Crested Saguaro near Kinney Road

Crest Quest: Finding Crested Saguaros in Arizona

Crested saguaros, or cristates, are so rare that some Arizonans have never seen one, and others don’t even know they exist.

Apparently scientists aren’t quite sure why some saguaro cactuses begin developing in an unusual fan shape, though they have some theories that it could be caused by disease, insects, or genetic defects. Whatever the reason, I’m sure glad they do because it doesn’t harm the plant, and they are so beautiful.

So, you want to see a “crestie” for yourself? Let me show you where! But be warned that saguaro cactuses are protected, and harming one can cost you up to 25 years in prison! Please stay at least 10 feet away to protect their roots and keep them strong for the next visitors.

Phoenix Area

Coyote Canyon Trail

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

This ultra rare double-crested saguaro can be found on the Coyote Canyon Trail at the junction with the Desperado Trail.

The stats
5.8 mi
424 ft gain

The full report
Coyote Canyon Trail

Crested Saguaro on Coyote Canyon Trail McDowell Sonoran Reserve
Crested saguaro on Sidewinder Trail

Sidewinder Trail

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The trail to this crested saguaro is easy, so almost anyone can get a look. The cactus is behind a fence for its protection.

The stats
2.2 mi
187 ft gain

The full report
Sidewinder Trail

San Tan Trail

San Tan Regional Park

The coolest crested saguaro on this list might be the “hang loose” saguaro, and it’s just two miles round trip to visit it if you start at the Rock Peak Wash Trailhead. Stats are for the full loop.

The stats
5.4 mi
545 ft gain

The full report
Rock Peak Hedgehog Loop

hang loose saguaro
Crested saguaro near Skull Mesa

Cottonwood Trail #247

Tonto National Forest Cave Creek District

You can get to this crested saguaro from the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. A bonus crested saguaro can be spotted from the Skull Mesa Trail if you have a sharp eye. The stats are for the whole trip up to Skull Mesa—the saguaro is 4.7 miles into the hike.

The stats
12.1 mi
3172 ft gain

The full report
Skull Mesa

Tucson Area

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum


If you’re visiting Saguaro National Park West, you can see this one at the Sonoran Desert Museum without paying an entrance fee. It’s located to the left of the entrance by the bicycle rack.

No hiking required.

Crested saguaro at the Sonoran Desert Museum
A crested saguaro on the way to the javelina Picnic area in Saguaro National Park East

Javelina Picnic Area

Saguaro National Park East

Just inside the entrance to Saguaro National Park East is the turn for Javelina Picnic Area. Don’t miss the turn or you’ll have to drive the one-way 8-mile loop to try again. Be sure to pay attention to the road while you look for this beauty because it’s on the right side at a sharp turn in the road, and I don’t want you hitting any pedestrians.

No hiking required.

Park Road

Saguaro National Park West

After the ranger at Saguaro National Park West told us there were no crested saguaros we could see within the park, we offered our kids five dollars if they could spot one. Bingo! You are not allowed to travel off trail within the park, but this one can be seen from the road. Viewing spot marked on the map.

No hiking required.

Crested saguaro in Saguaro National Park East
Crested saguaro along Roadrunner Trail in Saguaro National Park

Roadrunner Trail

Saguaro National Park West

You can hike for just a couple minutes down the Roadrunner Trail to see this small crested saguaro. The big joke is that the roadrunner is you, since you’ll have to cross Picture Rocks Road to get there.

From the Cam-Boh Trailhead, follow the Roadrunner Trail north out of the parking lot and across the road. The trail follows the edge of the park boundary next to some houses. You’ll soon see the cactus on your right.

Bajada Loop

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

This well-developed crested saguaro can be found along an easy nature loop in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

Take the Bear Canyon trailhead from the parking lot and hike a short distance to the Bajada Loop Nature Trail, which will be on your left. The fastest way to get to the cactus is to take the loop counter-clockwise, but it’s only a 1/4 mile easy loop, so it’s worth doing the whole thing.

Crested Saguaro in Sabino Recreation Area on the Bajada Loop

Bonus Finds in Tucson

  • There’s a very cool crested saguaro along Kinney Road next to Saguaro National Park West, but I can’t divulge the exact location, so just keep your eyes peeled as you’re driving!
  • Driving from the main entrance of Saguaro National Park East north on Freeman Road toward the Deer Springs Trailhead, we spotted one on the right side of the road.
  • I read about a crestie on the Deer Valley Loop in Saguaro National Park East on the Parkflo blog. Take the Wildhorse Trail to the Garwood Trail and turn right. After crossing the wash, it’ll be on the left.

Map & Directions

Download KML or GPX

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Disclaimer Outdoor activities have inherent risk, and we will not be able to tell you all the risks you may face. You are responsible for your own safety, so prepare as well as you can and know your limits. Follow this guide at your own risk. And have fun!

14 responses to “Crest Quest: Finding Crested Saguaros in Arizona”

  1. Brandon Johnston Avatar
    Brandon Johnston

    Woah, those are so cool! I hope I can go see those someday!

  2. Michael Nelson Avatar
    Michael Nelson

    There is a crested saguaro in Phoenix at the Desert Botanical Garden.
    There is also one in Tucson at the University .

    1. Stacey Johnston Avatar

      Thank you for sharing! I haven’t been to those ones yet.

      1. Mick Avatar

        Been living in Tucson area for a few months, i am on 70 odd seen now, i am keeping a database.

        1. Stacey Johnston Avatar

          Tucson seems to have an abundance of them! I love that you’re keeping a database of them. They are so special.

  3. Dina Slavic Avatar

    I have one in my front yard in Goodyear, AZ

    1. Stacey Johnston Avatar

      Wow, that is very unique!

  4. Lawrence Winters Avatar
    Lawrence Winters

    There’s one on the Univ of Az campus, next to Old Main. And one at the Jan. 8 memorial
    at the Historic Pima County Coirthouse.

    1. Stacey Johnston Avatar

      Thanks for the info! Seems there are quite a few to see in the Tucson area.

  5. Linda Viani Avatar
    Linda Viani

    I didn’t see the Sawaro.that is east of picacho peak on the east side of I ten. There is a huge one there.

    1. Stacey Johnston Avatar

      Thanks for sharing! We always love learning where additional crested saguaros can be found.

  6. David Chalker Avatar
    David Chalker

    If you tell me where I can send you pictures I will send you pictures of multiple Crested Saguaros and their locations inside Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro West. Nothing funner than stumbling across a Crested Saguaro!!

  7. Mel Avatar

    There’s one in the White Tank Mountain regional park just off the Bajada Trail! It’s beautiful!

    1. Stacey Johnston Avatar

      Thank you! We always love hearing about where to find more. We have never ventured out to the White Tanks yet, but I will definitely put this trail on the list for when we do.

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