…Well, we finished the Arizona Trail almost three weeks ago, and yet it feels much longer. We always seem to experience a strange time warp once we finish a trail…the hike ends abruptly and we head back into the real world. Quickly the trail feels very distant in our minds.
From Suguaro National Park to The Grand Canyon, to the Rincon Mountains, we were regularly awestruck by the beauty we found on the AZT. To some degree, we decided on hiking the AZT based on scheduling. Hike-able in the early spring, we figured it was one of the few hikes in US that we could do without 4 season gear and still be at elevations above 6000 feet.
Although two weeks is often long enough time to don the rose colored glasses, we know that’s not the case here, since we had a lot of conversations along the trail about how beautiful it was. Neither of us had done any hiking in Arizona before and the terrain and beauty was beyond our expectations.
The highlights of the trail for us were hiking the trail with Qball, benefiting from all the generosity of our friends and trail angels (Purple and Carnivore – Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!!), hiking through the Grand Canyon, the surprising amount of mountain views, witnessing the spring bloom of the desert wild flowers, and meeting many friendly and welcoming Arizonans along the trail.
The only part of the trail we weren’t crazy about were some mornings during the last two weeks of the hike that were freezing cold. Of course, there were some short stretches of the trail we cursed a bit, such as the trail south of Roosevelt Lake and most of the Mazatzals (where the trail was heavily overgrown or traversed long stretches of ankle twisting rocks) , but generally the trail treated us well.
Before starting the AZT, we were told by a former thru-hiker that the southern half of the trail was some of the hardest hiking he has encountered and the northern half is the easiest. We found this to be mostly true. Some days in the south were extremely exhausting and challenging (steep climbs in the heat) , while hiking north of the Mogollan Rim was certainly some of the easiest hiking one can find. This gives the trail a bit of a schizophrenic feel, but hiking north-bound, it was nice to have the easier terrain of the plateau to look forward to.
Probably the most challenging section of the trail was from the Superstition Mountains, through Four Peaks and the Mazatzals. While it was a really beautiful stretch, there were times we felt like we weren’t able to really appreciate the great views because we had to constantly look down at the trail to make sure we didn’t fall or trip. This stretch had some sections of trail that hadn’t been maintained in some time, making the walking a little challenging.
Climate & Water
Before starting our hike, we were a bit concerned that maybe we were starting too early (March 3rd). We chose our starting date based on other commitments we had, as opposed to picking what might be the optimal time to start. However, as it turned out, we couldn’t have picked a better time to begin our hike. While it could get hot in the southern sections, it was never extremely hot. We were lucky enough to not walk in rain or snow on the trail. While we did have cold mornings in the north, it would warm up to a pleasant temperature during the day (except for one very cold day walking into Jacob Lake). With our early start, so many of the water sources were running strong…there were even more water sources in the south than the data book listed. This helped us be able to minimize the number of times we had to carry extra water.
Generally, we didn’t need to carry more than a couple liters of water. Max water carry was 3 1/2 liters each. Since we don’t cook our meals, we didn’t need to carry extra water for cooking. Additionally, we don’t mind dry camping (sleeping away from a water source). Dry camping most days allowed us to hike and stop as we pleased rather than always aim for making camp near water.
The AZT was the first trail over 200 miles that we never needed to hitchhike. While, we were lucky to have our friend, Purple, pick us up at Picket Post (and subsequently head into her place in the Phoenix area), there was never a need to hitch into any other resupply town. The trail goes close enough (or through) the towns, so it was easy to buy more supplies or pick up a mail drop. We found the trail towns to be very friendly and welcoming.
Some towns we just stopped long enough to resupply and grab a bowl of chili, and other towns we took two zero days in a row. Even when just walking through a town, people were often so friendly…coming up to us to ask about our hike and wishing us well. Definitely a nice surprise and a highlight of the trip.
Our favorite places to eat on the trail would probably be That Pub and Brewery in Pine, as well as MartAnne’s Cafe in Flagstaff. We also had a great meal of chili and salad in Summerhaven at the Sawmill Run Restaurant (definitely go for the Spinach Salad). Next time around, we would probably skip Gathering Grounds in Patagonia (super pricey for what you get) and the pizza place in Mormon Lake (seemed to only have frozen-then-fried food on the menu).
