Sand, Snow and Solitude
Huachuca Mountains and Canelo Hills
Coronado National Forest
These sections, managed by the Sierra Vista Ranger District, are complete and fully marked. The Arizona Trail begins in the Coronado National Memorial. A long but well-graded climb brings hikers to the crest of the Huachuca Mountains, with mile after mile of craggy, spectacular views. Lowland canyons and riparian areas offer prime bird-watching and an opportunity to see the elusive raccoon-like coatimundi, usually found only south of the Mexican border. The Canelo Hills Passage is lower and rounder, characterized by gently rolling hills, wide open vistas, and dramatic canyons.
Particulars: It's 20 miles in the Huachuca Mountains from Montezuma Pass to Parker Canyon Lake, then another 30 miles through the Canelo Hills to the trailhead on Forest Road 58, three miles from the town of Patagonia. For a longer hike, continue north through the adjacent Santa Rita Mountains (managed by the Nogales Range District), which offer another 37 miles of marked trail through the highlands around Mt. Wrightson, wide-open grasslands, and historic mining districts.
This 82-mile hike is an easy drive from Tucson and can be broken up into shorter sections. Not all of this hike is marked, but the trails are easy to follow. From the Happy Valley Trailhead, climb on steep and rocky trail into the eastern highlands of Saguaro National Park. Take it easy on the mileage, or you're going to have some direct experiential information about how Heartbreak Ridge got its name. After leaving the park, the trail rambles pleasantly for 18 miles -- sometimes on dirt roads, sometimes on trailto Molino Basin Campground, where it then heads into the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Etched with steep rocky canyons, this is the most dramatic segment, and it's a favorite get-away for city dwellers, especially in the summer, when the higher elevations give some relief from Tucson's broiling temperatures. Warning: the 4,000-foot climb out of West Sabino Canyon is a grind: long, dry, and rugged.
Particulars: The Happy Valley trailhead is 20 miles north of Interstate 10 on Forest Road 35. From there, it's 19 miles up and over to Italian Springs Trailhead, then 18 miles to Molino Basin Campground, and another 45 miles to the American Flag Trailhead on the northern side of the Santa Catalinas. The trail through the Coronado National Forest is in the Santa Catalina Ranger District.
The site of some of our early-trip travails is a beautiful segment to hike during the cooler months. Lower elevations are dominated by cactus, most notably, the saguaro. Higher elevations feature craggy rock formations and rugged views. The springtime desert bloom is spectacular. Because of the elevation changes (2,000 feet at Roosevelt Lake to 6000 feet on the higher ridges) there's a great deal of ecological variety, from cool highland forests to exposed desert. Roosevelt Lake Campground at the northern end of this passage offers excellent end-of-hike facilities.
Particulars: It's 26 miles through the Superstition Mountains from Happy Camp Road near Highway 60 (five miles west of Superior) to Roosevelt Dam. The trail is in the Tonto National Forest, in the Globe, Mesa and Tonto Basin Ranger Districts, and the Superstition Wilderness.
These contiguous sections near Payson are well-marked and pass through three distinctly different landscapes. The mountains of the Mazatzal Wilderness ("land of the deer" in the language of the Pima Indians) offer good, well-marked trail and adequate, if not abundant, water. Next, the trail meanders along the base of the spectacular 2,000-foot tall Mogollon Rim, the great escarpment that forms the edge of the Colorado Plateau, then finally veers uphill for the cooler forests and canyons of the plateau atop the Rim.
Particulars: This 94-mile hike can be divided as follows: 61 miles through the Mazatzal Mountains (Cross Trailhead on Highway 87 to Pine Trailhead on Highway 87), then 19 miles to Forest Service Road 300 at the top of the Rim, then 14 miles to Blue Ridge Campground. Once you've climbed to the Rim, you've left the Tonto National Forest (Payson Ranger District) and entered the Coconino National Forest (Blue Ridge Ranger District).
The Arizona Trail will follow the Bright Angel and North Kaibab Trails to cross the Grand Canyon. The mile-deep descent into the Canyon is one of the most spectacularand well-trodhikes in the country. You can extend your trip in either direction through the forests and canyons of the Kaibab National Forest. However, a continuous walk requires some road-walking, since new trail still needs to be cut to link the national forest trails to the national park trails.
Particulars: The South Kaibab segment (Tusayan Ranger District) runs 28 miles from Forest Road 301 to the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park. From there it's 52 miles to the north entrance. 24 miles of that is the rim-to-rim traverse via the Bright Angel and North Kaibab Trails; the rest is on roads. The North Kaibab segment (North Kaibab Ranger District) extends 50 miles from the Canyon's north entrance to the forest's northern boundary.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication