Welcome fellow hikers to my article on the Arizona Trail! My name is Ashley Furness (@espresso.fueled.hikes) and I am from the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, USA. About 12 years ago I decided to hike Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern US. That day was what inspired me to pursue hiking as my main hobby and way to stay in shape.
I went on to complete a goal of hiking every trail in the White Mountains Guidebook, a feat less than 100 people have completed. After that the idea of a thru-hike really interested me, but I wanted to start with something on the smaller end of the scale (as compared to a longer trail such as the Appalachian Trail). So I decided to start with the 485-mile Colorado Trail.
Thru-hiking appealed to me as a challenge. I wanted to see if I had the ability to accomplish something so difficult – and it would also allow me to see and explore places I have never been to and meet like-minded people. Thus far I have completed two long distance hikes: the Colorado Trail and the Arizona Trail. Both hikes were very unique in their own special way.
I had previously visited both Colorado and Arizona on several occasions but to experience these states on long distance thru-hikes is a totally different experience. Both of these hikes really allowed me to soak in all the scenery and small town vibes that I never even knew existed prior to the hikes.
I have a hard time choosing a favorite between both trails as they each have different features that are unique and amazing in their own way. For example, the Colorado Trail takes you by Mount Elbert, the highest peak in the state at 14,439 feet, and the Arizona Trail takes you down into (and back up out of) the Grand Canyon – one of the most beautiful places on earth.
My Experience Hiking the Arizona Trail
I started the Arizona Trail – known in full as the Arizona National Scenic Trail – on March 13, 2021 and finished it on April 28, for a total of 47 days covering 800 miles, from the Arizona/Mexico border up to the Arizona/Utah border.
The scenery that I encountered along the way was mostly desert and cacti landscapes, with a bit of the northern section of the state becoming more forested and snowy. Then there was the hike down into (and back out of) the Grand Canyon, with a chilly dip in the Colorado River at the bottom!
I had three friends with me for the entirety of the Arizona Trail. Their names and trail names are Whitney (Tip-Toe), Susanna (Dreamcatcher) and Rich (Proton). My trail name is Double Shot. One of my companions gave me my trail name as we were hiking the trail due to my need for coffee!
She gave me the trail name, Double Shot because every time we got into a new town I would make a beeline for the nearest coffee shop to get some espresso! I also carry energy gels on the trail for an extra boost and the ones I carry are called “double shot espresso”. So the name was fitting!
My favorite part of the trail was hiking in the Grand Canyon and swimming in the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon is a magical place that speaks to your soul. The views everywhere you go there are just breathtaking. It’s kind of hard to describe in words, but my friends and I had an amazing time experiencing one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.
The most challenging part of the Arizona Trail is the lack of naturally flowing water. Most of our water sources along this trail came from small ponds, rainwater collector tanks and cow troughs. We had to filter all of our water for it to be drinkable. Sometimes we had to carry extra water for long stretches where there were no sources. That is definitely something to keep in mind if you are planning on taking on this epic 800-mile hike.
Tips for Completing this Thru-Hike
I recommend practicing carrying weight while hiking long distances and dialing in your camping gear by spending nights out before hitting the Arizona Trail. This will help you grasp what essentials will be needed and what items won’t be necessary. I also suggest saving up and buying lighter gear. You will be able to hike further and be more comfortable.
Once you are on the trail I recommend practicing the Leave No Trace ethics, both on the Arizona Trail and any other place you go hiking in the US. Information on Leave No Trace principles can be found on the Arizona Trail website. I also believe it’s a good idea for everyone who is completing the trail to become a member of the Arizona Trail Association and donate financially or volunteer their time for the maintenance of the trail.
You should know that you will be drinking from some questionable water sources along the way, so be prepared to filter (and sometimes pre-filter) your water. Be aware also that the temperatures in the desert can fluctuate immensely from afternoon to night. I experienced a few nights that were in the low teens and days that got up to 90 degrees. So sunscreen is essential.
All in all this is an amazing trail and a good choice for someone who wants to do a thru-hike but doesn’t have the time for the longer ones such as the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail.