RVing at Gilbert Ray Campground + Saguaro National Park – Tucson, AZ

Although Tucson was our second stop in Arizona, it was our first chance to get a real taste of Arizona. And by that I mean sunshine, blue skies…and cacti! For so long I had been excited to see the mighty Saguaro cacti that are only present in certain parts of Arizona, and when we started seeing them when driving to the campground, I was so happy! On the agenda for our week in Tucson: visiting Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.


Saguaros in Tucson Mountain Park


For our stay in Tucson, we decided to stay at Gilbert Ray Campground – run by Pima county. We chose it because:

  • It’s a county campground (we love staying at county, state, and national parks vs. private parks)
  • It is a solely first come, first served campground
  • It is a 5 minute drive from the entrance to Saguaro National Park!
  • The sites have electricity, but water fills are spaced closely throughout the park
  • You can hike multiple trails from the campground (it’s connected to Tucson Mountain Park)
  • It had excellent reviews

We were surprised when we arrived at check-in time on a weekday, we got the last available spot for a rig our size! We quickly learned an important lesson about RVing in Arizona over the winter months: beware the snowbird season. Everything is busy or booked! Actually, the way Gilbert Ray hands out the first come, first served campsites is pretty smart. They have them listed by size, so a small rig doesn’t end up taking up a space that a big rig could have fit into.

The spot that was given to us could actually only accommodate a 30′ rig (Trudy is 38′) so we had a heck of a time fitting her into the spot, but we made it work. I was very thankful that the ladies in the office let us try to fit into the spot. They could have easily turned us away, saying that our rig was too big and they didn’t have a spot for it. Gilbert Ray ended up being one of our favorite campgrounds, so thankfully, we could stay!

We knew it going in, but we were bummed that Gilbert Ray has a strict 7 night max stay policy. We liked it so much that we wanted to stay longer, but we also understand that when a whole campground is first come, first served, you have to force people to leave, or else they could stay for a very long time! For reference, Gilbert Ray is $30/night, cash only. No discount for a week-long stay.

Our spot at Gilbert Ray Campground
Our spot at Gilbert Ray Campground
Trudy at Gilbert Ray Campground

Although the sites are close together, we really enjoyed our time at Gilbert Ray. The location can’t be beat, and the campground, although older, is very well designed. It has multiple loops, and vegetation has been preserved so you don’t feel quite as close to your neighbor as you actually are. Any place with trail access directly from the campground goes on my “love” list. We had excellent access to some of the trails in Tucson Mountain Park. Some of them were walkable from the campground, others were a short bike ride away.

Photo from a hike on King’s Canyon Trail

Saguaro National Park

We had a nice visit to Saguaro National Park. For anyone wondering how to properly pronounce this, it’s “Sah – War – Oh”. Took me a little while to get it right – I kept pronouncing the “g”! The Saguaros themselves are all over Tucson (and Phoenix for that matter, but we didn’t know that yet) so we didn’t get the “ooh ahh” feeling that we would have probably gotten if we stepped off an airplane and went straight to the park. It was still awe-inspiring to stand amongst such giant cacti. I feel like the Saguaro cactus is my spirit cactus (that’s a thing, right? like spirit animal…) because it’s so tall! For those who don’t know, Tim and I are both very tall.

We hiked part of the Hugh Norris trail with Calla and explored the visitor’s center. We also went on a trail that has petroglyphs, which we’ve since seen a lot of in the southwest, but it was awesome to see them for the first time!

Me with my Spirit Cactus
Tim, Calla, and a Saguaro taller than Tim!
At the Visitor’s Center – so many saguaros behind them!


Can you spot Tim?

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I have to give a big shoutout to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for being amazing. It is probably the best museum we’ve ever been to. Impeccably clean, so many displays (including an indoor cave that Tim climbed around in), many animals, a hummingbird garden, a huge botanical garden – this museum was part garden, part zoo, and part museum – but had only the best elements of each! I got to see many Organ Pipe cacti, which I’d really wanted to see in person. We easily spent a few hours here and could have spent far more if it wasn’t Calla’s nap time.

The basic mission of the museum is to teach the visitors about the Sonoran desert. We spent a lot of time in the Sonoran, with our visit to Tucson then our extended stay in Phoenix (which we have yet to blog about – but when we do…it’s a LOT!).  It was great to learn all about it within our first few days of being there. The museum was on the same road as the campground, and we got there in about 5 minutes  – it’s right before the entrance to Saguaro National Park. We would suggest this a museum as a “do not miss” if you are ever inTucson. The admission is a bit high for a museum ($27 per person-ish?) but trust me, this is far more than a regular ol’ museum. We felt it was worth every penny of the admission price.

Mining for dinosaur fossils at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The prairie dog exhibit. Did you know they are endangered and a restoration project is in place?



The Hummingbird Exhibit. We saw so many beautiful ones!
At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Between the campground, the 360 degree mountain views, the towering Saguaros, and the amazing hiking, we were very happy with our stay in Tucson and wished we have more time to explore the area. A friend tipped me off about all of the telescopes/observatories in the area, and Tim and I *so* badly wanted to take some tours and do some star-gazing, but we decided to wait until we can do them together someday. Come on, we can’t have only one of us seeing other galaxies through a telescope! Tucson, we will be back!

Date Visited: Late February 2018

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