Notes for Potential Hikers
There is a significant amount of available data about this trail in print and on-line, and our comments below are limited to topics that are most pertinent to this particular trail.
Finding sufficient water is the most critical problem an AZT hiker must contend with. Water sources are often far apart and may or may not have useable water depending on the season, rainfall, and other factors. There are two data sources that were extremely helpful. The first is found in the AZT website and is updated intermittently.
The second is the Arizona Trail App. The app provides detailed maps of the trail, with distances and hundreds of points of interest (the detailed maps are a worthwhile $10 upgrade). Using the app, hikers can report on the current status of water sources and those comments are updated real-time whenever their phone has an internet connection. For most water sources during our hike we had status reports that were less than a week old. We strongly recommend using this app and doing your part by updating the water info at each source you encounter.
We mailed food boxes to seven locations prior to starting our walk. This worked well for us as each box contained the basic supplies we needed for the next trail leg; we supplemented the contents of the boxes with whatever was available locally. Sometimes shopping opportunities were good, but in some places very little food useful to a long-distance backpacker was for sale. Our resupply points were:
- Patagonia: mail drop; two grocery stores with decent selections; several restaurants; while in Patagonia, visit the Tucson Audubon Society Paton Center for Hummingbirds to watch dozens of the feisty little creatures squabble over the many feeders.
- Colossal Cave: mail drop; no food available except from a tiny lunch kiosk; you could hitch into Tucson from here.
- Summerhaven: mail drop; a friendly general store with a modest selection of useful items; a couple of restaurants.
- Kearny: a good market and several restaurants; Old Time Pizza had good food and an extremely welcoming owner who offered us much assistance; a laundromat; Kearny is a few miles off route, but hitching there and back was easy.
- Superior: a worn-out town with OK markets and several restaurants; a public laundromat at the dumpy Copper Mountain Motel; Superior is a couple of miles off route but hitching there was easy.
- Roosevelt Marina: mail drop; the marina has almost nothing useful for resupply and very few items on their café menu.
- Pine: mail drop; a well-stocked and friendly market; many restaurants and a laundromat; a fine trail town.
- Mormon Lake: mail drop; a small, moderately expensive but friendly shop with limited supplies, shower facilities, and a laundromat; the restaurant wasn’t open when we were there; a mile or so off the trail.
- Flagstaff: everything you could possibly want, but if you take the eastern AZT alternate, you may need to hitch into town; Walnut Canyon NM is en route on the eastern alternate and is well worth visiting; the decent Mary’s Café is a very short distance south of the AZT where it crosses Highway 89.
- Tusayan: mail drop; a very expensive grocery store with limited supplies; several restaurants; a typical National Park border town.
- Jacob Lake: limited supplies but a nice café; we tried to hitch both ways from the trail but had zero luck and ended up walking the six mile round trip.
Grand Canyon National Park
Crossing the Grand Canyon is the one place on the AZT where permit issues can be a hassle. The National Park is extremely popular and the Park Service has the impossible job of finding a balance between user access and quality experience. The AZT crosses the canyon on the two most heavily used trails in the park and there are very limited on-trail camping opportunities available along the route. The opportunities for stealth camping are not good and rangers who know the territory well patrol the trail. Since an AZT hiker, especially one going northbound, will not know when they will reach the canyon, obtaining an in-canyon camping permit in advance is not realistic. The chances of obtaining a same-day walk-up permit during the normal AZT hiking season is also highly unlikely. An AZT thru-hiker has two choices: prepare to spend a day or two or three on the rim waiting in the queue for a permit or hiking the canyon rim-to-rim in a day. If you walk rim-to-rim, camping on the north rim will not be a problem. We elected to do a rim-to-rim walk, and while it was a long day, we also finished well before dark and were able to find a decent campsite not too far from the north rim trailhead.
Reroute in Section 22
The least maintained section in April 2016 was through the Mazatzal Mountains. There were areas of overgrown trail, downed trees, and rough tread. The cause of this was a massive fire that burned through the area in 2012. It destroyed many of trees and stimulated the rapid growth of underbrush. Storm run-off erosion has damaged the trails themselves. Volunteers are working diligently to rehabilitate the area, but there are many miles of trail to tend and not that many people working on those miles.
There was one reroute that was bit confusing. Open our CalTopo map of the route, switch to the MapBuilder Topo layer, and zoom in on AZT22: Saddle Mountain. You can see the old routing marked as a dashed red line. The Guthook Arizona Trail app shows the trail using this original routing over the east slope of Sheep Mountain. Per the recommendation of a trail maintenance volunteer, we followed the trail indicated by the blue line which dropped into a canyon to the east and then turned north to regain the main route. The option we followed was signed on the ground and was a well-maintained piece of trail. We spoke to people who stayed on the original western routing and they reported it to be a horrible thrash. We don’t know if the original route will be cleaned up and made passable again or if the AZT will be permanently rerouted.
If you are northbound, the fork is shortly after you climb out of McFarland Canyon, marked by a red arrow in the CalTopo map.