Arizona is a state that’s full of diverse beauty. It is the only state to contain four deserts. The Great Basin, Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran. What better way to experience it than an Arizona Trail thru-hike? An Arizona Trail backpacking trip will take you all the way from the high-elevation, peaks studded with Ponderosa pines to the Sonoran desert with its amazing range of desert plants, Saguaro Cacti, and animals. Whether you choose to hike the trail all at once or do it one section at a time, proper planning is very important. In this post, we’ll explore all the key details, so you’ll be prepared to tackle the Arizona trail with confidence.
What Is the Arizona Trail?
The Arizona Trail is one of eleven National Scenic Trails in the US. It’s not as well-known as some of its counterparts, like the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but it’s just as grand. The 800 mile trail begins in the Coronado National Memorial near the southern border with Mexico and winds through the middle of the state, ending in northern Arizona near the border with Utah. This trail was finished in 2011, making it one of the newest National Scenic trails. It’s managed by the Arizona Trail Association, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining the trail and preserving the unique habitats it showcases.
How Long Is the Arizona Trail?
In its entirety, the Arizona Trail is 800 miles long. It’s divided into forty-three passages spanning three main sections: southern, central, and northern. An Arizona trail thru-hike typically takes six to seven weeks to complete, but exactly how long it takes someone to hike the Arizona trail from start to finish will depend on a range of factors, including fitness level, hiking style, and the time of year.
Is Hiking the Arizona Trail Difficult?
This is a difficult question to answer. It’s a well-maintained, contiguous trail, but it’s also 800 miles long and has approximately 110 thousand feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of the entire trail. Its highest point is on San Francisco Peak near Flagstaff at around 9,600 feet above sea level. The lowest point is at 1,700 feet above sea level on the Gila River in southern Arizona.
Arizona Hiking Trail Route
Cutting the state in half top to bottom, the route of the Arizona Trail was designed to highlight the many unique climates and ecosystems that make this state so unique. The Arizona Trail Association has a fantastic website including a detailed, section-by-section description of the trail. This is an ideal resource to keep handy as you plan your route.
What To Expect When Thru-Hiking the Arizona Trail
Whether you’re planning an epic thru-hike or just interested in chipping away at the Arizona trail one weekend at a time, being fully prepared is important. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about hiking or backpacking the Arizona Trail.
When To Hike the AZT
The best time to thru-hike the Arizona Trail depends on which direction you’re headed. Shoving off in the spring (March-April) is ideal if you’re starting in the south and heading north. If you’re hiking the trail in the opposite direction, fall (October-November) is usually your best bet.
Do You Need Permits to Hike the AZT?
There are no permits required to hike the Arizona Trail. The only time you’d need to apply for a permit is if you plan to camp on your way through Saguaro National Park or Grand Canyon National Park.
Camping and Rest Stops on the AZ Trail
The Arizona Trail passes through many stretches of state, federal, and private property, so camping regulations will depend on where you decide to set up for the night. The only places you’ll need an official permit, though, are in the two national parks noted above. The trail passes by many small towns and larger cities, including Tucson, Flagstaff, Globe, and Page. These more populated areas are great places to resupply, take a shower, sleep in a real bed, or meet up with friends or family.
Although the Arizona Trail passes through many miles of desert, finding water sources on the trail isn’t usually an issue. Although filtering or purifying the water is a must, there’s usually plenty of it. The Arizona Trail Water Report provides up-to-date information on water availability. Hydration packs can help by extending the length of time you’re able to last between water fills (we’d recommend a 3-5 liter hydration pack), not to mention keeping your hands free while hiking and reducing plastic water bottle waste.
Check out these 5 top-rated hydration packs.
In general, the Arizona Trail is well marked. However, it’s a relatively new trail and doesn’t receive anywhere near the amount of foot traffic that the Appalachian Trail or PCT do. For smartphone users, the Arizona Trail Association has teamed up with FarOut to create a navigational app designed specifically for the Arizona Trail. After initial setup, it doesn’t require cell or internet service to work. It’s the best $15 you’ll spend on the hike.
Dangerous Plants and Wildlife
The Arizona Trail passes by many thousands of prickly, spiny desert plants. Although they’re not life-threatening, getting spines lodged deep into your skin or having a puncture wound get infected could spell trouble. Just stay glued to the trail, and you’ll be just fine.
Arizona is home to quite a few potentially dangerous animals, including black bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes, but don’t let these critters discourage you. Encounters with them are rare. But, just in case you need emergency help of any sort, we highly recommend investing in a satellite communicator like Garmin’s InReach Mini. It’s not cheap, but it provides some much-needed peace of mind when you’re hiking many miles from the nearest cell signal.
Packing and Preparing for Thru-Hiking the Arizona Trail
Prepping for a thru-hike is a serious business that requires careful planning and preparation. Our Ultimate Desert Hiking Gear List is a great place to start, but also check to ensure that the sections you’re planning to hike are open. (Fires regularly take out various sections of the trail.) This information can be found on social media pages and on the trail website. And if you are planning to visit during a trail work day, jump in to contribute time to help maintain a section of the trail!
Need a pack for your thru-hike? Here are our top choices for desert hiking backpack.
With 800 Miles of World-Class Scenery Waiting, It's Time To Get Started.
Whether an Arizona Trail backpacking trek is in order, or a section-by-section thru-hike is more your speed, this trail is something special. At Erem, we’re committed to celebrating and protecting the diverse desert and high-elevation ecosystems the Arizona Trail highlights. In fact, Erem is the official footwear of the AZT and donates 1% of profits to the Arizona Trail Association. Our desert hiking boots are designed to help hikers and backpackers conquer the unique challenges that desert hiking trips present. With soles made from a single durable piece of rubber instead of various materials glued together, Erem boots won’t delaminate and fall apart, even after 800 miles of trail. Our full-grain leather uppers are loose-lined with 100% TENCEL™ Lyocell fabric that wicks away moisture, regulates foot temperature, and prevents odor, keeping your feet in prime condition from sunup to sundown.
We’re committed to crafting quality hiking boots that are tough on the trail but light on the planet. Each pair we sell is sustainably made using incredibly durable, eco-friendly materials. We adhere to the Biocircular standard, ensuring our boots return to nature quickly when they’ve hiked their last mile. And with Erem’s Reboot program, you won’t have to part ways with your favorite pair of hiking boots before you’re ready. We re-stream old boots into new, replacing the soles and reworking the uppers into new, “tough as a cactus” boots that are ready to tackle many more thru-hikes and desert wanderings. So lace up, top off your water bottles, stuff your backpack, and take a hike!
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