We visited the Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountain District (just east is another visitor center in the Rincon Mountain District). Inside is the ranger station, where we picked up our Junior Ranger booklets. There is also a desert life display, a theater with a film about the park and its importance in Native American culture, a sitting area equipped with some children’s puzzles, and a gift shop.
Our family with twin seven-year-olds and a four-year-old spent a few hours exploring the park and working on our Junior Ranger booklets. Here is what we were able to do with kids:
We took the Cactus Garden Trail, that even little kids can manage, to see a variety of cactus and even some animal life (lizards and birds, for us).
We made the short hike to Signal Hill to see petroglyphs. It was fun trying to decipher the messages from the ancient Hohokam people and making symbols of our own in the booklets.
We watched the 15-minute “Voices of the Desert” film about the park and its cultural connection. It wasn’t very engaging for the kids, but they did get some appreciation of the saguaro from it. (Stay until the screen goes up after the film so you can see the view from the theater room.)
We drove the Cactus Forest loop in our minivan. (At our visit, the unpaved Loop Drive was dry. Our minivan may not have been able to travel it if wet.)
We learned to point out several types of cactus (saguaro, barrel, tree cholla, jumping cholla, and prickly pear), that there are 19 different varieties of rattlesnake in the park, that the saguaro cactus has an unexpectedly small seed, and that the average person uses and tosses 167 water bottles a year.
We are glad we brought reusable water bottles to fill in their complimentary fountain and were ready to hike with plenty of snacks. Our visit really helped us find an appreciation for the iconic saguaro and the excitement that we did find our park.
The additional beauty is that it is a park for everyone and a great place for families to visit. The U.S. National Park Service designated 10 free entrance days in 2017 and invite everyone to find your park– there are parks and monuments nearer than you may think.
Jodee is a full-time mom to three playful boys. She was raised in the desert, educated in the Rocky Mountains, and the lived in Midwest before returning to the “dry heat.” She is passionate about learning, culture, and nature. When she isn’t shuttling her boys from school to activities, she is either planning out their next family adventure or playing Duolingo to avoid folding laundry. She dreams of visiting all of the National Parks with her family and to finding the cure for homework battles. You can peek into her life and family outings on Instagram @thatsmoxie.