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How to thru-hike the Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail is an 800-mile route from the Mexican Border to the Utah Border. The trail crosses two national parks, including the Grand Canyon. The unique part about the Arizona National Scenic Trail is that there are two distinct seasons for thru-hiking its length. Most hikers do the Arizona Trail southbound in the Fall and northbound in the spring, with the prospects of snow on the northern ends lingering late into the spring and snow beginning to fall on the southern end during a fall thru-hike.

This guide is designed to have and answer most of main questions and concerns for thru-hiking the Arizona Trail.


When do people hike the Arizona Trail?

About half of thru-hikers choose to tackle the trail southbound in the fall, and the other half opt for northbound in the spring. Each direction presents different challenges, but neither way nor time of year is more difficult than the other. A typical northbound thru-hike begins in mid-March, and a typical southbound thru-hike begins in October.

What direction is best to hike the Arizona Trail?

In the Spring, most water sources are reliable, and the weather is more predictable. The wildflowers are out, and there is a good chance you will see a little snow on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Spring is also a good time to avoid the crowds in Grand Canyon National Park and Saguaro National Park. But, in heavy snow years, the snow lingers late on the last 70 miles of the trail and can make it a slog to the end. Keep an eye on the level of winter northern Arizona gets if you are eyeing a springtime Arizona Trail thru-hike.

The other possible issue with a spring start date is the closure of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It is open for hiking and backpacking, but many amenities will still be closed. Highway 67, the access to the North Rim, is closed through the winter.

A fall hike of the Arizona Trail usually ensures a trail clear of snow. But, there can be considerable mud. Fall is the time of year that Arizona gets most of its rain, and it can really tear up the trails in the northern end. The other downside to a Fall thru-hike of the Arizona Trail is the water sources will be drastically diminished compared to the spring. They will be very storm dependent, and it will be hard to rely on many of the smaller springs.


Arizona Trail thru-hiking guide

Arizona Trail thru-hiking guide

Do you need permits to hike the Arizona Trail?

The only permits that are required for the Arizona Trail are to camp in the national parks. This means that in order to camp within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park and Saguaro National Park, thru-hikers need to obtain a permit through the parks service. Many thru-hikers camp on one side of Saguaro and hike through it in a day (17.5 miles), but the Grand Canyon is a little trickier. In Grand Canyon Village, thru-hikers can get a backcountry permit for camping in the canyon, and the rangers are usually pretty accommodating with making the timing work for thru-hikers. For southbound thru-hikers, it is best to call the Grand Canyon Ranger Station for a permit. Backcountry permits can also be reserved ahead of time online (link here).

Resupplying on the Arizona Trail

The Arizona Trail has numerous resupply options, and many of them are close to the trail. Below is a spreadsheet with the locations and the amenities that each of them has. See the whole Arizona Trail resupply guide linked here.

Arizona Trail Resupply Locations

Getting to the Southern Terminus of the Arizona Trail

Starting an Arizona Trail Thru-hike might be one of the more complicated aspects of a thru-hike. It takes a little planning to get to the terminus on both the north and the south end. Hikers can get to the southern terminus of the Arizona Trail by hiking two miles south from Montezuma Pass Trailhead to the border, or by hiking 2.5 miles up the Joe’s Canyon Trail from the Coronado National Memorial Visitors Center and then one mile south on the Arizona Trail. The closest city is Sierra Vista, and many potential hikers and backpackers fly into Tucson and take one of the many shuttles to the trailhead.

Shuttle services that will get you to the southern terminus of the Arizona Trail:

-ARIZONA WORLD SHUTTLE EXPRESS

(520-458-3330) will pick you up at the Tucson airport and take you to Sierra Vista, AZ, and then to the Coronado National Memorial Visitors Center close to Montezuma Pass. Please contact them 24 hours in advance. Call for rates.

-ARIZONA SUNSHINE TOURS

Arizona Sunshine Tours shuttles between the Tucson airport and the Visitors Center in Coronado National Memorial. See their website or call them at 520-803-6713.

