The best of Arizona

Do the state's namesake trail ― one hike at a time


Skeleton-like saguaros in the Superstition Wilderness.

Randy Prentice

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To really know Arizona, you need to let her rough you up some. Not to the point of serious hurt, but enough to feel her in your muscles and lungs and heart and to experience the beauty in the soft inner lining of the landscape's outward ferocity.

Arizona resists armchair contemplation; she is so tactile, so strange, so unlike anyplace else that she demands active participation.

Your ultimate field trip is the Arizona Trail, a 720-mile scribble that bisects the state from Utah to Mexico. It meanders through ponderosa and aspen forests, plunges into the Grand Canyon and lesser-known chasms, lurches over mountains and escarpments, and droops across the arroyo-crinkled Sonoran Desert.

Ten percent of the trail remains to be built, but hikers and mountain bikers can sample the Arizona Trail in more moderate doses. I booted parts of it for 30 days and found six segments that make pretty autumn day-hikes―several require a car shuttle. Arizona Trail Lite, some might scoff. But it never felt like a diluted version of the AZT―it was the real thing, full of spectacular lessons in nature and life.



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