Section-Hiking the Arizona Trail: A Few Introductory Questions

The Trek (December 21, 2020) by Abigail Kessler

Who is this and what are you doing?

Hi friends!

My name’s Abigail, and I’m hoping to tell you about my experience section hiking the Arizona Trail (AZT). I’m trying to make it as a local journalist, but I’m pretty outdoorsy too. I moved to Arizona from the midwest last summer and pretty soon after discovered the state has a long trail–and that it runs near where I live. I’ve wanted to do a thru-hike for a long time now and this seemed like both a great starting point and a way to better get to know my new state. I mean, it’s right there. Don’t think it gets more accessible than that.

So in January of 2020, I started planning a thru-hike of the AZT, with the hope to set out in mid-October. You can probably guess what happened next.

As the year progressed, I avoided thinking about my plans, hoping there would be some way to make things work. When it finally became impossible to ignore, I came up with a half-measure that of course won’t be the same, but will hopefully be enough to keep me going until things open up again. Basically, I’m going to be sectioning the trail on my days off work and writing little overviews on each passage.

Tell me more about the Arizona Trail

The AZT is roughly 800 miles long (not too much as long trails go, but certainly not nothing either) and crosses Arizona from north to south or vice versa. To be more specific, one end’s at the Mexico border near Sierra Vista and Sonoita and the other touches Utah by Kanab.

The trail’s relatively new, established in the late 1980’s and completed in 2011. Grade school teacher Dale Shewalter had the idea for a cross-state long trail after moving to Tucson in the 1970’s and spent the next few decades helping it become reality. The first segment of the trail, from the Grand Canyon’s north rim toward Utah, was dedicated in 1988. The trail has since expanded to cross the entire state. Since 1994, the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) has been stewarding the trail, organizing maintenance and management efforts. (Much of this information came from the ATA’s website. You can learn more here).

Because it’s in Arizona, the trail goes through all sorts of elevations, landscapes, and ecosystems. It crosses four of the six national forests in the state and two national parks. The speed at which you can move between vastly different environments is one of my favorite things about the state, and what I’ve seen of the AZT so far suggests it showcases that diversity.

I’ll probably write more on the trail’s history as it comes up. There are a few historically significant features along the trail, and I’d love to learn more about how the trail’s history affected its final path.


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