by Blake Herzog
The variety and number of trails and users of trails, across Arizona has exploded in recent years as people have fallen in love with the fitness benefits and the sheer joy of witnessing nature and its vistas at a slower pace.
So much is missed from driving past at 50-plus mph — the calls of birds, the rustle of grass, the crunch of gravel under feet, bicycle tires, or horse hooves that remind us of our connection to and impact on the planet we call home.
Pinal County’s diverse topography gives residents and visitors a chance to absorb mountains, valleys, deserts, grasslands, and forests. Depending on ability and preparation, they can choose from trails as long as the nearly 100 miles of the Arizona National Scenic Trail that cuts through the Copper Corridor in the east to shorter, more accessible ones throughout the rest of the county.
Remember, wherever and however long you’re hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding (where allowed), at least bring a good supply of water and be careful around any snakes or other potentially dangerous wildlife you may come across.
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is an 800-mile path for nonmotorized traffic stretching from Buckskin Mountain on the Utah border to the Huachuca Mountains on the international border with Mexico. It attracts hikers and mountain bikers from around the state and country who travel its entire length, as well as day-trippers and those checking it out for the first time.
It enters Pinal County from the south at Oracle Ridge and sweeps through the heart of the county’s mining country, carving its own path to the west of Highway 177 once it leaves Oracle. Hikers get to see the Black Hills, Tortilla Mountains, Gila River, Alamo, and Reavis canyons and on to the Superstition Wilderness.
LEGENDS OF SUPERIOR TRAIL
If you’re in Superior to visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, you can also check out the Legends of Superior Trail (LOST), an excellent 11.65-mile introduction to Superior’s historic and geographical highlights and the first community connector trail from the Arizona Trail.
Organized into segments based on geologic and historic contexts, the westernmost 6.5 miles branches off from the Arizona Trail at the Picketpost trailhead and plunges into all of Arnett Canyon’s beauty.
Keep going and you’ll see the remains of the area’s first mining community, Pinal City, within the present-day Town of Superior. LOST continues onto historic Main Street past shops old and new, then on into Queen Creek Canyon, past its bridge, and through the Claypool Tunnel, the first to give drivers access from Superior to Claypool, Miami, and Globe.
PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK
The jagged peak that stands sentry over Interstate 10 on the way to Tucson is best-known for prime wildflower viewing during spring, but as that season passes there are plenty of reasons to visit, preferably earlier in the morning or near sunset in the early summer (the state park’s trails are open from sunrise to sunset).
All of the park’s trails are relatively short but vary widely in difficulty. The Nature’s Walk and Children’s Cave paths are half a mile or less and include interpretive signs, while the Calloway trail is just over two-thirds of a mile and leads to a scenic overlook with dramatic vistas to the south and west.
The Hunter and Sunset Vista trails are considerably more difficult, with the 1.6-mile Hunter described as a “resistant path” in the park’s brochure. Both include steel cables on the rockiest summits, with the use of gloves highly recommended. The Sunset Vista winds around the south and west sides of the mountain for 2.6 miles up to its “saddle;” it is not recommended for the warmest weather.
One of the most popular trails in the entire state, it travels from the edge of the community of Gold Canyon for 6.5 miles into the Superstition Wilderness, which brings you deep into the mountains that define the Apache Junction and Gold Canyon area.
From the trailhead to the Fremont Saddle much of the surface is bedrock and can be difficult for some hikers, but smoother areas pass through lush desert growth and past more saguaros than you can count.
Those who make it up to the saddle are rewarded with phenomenal views of the Weaver’s Needle spire and nearby hoodoos, but the trail offers very little shade, so remember to take plenty of water no matter what time of year it is.