Getting to the Northern Terminus of the Arizona Trail

The northern terminus of the Arizona Trail is even more remote than the southern one. It is between Kanab, UT, and Page, AZ, near Paria Canyon. Plan ahead because there is no service at Stateline Campground, where the terminus sits. A number of shuttles run to the campground, but hitching with car campers can be a reliable way to get to Kanab or Page, where most of the necessary amenities can be found.

Shuttle services that will get you to the northern terminus of the Arizona Trail:

-BACKCOUNTRY FOUND

Backcountry Found offers shuttle service to/from the AZT / Stateline Campground at the AZ/UT border. They are based out of Page. Call 928-233-6688 or visit their website.

-KANAB TOUR COMPANY

Kanab Tour Company can provide charter service and shuttles to and from the Stateline trailhead. Contact them 435-644-5525.


The Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail thru-hike

The Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail thru-hike

Arizona Trail Passages

The Arizona Trail Association has broken the AZT into 43 passages with the three regions of Southern, Central, and Northern. If you would like to explore the individual passages more, see the information and links below

PASSAGE 1: HUACHUCA MOUNTAINS

PASSAGE 2: CANELO HILLS EAST

PASSAGE 3: CANELO HILLS WEST

PASSAGE 4: TEMPORAL GULCH

PASSAGE 5: SANTA RITA MOUNTAINS

PASSAGE 6: LAS COLINAS

PASSAGE 7: LAS CIENEGAS

PASSAGE 8: RINCON VALLEY

PASSAGE 9: RINCON MOUNTAINS

PASSAGE 10: REDINGTON PASS

PASSAGE 11: SANTA CATALINA MOUNTAINS

PASSAGE 11B: PUSCH RIDGE WILDERNESS BYPASS

PASSAGE 12: ORACLE RIDGE

PASSAGE 13: ORACLE

CENTRAL PASSAGES

The passages considered “Central” run from Black Hills (Passage 14) to Highline (Passage 26), near the Mogollon Rim.

PASSAGE 14: BLACK HILLS

PASSAGE 15: TORTILLA MOUNTAIN

PASSAGE 16: GILA RIVER CANYON

PASSAGE 17: ALAMO CANYON

PASSAGE 18: REAVIS CANYON

PASSAGE 19: SUPERSTITION WILDERNESS

PASSAGE 20: FOUR PEAKS

PASSAGE 21: PINE MOUNTAIN

PASSAGE 22: SADDLE MOUNTAIN

PASSAGE 23: MAZATZAL DIVIDE

PASSAGE 24: RED HILL

PASSAGE 25: WHITEROCK MESA

PASSAGE 26: HIGHLINE

NORTHERN PASSAGE

The passages considered “Northern” run from Blue Ridge (Passage 27) to Buckskin Mountain (Passage 43) on the Utah border.

PASSAGE 27: BLUE RIDGE

PASSAGE 28: HAPPY JACK

PASSAGE 29: MORMON LAKE

PASSAGE 30: ANDERSON MESA

PASSAGE 31: WALNUT CANYON

PASSAGE 32: ELDEN MOUNTAIN

PASSAGE 33: FLAGSTAFF

PASSAGE 34: SAN FRANCISCO PEAKS

  1. Miles: 35.3

  2. MAPS (2): South, North

  3. PROFILES (2): South, North

  4. Passage Information Page: TRACK

  5. Waypoints: GPX | MP

PASSAGE 35: BABBITT RANCH

PASSAGE 36: COCONINO RIM

PASSAGE 37: GRAND CANYON – SOUTH RIM

PASSAGE 38: GRAND CANYON – INNER GORGE

PASSAGE 39: GRAND CANYON – NORTH RIM

PASSAGE 40: KAIBAB PLATEAU SOUTH

PASSAGE 41: KAIBAB PLATEAU CENTRAL

PASSAGE 42: KAIBAB PLATEAU NORTH

PASSAGE 43: BUCKSKIN MOUNTAIN


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