one ahead of time.

Address: Winkelman, AZ 85192

the mountains and cactus of saguaro national park
Saguaro National Park

4. City Of Globe

Globe is a charming small town with several attractions to explore.

First up is Besh Ba Goway Archeological Park & Museum.

Besh Ba Gowah is an impressive ancient site. Built by the Salado people some 800 years ago, the area was home to a thriving community.

Today, you can explore the area’s partially restored ruins. Swing by the museum to see some incredible artifacts and visit the botanical gardens.

Next, head downtown to explore Globe’s Historic Gila County Jail. Built in 1910, this jail offers visitors a chance to learn about local history and get an up-close look at the cells. If you’re feeling brave, take a guided tour of the old jailhouse and experience a lockdown.

Finish your visit to Globe with a stroll along the historic downtown area, where you can explore charming shops before heading back out on the road.

With so many great attractions in one small town, Globe would make a great stop during your Arizona road trip.

Address: 177 E Oak St #171, Globe, AZ 85501 (Gila county jail)

Along The I-10 W / Az-87 N Route

5. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

If you decide to take this route, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is our first stop suggestion.

This ancient site is home to the remains of an ancient Hohokam village that dates back over 700 years. The main attraction is seeing the ruins of the Big House.

The house is a four-story structure in relatively good condition, considering how old it is. While you can’t go inside it due to its delicate nature, you can wander outside the structure and look closely at the remains.

Park rangers will be on location to discuss the ruins. You will also find signage around if you prefer to learn independently.

📎 Note: You will notice a metal structure above the house ruins. This is to protect it from the elements so it can survive for even more generations to come.

Address: 1100 W Ruins Dr, Coolidge, AZ 85128

after traveling from saguaro to petrified forest you can see incredible sites like this petrified wood stump in front of colorful rock formations
Petrified Forest National Park | Photo Credit: Caleb Jack

6. Phoenix

Phoenix is an exciting destination with plenty of attractions to explore. You could spend multiple days in this city alone, but we have a few suggestions if you want to swing by for a few hours on your road trip.

Start your visit by checking out the Desert Botanical Garden, where you can admire a wide variety of desert plants and cacti from around the world in one beautiful setting.

The garden is home to more than 50 thousand plants.

Next, head to the Wrigley Mansion and take a guided tour of this luxurious estate. Built in 1932 by chewing gum mogul William Wrigley, this home was a gift to his wife for their 50th anniversary.

The mansion features stunning architectural details and is a landmark of Phoenix.

Finally, stop by the Musical Instrument Museum and explore the extensive collection of instruments from around the world.

Listen to audio recordings, watch videos, or even try your hand at playing a few of the instruments yourself. This museum is excellent for music lovers, history buffs, and everyone in between.

Address: 1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008 (desert botanical garden)

7. Tonto National Bridge State Park

Tonto National Bridge State Park is a popular stop for visitors and locals to Arizona’s rugged Sonoran Desert.

Located near the Superstition Mountains, the park features some of the most stunning desert scenery in the state, including the famous saguaro cacti.

Visitors to the park can explore the surrounding desert at their own pace, but those looking for a unique experience won’t want to miss out on the chance to see its signature attraction, the Tonto Natural Bridge.

This incredible bridge is the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, standing 183 ft high and spanning just under 400 ft across.

It is truly an awe-inspiring sight you don’t want to miss.

At the state park, you can also take a self-guided tour of the bridge and learn more about its history and importance to the area.

In addition, you will find plenty of other things to do as well. Several trails with amazing sights are perfect for hiking. And you can also find ideal spots for birdwatching and wildlife viewing within the park.

Address: Nf-583A, Pine, AZ 85544

a dirt road leads through saguaro national park
Saguaro National Park

FAQs For Your Roadtrip From Saguaro National Park To Petrified Forest National Park

How Long Does It Take To See Saguaro National Park

If you allow one to two days for Saguaro National Park, you will feel pretty happy with your time there.

The national park is separated into two locations: the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District.

If you have two days, spend one day in each district. This would allow you to do any available scenic drives and a few of the smaller hikes.

With a single day, you will most likely have to pick just one side of the park to visit unless you are much faster than we were during our visit (we only had one day and spent it in the Tucson Mountain District side).

The two sides will have similar aspects, so don’t feel like you HAVE to do both.

How Long Should You Spend At Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest National Park is quite small and can be seen in one day.

Similar to Saguaro, there are two sections of this national park. However, unlike Saguaro, they are connected, making it easier to see everything in a single day.

The park’s southern section is where you will find most of the petrified logs, where it gets its name. The park’s northern section contains the Painted Desert in all its glory.

One day will allow you to do the scenic drive through the park and take a couple of hiking trails throughout the day.

petrified logs dot the landscape of petrified forest
Petrified Forest National Park | Photo Credit: Noel Dejesus

How Long Is The Drive Through Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest National Park has one main road traveling through it, a 28-mile scenic drive.

The drive will take you through both park sections, the petrified wood area in the south and the painted desert in the north.

Can You Take Rocks From Petrified Forest

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is still no, but that it is also illegal, and you can be fined if you are caught doing so. This goes for the rocks and anything else you find within the national park.

By taking items from the national park, you are affecting the park’s ecosystem. Maybe your one “steal” doesn’t personally affect it, but when 1000 people do it, then it starts to make a difference. And you were a part of that.

The sad reality is that people do it all the time. But don’t you want future generations to be able to enjoy the park as you did?

Plus, stealing rocks from Petrified Forest National Park has led to a string of bad luck for many of those people. Over the years, the park has received numerous letters from visitors returning the rocks, explaining lousy luck falling upon them.

Do you want to risk it?

tons of saguaro cactus along the hillside of saguaro national park
Saguaro National Park

Read More From Arizona:
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Arizona National Parks You Can’t Miss
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Spend An Incredible One Day In Saguaro National Park
Best Season To Visit Saguaro National Park


To Finish – 7 Interesting Stops To Make On A Saguaro To Petrified Forest Road Trip

A road trip from Saguaro National Park to Petrified Forest National Park is a great way to experience the unique beauty of Arizona.

From breathtaking views of cacti in the desert to spectacular rock formations and ruins, the route between these parks offers something for everyone.

With plenty of stops between these Arizona national parks, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs, explore, and create lasting memories.

Whether you’re a nature lover or a city explorer, this road trip will surely meet your needs.