For the most part, we felt pretty happy with the gear we had with us. In the southern 300 miles, we had our neo-air sleeping pads and a cuban fiber tarp as our sleep set up. We only used the tarp a few nights, so it was nice to sleep under the stars most nights. Even though we love to hammock, it was probably a good idea that we planned on sleeping on the ground through this section. While there are places one could hang here and there, it would have been pretty hard to plan on finding such a place as we were ready to make camp for the night. It worked out well to switch to our hammock setup after Picket Post. Once we had our hammocks, we only had to sleep on the ground twice (and one of those times was in the Grand Canyon, where regulations don’t allow hanging of anything from the vegetation at one of the campsites).
The cold nights we experienced during the last two weeks on the trail certainly tested the warmth rating of our sleeping quilts and under quilts. For a few of these nights, they were not warm enough for us to keep from being cold during the night. Not very pleasant, but we never considered trying to get our zero degree bags sent out. It seemed like the amount of time left on the trail was short enough, that we were just best to deal with being cold for part of the night. From locals, we learned that we were in a bit of a cold snap those last two weeks.
Beardoh had decided not to keep carrying his long john shirt after Picket Post. For the most part, that decision worked out well for him. The combination of his wind shirt and down jacket were usually enough to keep him warm. The rain jacket came on a couple times (with all other layers) to stay warm.
We have been using backpacks that we build on most of our big hikes. For the AZT, we made our packs out of X-Pac. This material worked very well, and had little wear after the 800 miles. While it aims to be waterproof, we didn’t get a good test of it. After the hike, SweetPea washed the packs and they look like new again.
From what we’ve read, and based on the few hikers we met, it seems that the majority of hikers use a GPS for navigation on the trail. Since we do not own a GPS, we just went with the maps that the Arizona Trail Association has produced. In the future, we’d like to do more hiking where navigation is a challenge, so it made sense to further refine our map and compass skills. The maps that the ATA has for purchase were adequate for navigation and generally quite well done, and we’d use them again. By keeping an eye on our maps to know where we were most of the time (more necessary on this the AZT than other trails we’ve hiked) , we did not feel like it was hard to stay on trail. The trail is pretty obvious most of the time, and well signed in areas where it crossed roads or parking lots.
On the southern part of trail, we did find ourselves off trail once, as the ‘trail’ (probably a cowpath) ended at a wash. Using map and compass, and some hills as landmarks, we were able to navigate down a wash to the trail. Another time, in the Mazatzals, there was some confusion in an area where a re-reroute was in construction. We took the old route (not knowing if the new route had actually been completed), which was overgrown, but the rugged terrain had good identifiable landmarks found on the map, so we were able to stay on track.
To read our Arizona Trail Journal, go here -> Arizona Trail 2015 Hike
To read our Arizona Trail Resupply Plan, go here -> Arizona Trail Resupply Plan
To check out photos from our AZT hike, go here -> Arizona Trail 2015 Photos
Thinking about hiking the AZT? Go for it! We believe you will enjoy the beauty, challenge, people and diversity of the trail. If you have any questions, drop us a line on the contact page or in the comments below.
Nice write up! As I live here in the Phoenix area I have the opportunity to hike sections, knowing it may take sometime to complete. I love hearing others share there experiences of AZ, it is an awesome place! I enjoyed learning about the water and gear options you choose. My preference is using a hammock, but I know the limitations. What hammock, top and under quilt did you use? Do you use a pad also?
Shirley Cook says
I’m seriously considering doing the AZT. I live at the Grand Canyon April to November so I can hike this beautiful area. I’m 67 great shape but I hike solo. Getting lost is my biggest fear.
Thanks for reading the post, Shirley. By in large, the AZT is a fairly well marked and maintained trail these days. Becoming familiar with and using some navigation aids on the trail could give you the confidence to do the hike. The AZ Trail association has maps as well as a navigation app.
Thanks for following Paul. SweetPea uses a Grand Trunk Nano 7, I use a hammock that I made out of 1 oz/yd sq ripstop nylon. Both very basic gathered end hammocks without integrated bug netting. We both have Katabatic Alsec top quilts, and Warbonnet Yeti underquilts. Once we had our hammocks (going north from Picket Post). we each had a half section of a Z Rest that we used under our legs (The Yeti underquilts are just 3/4 length).
Like you, we love to use our hammocks when we can. If you are section hiking, I’d suggest doing the sections north of Pine later in the year than we did because of the cold nights.
Hey guys well done on completing the AZT!!
