by Blake Herzog
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is an 800-mile path spanning our state from north to south, cutting through high plains, forests, mountains, deserts and canyons, slicing through the Grand Canyon itself.
The nonmotorized trail also links wildlife habitats and human communities, establishing or reinforcing ties along the way. Hikers, runners, bikers and equestrians can trek its entire length or ramble along a few miles on a weekend afternoon.
Better known as the Arizona Trail, it connects deserts with their mountain “sky islands,” threads across the Superstition Mountains and crawls over the Mogollon Rim before reaching the San Francisco Peaks outside Flagstaff on the way to the canyon and through the sagebrush-strewn plateau north to the Utah border.
It’s an invitation to adventure in every kind of landscape the state has to offer. The trail combines existing trails with connecting segments that create a continuous, non-vehicular route.
It’s one of the premiere long-distance trails in the U.S., and a whole culture has sprung up around it as “finishers” register their feats with the Arizona Trail Foundation, whether it took them 10 days or 10 years to complete all 800 miles.
A network of volunteers or “stewards” maintain the path through all weather patterns and occasional reroutes.
The Highline Passage
The trail is organized into segments called “passages,” as seen on the map at www.aztrail.org/the-trail/map-of-the-trail, and the one most accessible to Greater Prescott is Passage 26, known as the “Highline.”
The southern end is in the small town of Pine, an hour and 45 minute drive east from downtown Prescott, and the route takes you on several climbs through forests of alder, pine and walnut trees. Elevation ranges from approximately 5,300 feet to 7,000 feet.
A hair more than 20 miles, the segment lives up to its name by starting with two large switchbacks that lead to a clearing with its first spectacular view of the Mazatzal Range. It then passes Milk Ranch Point leading to appealing camping spots for backpackers at Red Rock Spring and just south of the bridge over Webber Creek.
The route continues east to cross over Bray Creek to the Washington Park Trailhead before descending to a steel bridge over another stream, which is actually the headwaters of the East Verde River.
Just after the bridge, the Arizona Trail shifts to the Colonel Devin trail, a very well-marked No. 290 in the numbering system for Tonto National Forest.
The path continues to follow the East Verde stream bed over two wooden footbridges and a steel bridge before ascending through a rocky passage to join a utility road. When it looks like the trail is about to run smack into the Mogollon Rim it veers to the right and begins to climb, until reaching Forest Road 300 and the Battle of Big Dry Wash historical marker atop the rim, which marks the end of Passage 26 near a small parking lot.
The Arizona Trail is always changing, just like the natural world surrounding it. For up-to-date information visit www.aztrail.org/important-information-for-thru-hikers-and-riders-for-spring-2022.
Several Facebook Groups are geared to Arizona Trail users and are a great source of ideas and socializing.