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Hiking the Arizona Trail – An Overview

I am coming up on the nine-year anniversary of my first thru-hike. I had no idea that after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011, everything would take off, and long-distance hiking, adventuring, fastpacking, mountaineering, and trail running would take over my life. It has been a wild ride, but one that has led me to discover some of the greatest places within our own massive country. The Arizona Trail is the best example of a trail/challenge that changed the way I think and stereotype the areas of our country.

I first stepped foot on the Arizona Trail as part of the Great Western Loop. I had finished the intense slog through the Grand Enchantment Trail and was looking forward to a more defined footpath to take me to the Grand Canyon for the first time. I was not disappointed. In my first extended period on the trail, I logged about 500 miles on the National Scenic Trail. It was enough to get me hooked. While the trail does showcase the best Saguaro of Arizona, it is so much more than a desert landscape.

Arizona is full of Sky Islands. Sky islands are isolated mountains with lowland (often desert) environments on all sides. In terms of the Arizona Trail, this means one is never in one environment for long. Beginning in Coronado National Memorial, the trail shoots straight up to Miller peak and seesaws up and down through the Huachuca, Santa Rita, and Rincon Mountains within the first 200 miles. Near Tucson, the trail climbs through the Santa Catalina before crossing the largest of the true desert sections near Oracle. The trail quickly climbs into the Superstitions, drops to Roosevelt Lake and then ascends into the Four Peaks Wilderness and the Mazatzal Mountains. After the most rugged sections, the route follows the Mogollon Rim toward Flagstaff and up towards the Grand Canyon.

Prior to the “Big Ditch” of the southwest, the Arizona Trail crosses the highest point in the San Francisco Peaks. This is the location of the second ski resort of the Trail. The first is nearly 500 trail miles south on Mt. Lemmon. The trail ends with a crossing of the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau. It ends at the Utah Border after giving travelers a wild 800-mile ride through a condensed, diverse, scenic landscape.

In April 2019, I completed the Arizona Trail in its entirety at a quick pace. It was the perfect trail to challenge myself. The climbs were tough but beautiful, the landscape was dry but expansive, and the trail community was very welcoming. The Arizona Trail is a burgeoning destination thru-hike that already sees people from all walks of life and countries attempting.

What I think makes the Arizona Trail so special is the time of year it can be hiked and the length. With the majority of people hiking the AZT in the shoulder season, it is a break and different from most popular trails in the United States. The second reason I believe the trail is so perfect is the length. 800 miles is the perfect challenge to be able to immerse oneself in the thru-hiking lifestyle, but also a manageable enough distance to maintain a career and off the trail obligations.

Here is a link to a downloadable GPS (GPX format file) and KML file for the Arizona National Scenic Trail (Linked Here)

Arizona Trail Map

Arizona Trail Map

To better illustrate the beauty of the trail, here are two movies that explain and showcase the beauty of the southwest.

Dylan Harris made a short film, “Adventure Lives at Home” about an Arizona Native who takes his first thru-hike across his home state:

In early 2020 Darwin also released a film, “Through The Great Southwest” about the Arizona trail and the amazing culture around it:

As always, you can support this content on Patreon

The Arizona Trail Association also gives out a buckle to all of the finishers of the trail. Here is mine!

Arizona Trail completion belt buckle.

Arizona Trail Buckle

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