Appreciate AZ #2

Stick to Trails

Did you know? A federal “wilderness” designation offers the highest level of natural resource protection in the country. Among all 50 states, Arizona ranks second for having the most wilderness areas—there are 90 in the Grand Canyon State. And with 4.5 million acres of official wilderness land, Arizona ranks fourth behind Alaska, California and Idaho. That’s a lot of untouched nature to explore—and, more importantly, to preserve.

Trail Tips Every Hiking Aficionado Should Know

  • Travel on durable surfaces. Always hike on sanctioned trails or identifiable routes. In the event that those don’t exist (a possibility when trekking through backcountry), find a durable surface on which to hike. Think hard rock, sand or gravel.
  • Don’t be a trailblazer. It may be a more direct path to charge straight up the side of a mountain to summit its peak, but switchbacks help prevent steep gullies of rushing water to form during Arizona’s rainy season. These can wipe out local vegetation, destroy animal habitats and even sweep unsuspecting hikers away in the high-speed flow.
  • Avoid popular times of day. Stepping aside when you encounter others on the trail is the polite thing to do. Unfortunately, this can also cause excessive trampling on vegetation and native flora. If possible, plan to head out for a hike during days or times when crowds are minimal, thus reducing the need to move off trail. If you do need to step off trail to let others pass, find a durable surface like a rock slab to stand on.
  • Inspect clothing and gear. To prevent the introduction of invasive species into the ecosystem, do a quick clean of hiking boots, clothes, food storage, water containers and other gear before you hit the trail.
  • Keep pets on a leash. Fido may yearn to roam, but keeping him leashed up is the best way to ensure that all four paws stay on the trail.
  • Skip the selfie. Arizona’s dramatic landscapes beckon to be immortalized in a photograph, but angling for that perfect shot can put you in a possibly precarious—read: dangerous—position.
Catalina State Park, Credit An Pham

Come spring, Arizona’s wildflowers bloom into color, luring locals and visitors outdoors to see the spectacular hues up close and personal. This means that February through April morphs into peak hiking season—all the more reason to tread lightly and follow the trails. Here are a few spots for safe wildflower peeping:

Camping in Arizona’s Backcountry

For those seeking creature comforts while overnighting in the great outdoors, Arizona offers myriad options—from cozy lodges at the Grand Canyon to lakeside cabins at state parks.

Arizona’s 90 wilderness areas also welcome exploration. But whether you opt for popular campgrounds or remote backcountry, remember this one rule: Always camp on durable surfaces. These include designated tent sites, hard gravel, sandy areas, exposed bedrock or sites that are already highly impacted (look for little vegetation).

Patagonia State Park, Credit Elisabeth Brentano @elisabethontheroad

Other guidelines to follow:

  • Pitch tents 200 feet away from streams, rivers and lakes to minimize contamination and allow wildlife access to water sources.
  • Use already existing rock slabs or other durable surfaces for cooking areas or to stash backpacks and gear.
  • Avoid repetitive traffic to minimize any potential impact.
  • When walking around camp, wear soft shoes or sandals.
  • Limit the number of trips to water sources by using storage containers.
  • If backpacking, move your campsite each night to minimize overall impact.
  • Before you leave camp, cover scuffed areas with pine needles or leaves, rake matted grass with a stick and brush away any footprints.

To discover more about Arizona’s wilderness areas, check out these resources:

Safety First

Trails exist to preserve delicate ecosystems and protect the homes of wild animals, but they’re also there for your personal safety. Arizona features natural wonders equally unique and treacherous: narrow slot canyons, steep mountain slopes, jagged cliff edges, spiny cactuses, loose gravel, venomous critters like rattlesnakes and scorpions and powerful predators like bobcats and black bears.

Catalina State Park, Credit Ah Pham

To keep safe on Arizona’s trails, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay hydrated. Pack plenty of water, even if you’re only going for a short hike, and make sure you hydrate before you set foot on the trail.
  • Pack snacks that contain protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats like beef jerky and trail mix.
  • Check the weather ahead of time and prep accordingly.
  • Wear appropriate footwear, such as closed toes boots or thick-soled sneakers.
  • Bring hiking buddies.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Read all signage, public notices, park news and maps at the trailhead.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.

Created in partnership with © Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

About the Author

Leah Soto

Leah Soto loves to combine her experience in the restaurant industry with her passion for writing. And having spent her whole life in Arizona, she knows where the locals travel and eat.