Outdoor preparedness is especially vital in Arizona. For one, the six diverse biomes that sprawl throughout the state can transform the terrain from desert to forest—and the climate from balmy to snowy—in less than 150 miles. For two, many of the state’s natural areas and tribal lands require special reservations or permits to visit.
All of this to say: A bit of planning can make a big difference in a safe and fun Arizona adventure that will help minimize impacts to the outdoors.
Ranger Talks - Organ Pipe Cactus NM Plan Ahead and Prepare
Prep Step #1: Know the Climate and Terrain
A backpacking trip along the Arizona Trail, a National Scenic Trail spanning 800 miles from Mexico to Utah, traverses nearly all of Arizona’s ecosystems. If you’re not armed with the right gear and clothed appropriately, you could find yourself overdressed and hot in the desert or underdressed and shivering in the forest.
Utilize these resources for information on your destination’s elevation, terrain, topography and current weather:
Ready to experience just how diverse Arizona’s landscapes are? Try one of these hikes:
Humphrey’s Trail Number 151, Humphrey’s Peak: On this 10-mile hike near Flagstaff you might find yourself trudging through snow year-round. Wear warm clothes for the freezing temperatures and gusty winds, and sturdy boots for the rocky slopes.
North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail: This 22.5-mile Grand Canyon hike is open May 15 to October 15. Bring hiking poles for the steep downhill journey. Temperatures warm by 20 degrees at the bottom of the canyon, so dress in layers. The hike passes through desert scrub, a river corridor and three types of forest.
Temporal Gulch Passage, Arizona Trail: During the 21.8-mile Temporal Gulch Passage, you’ll wind through grasslands, scrub oaks and a Ponderosa pine forest. Here, the temperature drops about 15 degrees from the hike’s starting point.
Prep Step #2: Research Permits and Passes
To lower the impact of humans at some of Arizona’s more popular natural attractions, the number of visitors is limited. To secure your chance to see these extraordinary places, advance reservations and permits are often required.
Here are a few spots for which you’ll need to obtain a pass:
Tribal lands: Arizona’s tribal lands comprise more than 25% of the state. These communities invite visitors to join cultural tours, camp and more. Obtaining a permit, or even a guide, is required for several of the tribes. Research ahead of time if you need permission to visit and make sure you understand each community’s rules and regulations.
Fossil Creek, Strawberry: The cool waters of Fossil Creek flow into a pool—a favorite swimming hole for locals during the summer. Due to its popularity, permits are required from April to October. Permits go on sale the first day of each month and must be purchased advance.
Havasu Falls, Havasu Canyon: Day-hiking is not allowed, which means you’ll have to jockey for one of the most coveted camping spots in Arizona. Permits to this remote oasis at the bottom of the Grand Canyon go on sale February 1 and sell out quickly.
The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument: You should apply for a permit four months before your trip, or try for a walk-in permit the day before. Only 48 people daily can visit this destination and you can only submit one permit request per month, so you’ll need to be flexible with your itinerary.
Prep Step #3: Pack Smart
For an Arizona outdoor expedition, there are a few must-bring items:
Water. A lot of water. Even in the state’s cooler climates, the air is dry and dehydration can set in faster than you think. Drink ½ to 1 liter of water for every hour that you’re outside. And don’t forget to bring enough water for children and pets.
Sunscreen. Arizona is famous for its clear, sunny days. Apply sunscreen year-round and reapply often.
Hat. A wide-brimmed cap not only keeps the sun off your face, ears and neck, but it also helps reduce bright glares.
Layers. Arizona’s temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, especially in the desert. Bring light layers and insulated clothing.
Cell phone. Make sure your phone is fully charged and keep it in airplane mode to save the battery until you plan to use it.
Maps. Arizona’s remote areas often don’t offer cell service (aka, no internet or GPS), so pack an old-school map and be sure you know how to read it.
Finally: Always tell someone where you’re going, what time you’re leaving and when you plan to return.