Thinking of Thru-Hiking or Thru-Riding the Arizona Trail This Year?
Summertime is when hundreds of hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians are planning the logistics of a long-distance trip on the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT). Especially since many individuals canceled their springtime AZT adventures due to COVID-19, the Arizona Trail Association (ATA) has been anticipating the busiest autumn in history. However, Arizona’s intense wildfire season – with three major wildfires burning more than 100 miles of the AZT – and a recent spike in Arizona’s COVID-19 cases has led the ATA to discourage thru-hiking and thru-riding this year.
We know how disappointing this is going to be for so many people. A southbound hike or ride from Utah to Mexico along the AZT is the adventure of a lifetime, and normally we would be encouraging everyone to use these uncertain times to hit the trail. But widespread trail closures with no safe or reasonable detours combined with Arizona becoming a global hot spot for the novel coronavirus has created an unsafe situation for “thrus” in 2020.
In southern Arizona, the Bighorn Fire burned 120,000 acres on the Coronado National Forest, including AZT Passages 10, 11 and 12 through the Santa Catalina Mountains, as well as the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bypass. The trail is closed until further notice, and a potential detour along dirt roads through the San Pedro River Valley is being explored. As a result of the fire’s devastating impacts to the landscape, flash floods are expected throughout the summer months. The Coronado National Forest intends to keep the area closed to visitors until at least November. It may be years before trails are safe and open to the public again.
In central Arizona, the Bush Fire burned 193,455 acres on the Tonto National Forest, including AZT Passages 20 and 21 through the Four Peaks and Mazatzal Mountains. The trail is closed between Roosevelt Lake and Sunflower, and the only viable detour includes 50 miles along state highways.
In northern Arizona, the Mangum Fire burned 71,450 acres on the Kaibab National Forest, including AZT Passage 42 north of Jacob Lake. The trail is closed between Highway 89A and Winter Road, and a detour along a heavily-burned forest road nearby is being assessed for safety.
The southern terminus and the southernmost two miles of the AZT have also been closed by Customs and Border Protection due to border wall and road construction in the area.
In total, 125.4 miles of the AZT are closed and are not expected to be safe to hike or ride again until 2021.
Under normal circumstances, the ATA would help facilitate shuttles around closed segments of trail. However, asking volunteers, community members or commercial shuttle services to transport groups of people during the pandemic violates the ATA’s COVID-19 safety protocols. Hitchhiking, while legal in Arizona, also presents unnecessary risks to both trail user and driver due to the possibility of disease transmission while in a vehicle together.
If you have been looking forward to a long-distance AZT adventure in Autumn 2020, the ATA strongly encourages you to reconsider. Please allow us time to repair the trail through these heavily burned areas, and for our communities and medical facilities to recover from the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases. The AZT will be here for you to experience in the future.
If you live in Arizona, consider day trips and low-risk overnight outings close to home. Also, please review the helpful information provided by our friends at RecreateResponsibly.org.
The Arizona Trail Association does not make these statements and recommendations lightly. We work tirelessly to protect and maintain the trail for you, and know how the AZT provides a pathway for transformative experiences. We know trails and outdoor spaces are going to play a vital role in America’s economic and public health recovery, which is why we are asking for your understanding and support. Donations and memberships to the ATA are vital right now so we can continue to fulfill our mission to protect, maintain, enhance, promote and sustain the Arizona Trail as a unique encounter with the land.
We look forward to welcoming everyone back to the AZT soon. Until then, may the outdoor spaces close to home provide the nature immersion you need to stay healthy and safe.