Here’s what you want to know about hiking the Arizona Trail
USA TODAY (June 11, 2021) by Dave Stamboulis
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is a continuous footpath that runs roughly 800 miles from the Mexican border all the way across the state until reaching the Stateline Campground in Utah. The trail weaves through the Sonoran Desert and a selection of appropriately named “sky islands,” stretches of towering mountain ranges that boast pine forests, cool weather and even snow (a vast contrast to the harsh desert below).
The trail then works its way through some of Arizona’s most stunning mountain scenery, from the Superstition Wilderness to the Four Peaks and Mazatzal Mountains, before climbing up onto the Mogollon Rim. The AZT then makes a dramatic finish, crossing the Grand Canyon and descending the Kaibab Plateau into the red rock canyon landscape that marks the end of the route at the Utah border.
It takes about six to seven weeks to hike the entire Arizona Trail, with thru-hikers usually attempting the route either in spring or fall, so as to avoid the weather extremes that are encountered along the way, and to maximize water source availability.
In the spring, hikers head north, and in the fall, they go southbound. While long-distance hikers have resupply plans (the trail runs through gateway communities along or near the route roughly every 4-6 days), physical preparation and need a good water plan, those not quite as ambitious can opt for section hiking any one of the trail’s 43 passages, doable in a day or weekend, and spaced out over time.
While some 400 hikers finish the entire trail each year, the vast wilderness spaces marking each passage ensure that the AZT can be a very solitary experience. When my wife and I hiked the full trail in spring of 2021, other than a handful of nights camping next to others, we spent most of our time being surrounded more by elk, rattlesnakes and cacti, rather than human beings.
The AZT is nowhere near as popular as the larger long-distance trails, such as the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. While those trails are far longer, most of those who’ve completed these marathons say that the AZT is by far more challenging, mostly due to its combination of rugged terrain, water worries and extremes of environment.
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