Sometimes, a place you visit is exactly as you expect it will be, other times, it completely surprises you. On a short trip to Tucson, you will discover that it does a little of both. Hills of Saguaro cacti greet your eye from just about any way you arrive. They can stand up to 100-feet high and live for around 100 years, maybe more.
This is one of the largest cities in Arizona and has lots of fun, family-friendly things to do. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or indoor entertainment, this is a great place to take the family. The following is a small list of fun things to do for a short trip to Tucson with kids.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is a fairly new addition to the National Park Service family, having only been added in the 1990s. It is split into two sections: an east side and a west side. Both of these locations have plenty to offer visitors, including a visitors center, hiking trails, and beautiful scenery to enjoy. If you really want to explore both sides you will want to plan a couple of days because it takes at least an hour just to drive from one side to the other.
The visitors center is a great place to start your Saguaro National Park adventure. Here you will be able to pay your entrance fee, get helpful information about your visit, and learn more about the flora and fauna of the area. As with most National Park visitors centers, you can also watch a short film that provides some insight into the history and importance of the park.
A park ranger will be available to help you plan your visit. They can inform you about the weather conditions while you’re there, any closures or dangers you may need to be aware of, and any programs that might be scheduled during your stay. This is especially useful on a short trip to Tucson. The rangers are a great resource and I highly recommend taking advantage of their service, it’s what they’re there for.
This is also where you will want to pick up your Junior Ranger program books for the kids. The Junior Ranger program is awesome and one your kids will surely enjoy participating in. Activities will probably include bingo, where kids will be on the lookout for plants, animals, and other things related to Saguaro National Park, a drawing of something interesting they see or do, and questions to answer about what they explore in the visitors center, as well as other activities to get their interest piqued.
Hiking When on a Short Trip to Tucson
Between the west side and the east side of the park, there are too many trails to hike on a short trip to Tucson. But have no fear, there are plenty of trails that will give you a glimpse into what Saguaro has to offer. Many trails here are perfect for hiking with kids too. Whether you want a short or long hike, easy or difficult, some or no elevation gain, you can find a trail to suit your needs.
You will encounter plenty of Saguaro cacti no matter which trail you decide to take. Not to mention all the other beautiful plants that make their home within the boundaries of Saguaro National Park. Much of the desert wildlife however, only comes out at night, so chances of seeing animals here is not as prevalent as it is at some of the other National Park sites. Kids will enjoy looking for signs of wildlife though, such as tracks or nibbled plants.
There are a few trails that will lead you to petroglyphs. These ancient rock drawings give us a look at life from a historical perspective. Hiking with a goal like finding petroglyphs is great for kids. It gives them something to focus on other than being hot or tired. Always make sure you bring plenty of water and a few snacks. Staying hydrated, especially in the desert, is vital.
International Wildlife Museum
The International Wildlife Museum is a must-see regardless of being on a short trip to Tucson. When I first researched this museum I had my doubts about going. I honestly didn’t think the kids would be all that interested. We have been to similar places all over the U.S. and I didn’t think this one would be any different from the others.
And then we went! It is housed in a building that was constructed to resemble a French Foreign Legion building. It looks like a castle. In front of the building you will see a large lion statue which you can climb up to for great photos. As soon as you enter, you start to see interesting things. There is a display about Roosevelt, who was an avid hunter. Further inside, you find lots of interesting animals.
Explore and Learn
As you meander through the museum, you will see all kinds of taxidermy animals from all over the world. We loved how well everything was labeled and learned quite a bit about animals we hadn’t heard of before. The man that started the museum was also an avid hunter and a conservationist too. He went on many African safaris and they had an entire room dedicated to things he had collected during that time. It was incredible the amount and diversity of animals he had collected.
He really wanted to educate people about over hunting, poaching, and being responsible citizens. This is why he started the International Wildlife Museum. The displays are so well done that you almost feel as if you’re in a zoo. They also provide areas where kids can touch and feel some of the displays, which isn’t always the case with these types of museums. It is an awesome place to explore with the family on your short trip to Tucson.
Old Tucson Is a Must on a Short Trip to Tucson
Old Tucson is the perfect family-friendly experience you definitely want to include on your short trip to Tucson with kids. They have a little of everything at this western themed park so that everyone is sure to have a great time. Rides, shows, food, and more make it a fun time no matter what type of experience you’re looking for.
The old time cars which you drive around a track and an old time carousel are included in your entrance fee, but for a little extra, you can get your thrills on the zip-line. There is also a free train that takes you around Old Tucson. It’s great that the rides are included because then kids can ride them again and again with no worries about buying tickets.
Entertainment is nonstop throughout the day. You will be given a schedule upon your arrival so you can be sure not to miss a thing. From singing and dancing to gunfights and comedy, there are plenty of shows to keep you smiling and having fun. One of our favorites was when they demonstrated some movie magic on one of the old film sets.
They included shooting, comedy, and stunts for a great display of action we all enjoyed. We saw a guy fall off a roof, someone from the audience be called out to a duel, and even an innocent cup lose its life. It was great entertaining fun!
We always enjoy learning something at the places we visit. This is another reason that Old Tucson is a great place to visit. It is an old movie set from hundreds of western films. Many famous actors, like John Wayne for example, walked the streets of this famous location. You might also recognize many of the buildings from some great old classics such as McLintock and the Three Amigos. History and Entertainment, what could be better?
As you’re walking around, enjoying the scenery and entertainment, you might get a little hungry. Well, you’re in luck because unlike many theme parks, the food here is both delicious and not too overpriced. Of course, we didn’t eat at every restaurant, but I can definitely say that the BBQ was fantastic.
All the food smelled great and we had a tough time deciding on which place to eat. The prices are reasonable, especially for being in a venue like this. The kids meals were only around $6 in any of the restaurants. They also have some cute souvenir shops and even an old time photo place.
Gilbert Ray Campground
For those looking for an economical way to travel, camping is a great option. In addition to lots of free BLM camping in the area, there is a beautiful campground perfectly located to visit each of these locations on a short trip to Tucson. The Gilbert Ray Campground is just minutes from Old Tucson, the International Wildlife Museum, and the west side visitors center of Saguaro National Park.
This campground offers RV site, as well as tent only sites. All RV sites have paved pads, electricity, and water. There are two dump stations on-site and restrooms, but no shower facilities are provided. You will also get a picnic table and lots of beautiful scenery to enjoy. The fee is nominal and worth it to be so close to all these amazing, family-friendly locations.
Enjoy a Short Trip to Tucson
If you’re planning a short trip to Tucson with kids, I highly recommend adding these places to your must-do list. They are fun, educational, unique places that will provide lasting memories for you and your family.
Old Tucson invited us to their establishment, but all of our opinions are still ours. This article may contain #ads and or affiliate links.