Hiking Arizona's Cactus Country
by Erik Molvar (Falcon Guides)
© Erik Molvar/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
This is an excellent trail for an out-n-back backpack trip. My son (13) and I did it this weekend. Let me provide some sorely missing details. First, to stay overnight at Douglas Springs, you need to get a permit from the park HQ. They will only issue a same-day pass if it's before noon, so plan to get the pass BEFORE NOON if you plan to hike/camp the same night that you get the permit. The trail is well-beaten, so ignore the warnings about not recognizing the trail (we found it easily). The park service has kept the trail in very good condition. WATER IS NOT DRINKABLE at Douglas Springs, so bring ALL your own. When we got to the spring in late April, there were several clear pools, but the water was not potable. HEAT - the hike from the parking area took us exactly 3 hrs to get to the campground (2.5 hours to return), and it was HOT. So, pack plenty of water (plan on at least 2 gallons per person per 3-hr trip for this hike and NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the risk of dehydration in Arizona's RUTHLESS deserts). Wear sunscreen and A HAT, as the sun will abuse you terribly on the trek up. Now, the hardest part of the hike is the first 3-miles. The total distance to the campground is 6.7 miles, and you will gain nearly 2 thousand feet. The steepest grade is in the first 1.6 miles. So, when you start your hike, do not be discouraged by the steep initial grade, as the trail tames out abit after the 3.0 mile marker - BUT, the trail rarely goes flat, so prepare for a nice, steady climb all the way. As for scenery, do not plan on seeing waterfalls unless it's the rainy season or just after the snow melts. Arizona is not known for it's rushing mountain streams, and this trail is no exception. The first 3 miles are typical Sonoran ruggedness - exposed rock gulleys, burnt spurs and lotsa cacti. We went in the Spring, and the cactus flowers were stunning.
Did the first ~6 miles of this as a trail run. The many rock steps make for slow running/hiking and I smacked my leg once failing to lift my foot enough. However, the scenary and views are very rewarding and the return trip is challenging and fun and, best of all, downhill!
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