Arizona History

Arizona has been inhabited by Indigenous people for over 10,000 years. Today, the Grand Canyon State is home to the Ak-Chin Indian Community (Ak-Chin O’odham); Cocopah Indian Tribe (Kwapa); Colorado River Indian Tribes (Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo); Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation (Abaaja); Fort Mojave Tribe (Pipa Aha Macav); Gila River Indian Community (Akimel O’odham); Havasupai Tribe (Havasuw `Baaja); Hopi Tribe (Hopi); Hualapai Tribe (Hualapai); Kaibab-Paiute Tribe (Kai’vi’vits); Navajo Nation (Diné); Pascua Yaqui Tribe (Yoeme); Pueblo of Zuni (A:shiwi); Quechan Tribe (Quechan); Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (Onk Akimel O’odham and Xalychidom Piipaash); San Carlos Apache Tribe (Ndé); San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe (Kwaiantikowkets); Tohono O’odham Nation (Tohono O’odham); Tonto Apache Tribe (Te-go-suk); White Mountain Apache Tribe (N’dee); Yavapai-Apache Nation (Wipuhk’a’bah and Dil’zhe’e); and Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe (Wipuhk’a’bah).

We acknowledge that every foot of the Arizona National Scenic Trail is on the ancestral lands of Indigenous people, and are grateful for the opportunity to be stewards of the trail that traverses and connects these lands.

Arizona Trail History

The Arizona Trail was the dream of Dale Shewalter who envisioned a cross-state trail in the 1970s, and in 1985, while he was working as a Flagstaff schoolteacher, walked from Nogales to the Utah state line to explore the feasibility of a trail traversing Arizona. Immediately thereafter, Dale began traveling around the state giving presentations on his vision of a trail connecting communities, mountains, canyons, deserts, forests, public lands, historic sites, various trail systems, wilderness areas, and other points of interest. The idea was embraced by all types of trails users throughout Arizona, and by Arizona State Parks and the Kaibab, Coronado, Coconino, and Tonto National Forests, the Bureau of Land Management, and National Parks Service.

Inventory work was needed on determining the existing trails that could be interconnected to be designated as part of the Arizona Trail, and at the same time, where new trails would be needed to traverse Arizona’s diverse landscapes. In the late 1980’s, Dale was hired by the Kaibab National Forest to be the first paid coordinator for the Arizona Trail, and all agencies began establishing segments of the Arizona Trail.

By 1990, two needs became apparent – a formal partnership among all governmental agencies was necessary to better coordinate efforts and communication, and a non-profit organization for the trail was needed. Using monies from all four National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and funding of its own, Arizona State Parks assumed the lead role and employed paid coordinators for the Arizona Trail throughout the 1990s.

In 1994, the Arizona Trail Association incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and became an organized voice for the trail, and brought together passionate day hikers, backpackers, equestrians, mountain bicyclists, runners, trail builders, nature enthusiasts, cross-country skiers, and llama packers from throughout the state. These committed individuals (then and even more so today) provided the necessary route identification to “close the gaps” of the trail, provided the necessary volunteers for building and maintaining the trail, created maps and provided GPS coordinates, identified water sources and resupply points, and raised money and awareness for the trail.

In 2006, the trail was designated a State Scenic Trail by the Arizona Legislature, and in 2009 it received National Scenic Trail status by the United States Congress under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act. The Arizona Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in America.

The Arizona Trail was officially completed in 2011 when the final gap was construction along the Gila River. Since that time, continual efforts have been made to improve the trail and trail experience by relocating it away from dirt roads to fulfill the non-motorized designation of the trail.

The Arizona Trail has become one of the premier long distance trails in the country. The diversity of people that have made this happen is as wide as the trail is long. The Arizona Trail demonstrates what trail users and land managers can accomplish when they share a common vision.

European-American History Along the Arizona Trail

For information about European-American history as it relates to the Arizona Trail corridor, please visit the Passages pages. There you will find one history chapter for each of the Arizona Trail’s 43 passages, researched and written by Tucson-based historian Preston Sands. A more comprehensive cultural history of the Arizona Trail, including indigenous place names of prominent geographical features, is currently underway.