The Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail goes from the isolated mountain ranges rising several thousand feet at its southern border with Mexico to the high-desert sweeping vistas at its northern border with Utah. There are many spectacular sights to behold and experience on this journey. There are also numerous species of flora and fauna that are unique to Arizona. It has some of the most impressive geologic formations found in the world.
The Arizona Trail has been designated as one of America’s National Scenic Trails. This is because of its awe-inspiring landscapes and its diversity of natural environment…from the lowland Sonoran Desert to mountainous Alpine forests. You will encounter fascinating natural areas: intriguing deserts filled with a wide array of cactus plants and flowers.
The state’s highest mountain ranges, including the San Francisco Peaks; and one of the nation’s largest Ponderosa pine forests. It has many captivating canyons, including the world-renowned natural wonder, the Grand Canyon. One of the distinguishing features of the Arizona Trail route is its remarkable descent into the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Trail users travel through the Canyon’s Inner Gorge following the existing South Kaibab and North Kaibab Trails. The Trail then crosses over the Colorado River on a high suspension bridge. This is designated for hikers and equestrians, linking the Grand Canyon by trail from rim to rim.
The hike back up offers equally breathtaking scenery every step of the way. More than 4 million people visit the Grand Canyon National Park annually. This pathway through the Canyon continues to attract national and international trail and nature enthusiasts.
The Arizona Trail captures the love of hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, trail-runners, cross-country snow skiers, and outdoor photographers alike. There are countless others who also enjoy discovering Arizona’s unique landscapes, wildlife, plants, geology, and history as they explore the 43 different passages of the Trail.
All of these scenic wonders await you on this continuous, backcountry pathway. Travelers pass through or near many of Arizona’s communities where they can access food, lodging, and other essential resources.
Gateways of The Arizona Trail
More than 25 communities serve as “gateways” to the route of the Arizona Trail. Some are smaller communities such as Patagonia, Superior, Pine, and Mormon Lake. Others are larger cities such as Tucson, Payson, and Flagstaff.
Adventurers the world over come to visit these communities and experience the Trail for themselves. The Arizona Trail is nearly 820 miles in length and is a non-motorized pathway from border to border. Explorers find themselves surrounded by magnificent open spaces, with most trail miles far away from highways and motorized vehicles.
More than 150 miles of the Trail are located in designated Wilderness Areas. Arizona Trail signs can be found across the state at many different trailhead access points. Some of these trailheads are located near major highways and were designed with vehicle and horse-trailer parking areas, hitching posts, bike racks, and other trailhead amenities.
The Arizona Trail Dream
More primitive trailheads are located along backcountry roads. The Arizona Trail began as a dream of Flagstaff elementary school teacher, Dale Shewalter. In the mid-1980’s Dale hiked along existing trails and public lands from the southern border with Mexico. Then to the northern border of Utah to prove to himself that a border-to-border trail could be developed.
Dale then met with various land managers to tell them about his vision. Soon, not only the land managers but hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, photographers, and other trail enthusiasts became excited. People started to get excited about the concept and the Arizona Trail dream started to become a reality.
There were only a few hundred miles of old original trails on the ground. If the Arizona Trail project were to succeed, it would require the support of hundreds of volunteers. They would have to help connect the gaps in the existing trails in addition to building miles of new trail routes where needed. The importance of developing a robust non-profit organization became evident.
The Arizona Trail Association
The Arizona Trail Association was formed in 1994 to provide the leadership, guidance, trail-building tools, and support that would be required to finish and help maintain the 820-mile trail. A 24-member Board of Directors was appointed to not only guide ongoing programs for the Arizona Trail Association but also the thousands of members and volunteers who worked together to bring the construction project to completion.
Numerous land management agencies soon became involved, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service. The Arizona State Parks, Arizona State Land Department, and many counties and communities were also involved.
It was a collaborative effort and they all worked in partnership to help provide the scientific studies and environmental assessments that were necessary as each and every mile of the new Arizona Trail pathway was built.
Volunteers from all walks of life and ages came to help in every way possible. Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and trail users volunteered for trail-building activities. Countless numbers of young people from the Boy Scouts, 4-H, and other state youth groups contributed to the Trail construction. All of these volunteers worked year in and year out to help reach the goal of completing the Arizona Trail by 2012, Arizona’s centennial year.
The Arizona Trail Association, in conjunction with all of the land managers, developed a system of Arizona Trail Stewards. These are who adopted different sections of the Arizona Trail. These stewards help build new trail sections and continue to volunteer their time and leadership. This is to help keep the 43 passages of the Arizona Trail in good condition for all users. They schedule trail work events and organize crews to trim back vegetation and repair seasonal trail damages. Thus making this one of the state’s most celebrated natural environmental projects.
An Act Of Congress
Through an Act of Congress in 2009, the Arizona Trail became the nation’s 9th National Scenic Trail. There are now 11 National Scenic Trails and the Arizona Trail is the third completely finished Trail among them. This is a momentous achievement for the preservation and protection of such a relatively young trail. Considering that other National Scenic Trails have been around for many decades. The U.S. Forest Service has been designated as the agency responsible for the long-term perpetuity of the Arizona Trail. This Federal agency, working alongside other land managers and the Arizona Trail Association, will guide the trail into the future.
It is important to recognize these agencies and the corporate partners, elected representatives, and the many volunteer groups. All of these people have given their significant support to this remarkable project. It is because of their leadership, spirit of volunteerism, and passion that this Trail exists. It is now the newest, fully completed trail in the National Trail System that was established by Congress in 1968.
Arizona Trail Completion
The Trail was completed in December 2011, at a remote location. It was overlooking the Gila River, near the small communities of Kelvin and Riverside, Arizona. It was there that the Arizona Trail Association, land management representatives, and trail crew volunteers constructed the final segment. This linked the north and south sections of the trail together.
Alongside the Trail, a brass marker cap was set in concrete commemorating the historic occasion. The Arizona National Scenic Trail became a reality because thousands of people worked together to complete this 820-mile adventure.
This exemplifies how one man’s vision captured the hearts and imagination of those who could make the dream come true.
This is the Arizona National Scenic Trail. A legacy for today and an everlasting gift to future generations..