The Arizona Trail Association Turns 30 (Happy Birthday!)

Happy birthday to the Arizona Trail Association! The ATA turns 30 this year, which, well, makes me feel old. I mean, I just turned 30 too, right? 

But more to the point, if you’re a backpacker or bikepacker intrigued by epic journeys, the 800-mile Arizona Trail is probably on your bucket list. And if it isn’t, it should be! My 8-week thru hike of the AZT remains my longest hike to-date, and the one I’m most proud of. As both a backpacker and bikepacker, I love that the AZT – one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the US – is open to both (and equestrians too).

Both bikepackers and backpackers can enjoy long-distance journeys on the AZT.

Stretching border-to-border through the entire state of Arizona, the AZT is an incredibly special place. Arizona is far more varied than many expect. A thru hike or bike will take you from otherworldly desert (I can never get enough giant Saguaro cacti) up and over surprisingly tall “sky islands” and eventually across endless forested high plateau (or, if you go in the fall and hike southbound, the other way around). 

Oh yeah, and there’s a crossing of the Grand Canyon in there too! Minor detail.

Tarp and backpackers next to snow-covered Arizona Trail

Perhaps even more special than its natural gifts, if such a thing is possible, is the community surrounding the Arizona Trail. Hikers and bikepackers are supported in our journeys by unparalleled camaraderie, unique trail towns, and “trail magic” offered by former trail completers and local supporters. 

The Arizona Trail Association, as caretakers and stewards of the trail, is at the heart of the AZT’s community. An 800 mile continuous trail doesn’t “just happen!” Established as a non-profit in 1994, the ATA worked tirelessly to coordinate and build the AZT, a massive undertaking which was officially completed in 2011. 

These days the ATA is as busy as ever with the unending task of protecting and maintaining the AZT. As the trail grows more popular and the natural environment less predictable, this work increases in difficulty. I’ve walked through the burn scars of massive wildfires and seen first-hand how the ATA handles trail closures, detours, and reroutes in a shifting environment. The work of advocating for the trail, coordinating trail work volunteers, and engaging with local communities is never-ending.

Sunset during my last night on the AZT in an area recently burned by wildfire, an increasingly common issue unfortunately.

In addition to the typical trail work and advocacy you’d expect of such an organization, I want to shout out the ATA’s creative ways of engaging volunteers and supporting local communities.

Their Trail Skills Institute teaches volunteers how to construct and maintain trails, allowing students to take these skills back to other communities. The VETS Program offers community to military veterans by engaging them in trail stewardship. A number of youth programs, some focused on girls in the outdoors, support local young people. The ATA maintains lists of trail angels and gateway community businesses to help both trail users and local communities.

So as the Arizona Trail Association turns thirty, let’s give them a birthday present! I’m proud to be a member of the ATA and I encourage anyone who loves this trail, or thinks they might love it in the future, to make a donation. You can also purchase in-kind donations from the ATA’s wishlist, which includes everything from trail maintenance equipment to bike tools for youth programs to camping gear for their VETS trail work program.

Thanks for all you do, ATA! I hope to set foot and/or wheel on your beautiful trail again soon.

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

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