Routes » Arizona Trailby ScottM
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, 100% of the trail is complete — it was completed in 2011.
The AZT was designed from the beginning to be a multi-use trail, thanks to a pioneering vision by the trail’s founder, Dale Shewalter. Though some sections are technical and rugged, others are designed with bikes and bikepackers in mind. It’s best to run an ultralight setup due to the demanding nature of the terrain. Even more necessary is some form of tire/tube sealant!
The Arizona Trail also serves as a backbone for smaller multi-day loops, utilizing parallel roads and trails.
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 sometimes follows parallel 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.
Also see the Arizona Trail Race’s GPS page, which is updated every year. Included there also are full cue sheets for the route and some water source information (though the best source of info on water sources, is from the Fred Gaudet’s water table page.
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, get some better software (may I suggest TopoFusion?) Also, you need to turn track shading off in TopoFusion (on the toolbar).
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.
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 the full trail, exploring sections of the AZT not described in Andrea’s book, newly built ones, and ones not recommended by the book.
In 2005, Lee Blackwell and Scott Morris took up where Tim left off. They tried to stick to the official trail, and ended up exploring some interesting but arduous wilderness detours.
Also in 2005, Scott Morris was the first to time trial the trail, following Andrea’s route and finishing the 750 mile trail in just over seven days.
2006 saw the first AZT 300, putting bikepackers on a contest with the first 300 miles of trail. A race on the full distance of the trail, including the mandatory portage across the Grand Canyon, started in 2010.
The AZT was officially finished in December of 2011, though there is no official bike route. Various options for detouring around Wilderness are available, and some sections are still not recommended for bikes. The trail continues to be improved, with singletrack sections replacing dirt roads, and more bike options available.
AZT trip reports
Scott and Eszter’s 2014 thru-ride
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)
Trip reports here on bikepacking.net: AZT trip reports..
Another great resource of trip reports for the AZT is the AZT 750/300 results page. Click on racer names to find blog links, photos, etc.
Official AZT website – JOIN the ATA and support the organization that built this amazing trail!
aztrail-build.org – Volunteer construction project responsible for 30+ miles of supremely bikepackable AZT – website now gone
The Arizona Trail 300/750 – Informal/unofficial race on the first 300 miles of the trail, held each spring.
Biking the AZT – out of date guidebook by Andrea Lankford