Sand, Snow and Solitude
Flying into Tucson puts you within easy reach of the trail's southern sections, many of which are complete. From Phoenix, the easiest access (via Greyhound Bus) is the trail crossing of Highway 60 five miles west of Superior. In addition, commuter airlines offer service to Payson, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, and Page, and some ground transportation is available. Check for details with the chamber of commerce of the town from which you plan to start your hike.
About the Trail
The Arizona Trail is divided into 44 sections, called "passages," which go from trailhead to trailhead. Completed passages are marked with a variety of Arizona Trail posts, blazes, brands, and emblems. As each passage is completed, the Arizona Trail Association prepares an information sheet containing a trail description, access information, a basic map (adequate for planning, not hiking), a profile map, a list of resources, and notes regarding signage, trail conditions, and maps. These sheets are available from public land management agencies or the Arizona Trail Association, PO Box 36736, Phoenix, AZ 85067. (602) 252-4794.
When to go
Elevation determines when you can hike where: The desert sections of the trail are dangerously hot between May and September, and even higher elevations can be decidedly uncomfortable during the summer. August is the monsoon season, with plenty of thunderstorms. December is the other"wet" season, but in Arizona, "wet" is a relative term. Spring and fall are comfortable on most of the trail. The Arizona trail offers ideal winter hiking, with desert daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Desert nights are frequently below freezing. Above about 8,000 feet, springs can freeze and in the mountains snow accumulates, especially on north-facing slopes.
The trail goes through or very close to Patagonia, Roosevelt Lake, Flagstaff, and Grand Canyon Village. In addition, we resupplied in Tucson, Oracle, Superior, Payson, Mormon Lake, and Fredonia, but these resupplies require hitch-hiking or arranging a shuttle in advance. The Arizona Trail Association recommends caching of food and water.
Gaiters come in handy for snow, grass seeds, and various undifferentiated desert prickles. A water filter is imperative because every other animal in the desert is drinking from the same springs you are. Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt are recommended for sun protection and for cactus-whacking through overgrown trails. Other must-haves: a sun hat, sun screen, lip balm, mosquito lotion, and water containers (our favorites: The tough-skinned MSR Dromedaries.) A tent or bug shelter may be necessary, depending on seasonal factors like rainfall and your tolerance for insects. Tweezers are essential for removing cactus spines. A closed-cell foam pad won't deflate when it's inadvertently set on a cactus; if you insist on taking your air mattress, bring a repair kit.
Lack of water and dehydration are the major hazards. Always carry water to your next water source, and inquire locally before heading out. In moderate temperatures you need about a gallon a day. Rangers at Grand Canyon National Park recommend two gallons of water a day for hot-weather desert traveland they run a thriving first aid business at the bottom of the canyon tending to hikers who don't listen. In addition, eating enough is critical: it replaces electrolytes lost to sweating. This seems self-evident until you consider that when exerting in hot temperatures, many hikers lose their appetites. Other hazards include rattlesnakes, scorpions, biting insects and the sun, andin wintersnow and freezing temperatures.
The Arizona Trail Association's information sheets show the basic route, and these are collected in a rudimentary guidebook,"Along the Arizona Trail." ("rudimentary" means you'll still need maps) Because the Arizona Trail is so new, it's not marked on USGS maps except where it follows the route of previously existing trails. The ATA information sheets notes the names and numbers of previously existing trails, which can then be found on USGS quads or Forest Service maps. The USGS quads are essential for finding water and for hiking on those parts of the route that have not yet been signed. A list of all the quads covering the route of the Arizona Trail is available from the Arizona Trail Association in its publication "Essential Information for Long Distance Trail Users."
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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