Routes » Arizona Trail
photo by Mike Curiak
The Arizona Trail (AZT) stretches some 800 miles from Mexico to Utah. Covering a wide variety of terrain, it truly showcases the beauty and ruggedness of the Grand Canyon State. At present, 94% of the trail is complete.
History of Cycling on the AZT
In 2000, Andrea Lankford led the first thru-ride on the AZT. Told by some that she “couldn’t do it”, she proved them wrong by cycling the length of the state with Beth Overton. The result of that trip was the guidebook, “Biking the Arizona Trail.”
In 2004, Tim McCabe ventured out to ride explore sections of the AZT not described in Andrea’s book, and also newly built ones.
In 2005, Lee Blackwell and Scott Morris took up where Tim left off. They went to great lengths to stick to the official trail, and ended up exploring some interesting but arduous wilderness detours.
As trail completion nears, more bikepackers are turning their attention to the AZT. Several key links of singletrack are in progress, but within the next few years a cohesive cycling route will form.
screenshot from TopoFusion
No one AZT trip has been the same. New sections are built, old ones rerouted, and the biggest question an AZT thru-rider should ask themselves is, “how much do I want to stick to the trail?”
There are two extremes of this route choice. Staying with the trail can lead to some long hike-a-bikes (but also amazing terrain). The other extreme is the route described by Andrea Lankford’s book, which is often comprised of dirt roads.
The current recommendation is to go with a route that is somewhere between the Lankford route and the “trail-no-matter-what”. There are several key sections of beautiful trail that simply weren’t built when Lankford wrote her book. There’s no need to spend so much time on dirt roads.
AZT Network GPS data details
The above file highlights the options available to the Arizona Trail cyclist. Each track is colored according to the following table:
|Cyan||The current recommended route|
|Green||Easier / road alternates, usually as described in Andrea’s book|
|Red||Hike-a-bike or otherwise adventurous segments for true AZT junkies|
Note: if you don’t see the track colors, upgrade to the latest version of TopoFusion. Older versions didn’t display per-track coloring. Also, you need to turn track shading off in TopoFusion (on the toolbar). If your GPS software doesn’t display the colors, get TopoFusion!
A number of waypoints are set as notes about some of the options. There are also waypoints set at each intersection in the network. The numbers on these waypoints don’t mean anything — they are simply a byproduct of TopoFusion’s network feature which was used to combine and filter the AZT network GPS data.
Crossing the Canyon
There’s one slight hiccup for AZT bikepackers. The Big Ditch, aka Grand Canyon, presents a bit of an obstacle. It is illegal to ride bikes anywhere in the canyon, and this is aggressively enforced (famous examples include the Sedona 5 and the Riding the Spine crew).
However, the corridor canyon trails (Bright Angel, North and South Kaibab trails) are not wilderness. So, it is lawful to possess a bike, as long as it is disassembled and the wheels don’t touch the ground.
Options for crossing the canyon:
- Carrying your bike – This provides the best continuity for the trip, but it is also the most difficult. Morris and Blackwell strapped their bikes to their packs, including camping gear, and made the crossing on their 2005 trip.
- Shuttling the bike – A number of shuttle services are available to get your steed from one side to the other, leaving you footloose and fancy free to make the crossing by foot. Hiking rim to rim is an experience like none other. Another option is to get a friend to shuttle your bike across. However, this option is subject to the closure of the North Rim. The shuttle services won’t run, and the gate south of Jacob Lake will be closed until the park is officially open. The optimal weather window for bikepacking the trail often dictates an arrival on the North Rim while it is still closed (to cars, not to human powered travel).
- Riding around – This option works, and preserves the purity of “riding” the route (staying on the bike). However, to date no one has found a route that avoids significant stretches of busy and potentially dangerous riding along highway 89.
AZT trip reports
Scott and Paula’s 3 day trip on the AZT
Tim McCabe’s Spring 2006 thru-ride
Epicrider’s Fall 2006 AZT-ish journey – Utah to Mexico
Scott and Lee’s 2005 hike-a-bike thru-ride – Journal entries, photo albums, route details
Racing the AZT in 7 Days by Scott Morris (on Andrea Lankford’s route)
Official AZT website
aztrail-build.org – Volunteer construction project responsible for 30+ miles of supremely bikepackable AZT
The Arizona Trail 300 – Annual race on the first 300 miles of the trail, now in its fifth year.