Section 1: The Arizona National Scenic Trail

The Arizona Trail (AZT) is a south-north oriented footpath which traverses across 800 miles of Arizona’s landscape. As the AZT makes it way from Mexico to Utah, the trail encounters a diversity of sights along the way that range from geologic wonders such as the Grand Canyon to historic sites such as the ancient cliff dwellings of the Sinagua.

From its southern terminus at the Coronado National Memorial near the U.S.-Mexico border, the AZT passes through several of southeastern Arizona’s unique sky island ecosystems before entering Saguaro National Park, home of the world’s largest (up to 45 feet tall!) cactus species. The trail seeks out wilderness areas and national forests as it continues north before climbing up the Mogollon Rim and onto the Colorado Plateau, where the AZT to GDT Route will remain until reaching the Rockies in Colorado, some 800+ miles away. The AZT quickly reaches the Grand Canyon and drops nearly a vertical mile. It descends through 600 million years of geologic history in the process then climbs nearly 6,000 feet up to the Kaibab Plateau before reaching its northern terminus at the AZ-UT border.

Further information is available at the Arizona Trail Association’s website: http://www.aztrail.org/

Section 2: The Hayduke Trail

The Hayduke Trail (HT) is a challenging, 800-mile backcountry route which primarily links together six National Parks but also traverses hundreds of miles of the American Southwest’s red rock country. Despite being renowned as one of the most challenging and rewarding long-distance trails in the U.S., it exists only as a concept and carries no official status. While sections of it follow trails, larger sections merely make use of backcountry roads, canyon systems, or simply travel cross country with little more than the natural topography available to navigate by. The HT picks up where the AZT terminates and continues for nearly 500 miles across the Colorado Plateau before reaching its eastern terminus in Arches National Park (NP).

Shortly after departing from the Arizona border the HT enters Bryce Canyon NP and then begins a wandering route toward the northeast, which continues until reaching Arches NP.  Leaving Bryce Canyon the trail passes through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before reaching Capitol Reef National Park, home of the Waterpocket Fold, a 75-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that has been exposed by millennia of erosion and is now easily visible. Continuing on its northeast trajectory, the trail climbs to over 11,000 feet while crossing the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be added to the map of the 48 contiguous U.S. states in 1872), then drops precipitously in order to revisit the Colorado River and enter The Needles District of Canyonlands NP.  The HT then parallels the Colorado River until reaching Moab, outdoor Mecca of the American Southwest, where it makes its third crossing of the Colorado. Immediately after leaving Moab the HT enters Arches NP and reaches its eastern terminus shortly thereafter.

Further information is available at the Hayduke Trail’s website: http://www.hayduketrail.org/

Section 3: Arches National Park to Continental Divide National Scenic Trail connection

The third section of the AZT to GDT Route is essentially intended to be a 220-mile long connector between the Hayduke and Continental Divide trails; a means to bridging the gap between the two trails more than an end in itself. While it fulfills that purpose efficiently, it also offers additional exploration of eastern Utah and southwestern Colorado.

From the eastern terminus of the HT the AZT to GDT Route travels by more of Arches NP’s famous geologic features and eventually exits the Park at what is perhaps its most iconic feature: Delicate Arch. It then sets out on a cross country trajectory for the mouth of the Dolores River, crossing the Colorado River for the fourth and final time in the process. Upon reaching the Dolores River the route heads upstream and follows the Dolores River until reaching the small river-rafting town of Gateway, CO. At this point the trail climbs out of the red rock landscape it has traversed for hundreds of miles and climbs to the Uncompahgre Plateau, a large uplift of the Colorado Plateau that reaches elevations up to 10,000 feet. The AZT to GDT Route follows the plateau along its northwest-southeast orientation all the way to the Dallas Divide, a mountain pass between the Uncompahgre Plateau and the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. It then climbs into the Sneffels Range of the northern San Juan Mountains before intersecting with the Continental Divide Trail near Silverton, CO.

Even though geologic boundaries are never exact, the Dallas Divide can be considered the point that the AZT to GDT Route leaves behind the Colorado Plateau and begins following the Continental Divide of North America, a geological handrail that it will follow all the way to its northern terminus in the Canadian Rockies.

Section 4: The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is a 3,100-mile footpath that follows the American continental divide from Mexico to Canada. It is considered to be the most difficult and remote of the three long-distance hiking trails that constitute the American Triple Crown: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail.

The AZT to GDT Route and the CDT are one and the same for more than 1,800 miles, from their meeting point in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado all the way to the U.S.-Canada border in Glacier NP. Together they travel through 20 wilderness areas, 12 national forests and 3 National Parks.

From where it meets the AZT to GDT Route in the San Juan Mountains the CDT continues along the divide through Colorado. Along the way it travels through 11 Wilderness areas in Colorado, including the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, which with eight fourteeners (peaks over 14,000 ft. in elevation) has the highest average elevation of any Wilderness in the lower 48 states. It continues through national forests, wildernesses areas and Rocky Mountain NP before entering Wyoming and the high desert region of the Great Divide Basin, the largest endorheic basin on the Continental Divide. The CDT’s crossing of this bleak landscape is soon contrasted with both the magnificent Wind River Range of western Wyoming and the geothermal wonders of the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone. Leaving Wyoming behind, the CDT then enters Montana.

While in Big Sky Country the trail traverses the eastern edge of Island Park, the world’s largest recognized caldera, passes through a number of wildernesses including the Anaconda-Pintler and Bob Marshall, follows the Chinese Wall, a 1,000+ foot long cliff formation that runs for nearly 12 miles, and ultimately saves the best of the CDT for last: the final 110 miles of the CDT remain entirely within Glacier NP’s boundaries. From the CDT’s northern terminus along the U.S.-Canada border, the AZT to GDT Route picks up the Great Divide Trail and enters the vast wilderness of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Further information is available at the Continental Divide Trail Alliance’s website: http://www.cdtrail.org/page.php

Section 5: The Great Divide Trail

The Great Divide Trail (GDT) is a 750-mile wilderness hiking route along the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies. It was originally conceived as a continuous hiking path but failed to gain governmental support after initial efforts to construct it. The GDT, like the Hayduke Trail, is not recognized by Parks Canada and exists only as a concept; it is never signed or marked and is not a continuous hiking trail but rather a combination of existing trails, roads, and cross country routes.

From its southern terminus at the U.S.-Canada border in Water Lakes National Park the GDT passes through five National Parks: Glacier-Waterton Lakes, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, and Jasper; six Provincial Parks: Akamina-Kishinena, Elk Lakes, Peter Lougheed, Height of the Rockies, Mount Assiniboine and Mount Robson; as well as numerous wilderness areas and forest districts, before reaching its northern terminus at Kakwa Lake .

Further information is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Divide_Trail