Arizona Trail Gateway Communities: Sierra Vista, Patagonia and Oracle
One of the country’s premier long-distance trails, the Arizona National Scenic Trail offers backcountry adventures as scenic and rewarding as the thru-hikes along the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
The Arizona National Scenic Trail spans more than 800 miles across the state from Mexico to Utah and comprises 43 passages from south to north. Along the way, hikers can find essential services at 19 designated Gateway Communities that welcome the weary to rest and stock up during this iconic hiking adventure.
Here, we introduce you to the Gateway Communities of Sierra Vista, Patagonia and Oracle in southern Arizona, sharing what each has to offer and suggesting the best ways to access passages 1-4 and 12-13.
Gateway Community: Sierra Vista
For thru-hikers starting at the Arizona-Mexico border, Sierra Vista is the first metropolitan area near the trail. The town’s namesake “mountain views” are for real — spectacular panoramas from a perch on the Huachuca Mountains. For southbound hikers, Sierra Vista is the last population center to find hotels and supplies before making the final trek to the southern terminus of the Arizona Trail.
Access the Trail
The first passages of the Arizona Trail wind hikers through the sky island mountain ranges of Southern Arizona, which feature desert grasslands that climb into dense pine forests. Arizona Trail Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains travels from the Mexico border 20 miles to Parker Canyon Lake trailhead. Most hikers setting up base camp in Sierra Vista access the trail south of town at Ramsey Canyon Preserve.
Hike south to climb the Huachucas through Coronado National Memorial on the way to an epic photo op at the Arizona-Mexico border. Hike north to traverse rocky singletrack that passes Parker Canyon Lake on route to Passage 2: Canelo Hills East.
For hikers seeking essential services and creature comforts, Sierra Vista offers a suite of chain hotels, vacation rentals, grocery stores, big-box stores, restaurants and medical services. For those exploring the Arizona Trail on two wheels, local bike shops fix flats and provide repair services.
Though it requires a half-day commitment, and thus a possible slowing of trail momentum, Kartchner Caverns just north of Sierra Vista offers an opportunity to see one of the most amazing living caves on the planet. Join a guided tour to experience this incredible underground environment operated by Arizona State Parks.
Gateway Community: Patagonia
Access the Trail
Get to the trailhead of Arizona Trail Passage 3: Canelo Hills West by driving Harshaw Avenue east of town to the marked connector trail. The southbound hike winds nearly 18 miles through rolling grasslands with manzanita groves and scrub oak in the Huachuca Mountains.
Reach Passage 4: Casa Blanca Canyons from the Train Track Trail that follows Highway 82 north of town. The northbound segment winds 20 miles through the Santa Rita Mountains and presents more rugged, challenging hiking with steep slopes and granite peaks.
Red Mountain Foods sells organic produce and stocks a grab-and-go case with sandwiches and snacks for the trail. Patagonia Market has mini-mart vibes with plenty of packaged foods and drinks to take on the trail. Mingle with locals at Gathering Grounds, a coffee shop with great food and shaded patio seating. Stage Stop Inn provides an overnight option operated by Trail Angels who help arrange transportation to trailheads, and ship and receive packages.
Just west of town, Patagonia Lake State Park is a surprising oasis in this remote area. Find camping sites perched over the lake with a day-use beach, marina and market. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is attached to the state park and features one of Southern Arizona’s busiest habitats for migrating birds.
Gateway Community: Oracle
The Tucson metro sprawls along on the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. On the north face, hikers find a completely different environment. In the foothills off Highway 77, the city of Oracle brings a decidedly outdoorsy, artistic and laid-back feel to the area. One main road goes through Oracle, passing local cafes and shops that welcome hikers.
Access the Trail
Hikers coming out of the steep Santa Catalina segments enjoy the flatter, lower-elevation path through grasslands and sandy washes near Oracle. From town, Mt. Lemmon Highway leads to two passages of the Arizona Trail.
Access Passage 12: Oracle Ridge at the American Flag Ranch trailhead, which is the transition point from passage 12 to 13. Hikers can also connect to Passage 13: Oracle from trails inside Oracle State Park and head nearly 9 miles into the San Pedro River Valley.
Oracle Patio Cafe & Market looks tiny from the road. Walk around back to find outdoor seating that quadruples the space. Fuel up on quiche and fruit or huevos rancheros before stopping inside — which is a happy mix of bakery, wine shop and produce market — for supplies. The take-away cases are hiker-centric with trail mix, sandwiches and muscle-ache-easing cold beer while the bakery delves into inspired combos such as blueberry-goat cheese pie, a treat that rings true with the town’s creative spirit.
Arizona Zipline Adventures counts as an excursion and a supply post. The adventure park features the longest zipline in the state, a restaurant that serves massive burgers and a gift shop with Arizona Trail merch and camping supplies. Zipline staff are glad to pick up hikers from the American Flag Trailhead and deliver them to campsites and cabins under the zips
One of eight Scenic Trails in the U.S.
One of 11 national scenic trails in the U.S., the 807-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) traverses the state's vast and varied...