I met you at the hostel in Flagstaff (Australian guy) and am fascinated by what you do.
Great trip report and I’m happy to see you made it to the end!
What trips do you plan on taking next?
Nice to hear from you. We really enjoyed the AZT..it is a great trail. For 2016, we are considering either the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) or the CT (Colorado Trail) + another hike. Not sure, yet. We will be paying attention to the weather in the Sierras and San Juan/Rocky Mountains over the winter. Definitely excited to get out for another big trip 🙂
Awesome write up! Thanks for all the info!
What quilt did you guys use that you were cold in? What was it rated down to?
Thanks for reading!
We both have Katabatic Alsec quilts that are rate to 22 degrees. We both really like those quilts. We believe that the temps were pushing below 20 for some of those nights/early mornings. It was also pretty breezy on those cold nights. In addition, because we used our hammocks for the last section of the trail, we did not benefit from the heat retention that can be achieved with tents or with bivy sacks (commonly used by hikers who are using tarps).
Beardoh! How great to see your and Sweetpea’s familiar faces in my AZT search! Great writeup, and hope to see you again on the trail! -Slingshot PCT2016
Hey Slingshot! Great to hear from you. You planning on an AZT hike? If you have any questions, feel free to drop a line, either here in the comments or hit me through the contact page. ~Beardoh!
Thank you for sharing all the information that you have shared!
Are the majority of AT spring hikers verses fall hikers? Next fall would be a great time for me to do this hike so I am hoping that a fall hike would also be wonderful!
Also, is there a rough average of costs for this trail? Folks used to say a dollar a mile for a hike but that price is probably very outdated…
Thanks for checking out the post! I believe you are referring to AZT hiking (and not AT)? I think the majority of hikers on the AZT are spring hikers, but there are definitely folks that are hiking the trail in the fall as well. Spring hikers commonly hike northbound and fall hikers of the trail commonly hike southbound.
Average costs are highly dependent on personal preference in lodging, food, hiking speed, time in town, sharing lodging etc.. My GUESS is that most hikers would spend roughly $1000-1500 USD to hike the AZT, not including air travel or gear. Definitely some will spend more or less.
How were you able to switch between your tent and hammock?
Thanks for reading the post! We switched to hammock gear when we took a couple zeroes near Picket Post at a friend’s place. On most thru hikes, we leave some gear with a friend or family in case we want to switch things up…and typically any gear changes are mailed out to us at a motel or post office. We were just really lucky to have some friends close to the trail on the AZT.
Hi there, I am hoping to do AZT in a year so–just did thru-hike on AT this year and I have several questions. What dates did you start and finish? Flowers? Would you go a bit later given cold temps, if you did it again? Thanks a bunch!
Hi Rainbow – Thanks for checking out the site!
We started on March 3rd and finished April 18th. You can check out our full trail journal here:
Flowers, yes! They were excellent during this time frame. The lower gallery (best viewed on a computer) on this page has shots of the flora:
We would start in early March if hiking the trail again, if possible. We do plan to hike the AZT again. It was a very enjoyable hike that we look forward to hiking again.
Balancing the cold vs hot on the AZT is a challenge. While we were cool in the northern portion of the trail, we understand that we experienced somewhat unseasonably cold weather.
In early April this past year, we began the Grand Enchantment Trail (western terminus near Phoenix) and we were on the 50 mile section that coincides with the AZT at the end of the first week of April. The area had a heat wave at that time.
Best to plan for both warm and cool temps on the AZT.
Before reading this post I thought bringing my EE enigma 20F(more like a 30F really). I am starting mid-February, so I will definitely choose a warmer bag, thank you for the after thoughts!
Regarding insects/snakes/etc, I saw on your gear list that you didn’t bring any net of some sorts or bivy while using a tarp, did you have any concerns some nights? Thanks
Hi Marc – thanks for checking out the site.
We didn’t have any problems with insects or snakes. We ended up cowboy camping a lot. Same thing on our Grand Enchantment Trail hike in 2018.
I will say this – there were a couple nights on the AZT and several nights on the Grand Enchantment Trail where the winds were pretty strong and we wished we had bivy sacks. The bivys would have provided some wind resistance as well as kept sand out of our gear. We are planning to hike the Oregon Desert Trail this fall and we are considering building bivy sacks for that trip.
Good luck on your AZT hike – it’s a wonderful trail!