Answers to Common Questions about the G.E.T.

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Q: I'm not all that familiar with the Grand Enchantment Trail. What the heck is it? Where on earth does it go?

A: The Grand Enchantment Trail is a 770 mile backcountry route across the Southwest United States. The route is entirely conceptual in nature, existing in guidebook and mapped form exclusively. It travels from Phoenix Arizona to Albuquerque New Mexico, utilizing a combination of existing trails, primitive roads, and cross-country travel. Along the way, the route passes through a largely wild, undeveloped landscape that includes the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Continental Divide, Sky Island mountain ranges, and riparian canyon environments. The route emphasizes scenery, solitude, and access to water over maximum efficiency of travel between Point A and Point B.
[ GET Overview Map ]

Q: How did the trail come to be?

A: The Grand Enchantment Trail (GET) wasn't actually built so much as it was conceived by an experienced thru-hiker, Brett Tucker, originally as a way to connect the Continental Divide and the Arizona Trail. It was then born of many hours of map work and field research, expanded both eastward and westward to include more of this spectacular region, all in order to determine as feasible and enjoyable a route that would also provide a wild and scenic backcountry experience. The GET is ever evolving. As parts of the route are damaged or lost each year due to fire, flooding, public lands reduction, overgrazing, management issues, and lack of maintenance, new solutions are tested. As Brett cannot be on every segment of the trail every year, this process often gets started by feedback and suggestions from the hikers who are out there (so be prepared to be part of the evolution of the GET!).

Q: So you're saying the GET is a "route" rather than a trail, in the traditional sense of that word?

A: Absolutely. The GET is not designated National Scenic Trail, National Recreation Trail, or any other government-designated trail. With no GET Association, funding, or staff, there is also no signage/blazes, guaranteed maintenance, or phone navigation apps. The hiker must be alert, competent at navigation, and be comfortable hiking cross-country, on dirt roads, in addition to hiking on singletrack trail of all stripes, from the occasional stretch of well-maintained path to hard-to-follow overgrown trail that stabs and draws blood. The hiker who is competent in these areas, both physically and mentally, will be well rewarded with a beautiful and unique experience across the American Southwest.

Q: How much of the GET is actually hiking trail, as opposed to roadwalking?

A: Perhaps more than one might expect, considering that the route doesn't use a single mile of trail built specifically for its purposes. About 310 miles or so of the route utilizes local trails maintained by the US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management and associated volunteer groups. Another 70 miles of the GET is concurrent with the Arizona National Scenic Trail. Still another 45 miles of the GET follows the Continental Divide Trail's official route through the Black Range of the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. So all told, the Grand Enchantment Trail has roughly 425 miles of singletrack hiking trail (about 56%).

As for the nature of roadwalking on the Grand Enchantment Trail, the overwhelming majority of it is along dirt roads that seldom see vehicle traffic. Many of these roads are of the "2-track" variety: little more than two earthen grooves, with a raised brushy center. These roads, if open to the motoring public at all, are generally accessible only to high-clearance 4 wheel drive vehicles and seldom used. Chalk it up, as well, to the remoteness of the GET, and to the very low population densities in these areas, especially in New Mexico. Walking along 2-track roads is truly the next best thing to trail hiking. Nature is close at hand and unfettered, and yet the walking is usually not difficult. Even where the GET follows improved surfaces, the way ahead is on graded dirt roads rather than asphalt whenever possible.

Q: What about cross-country travel? Is there much of it? How challenging are these segments?

A: When the GET leaves the trail or road, it almost always heads through open country or follows a dry (or wet) water corridor (wash). In these areas, there is simply no trail or road in place that would connect to established portions of the route at either end. Care was taken in planning the route in order to ensure that cross-country portions follow a straightforward approach that also maximizes scenery and enjoyment. All told, the GET heads cross-country for about 85 miles of its full length, usually for just a few miles - or less - at a time.

That said, predictably almost every year there are portions of the route damaged or lost to fire, flooding, public lands reduction, overgrazing, land management issues, and lack of maintenance. Even where there is actual trail tread in place, these sections can be overtaken by sharp grass seeds, sharp plants, cacti, heavy tree downfall, or landslides. As such, they may be difficult to navigate, slow-going, and sometimes painful. So the route may occasionally feel like cross-country travel, even where it isn't, and hikers need to be prepared for the associated challenges.

Q: Does the GET follow a legal route, located on public lands and/or easements?

A: Anyone who's hiked in the West away from the popular trails knows of the potential to stray onto private property. Not necessarily in the urban sense of that term, with homes, cars, barking dogs, and security alarms. Rather, in the inimitable Western sense, where private property in remote lands is synonymous with the sprawling cattle ranch, acres if not miles wide, and largely empty of life (except, perhaps, for the bovine form). Actually, these ranching and grazing properties are often not much different from the surrounding public lands, and often support healthy biotic communities of their own. And the lone ranch house may be miles away from the farthest property line. Nevertheless, private land is private land, and every effort must be made to keep to the public side of the fence.

Not every strand of barbed wire demarcates a boundary with private land, of course. Cattle grazing also occurs with great frequency on public lands in the Southwest. And not all private property is posted as such. So without the formal and drawn-out procedures that would only arise were the GET to become an officially-recognized entity-which, by design, it won't-there can be no absolute certainty on this subject, particularly when property boundaries and landowner relationships are routinely changing. Certainly every effort has been made, redoubled efforts now in fact, to describe a route through public lands and on public rights-of-way. Where the route involves roads, sometimes the roads pass through private lands, but in just about every case the roads themselves have been ascertained to be public, legal rights-of-way. And the next parcel of public land is always within a day's walking distance, meaning that hikers can expect to camp and obtain water without trouble.

In a few instances, such as where the GET crosses the private Sevilleta land grant in Socorro county, New Mexico, trail users have been granted conditional permission by the landowners to pass through said private parcels; however these are in no way formal easements or public rights-of-way but rather informal agreements - indeed a privilege - which may be revoked at any time. Trail users should adhere strictly to the information depicted on the mapset and in the guidebook when accessing these portions of the route.

Q: Why does this "wilderness hiking route" begin and end in large cities (Phoenix and Albuquerque)?

A: In a word, accessibility. Most long distance trails start and end at idealistic termini, such as the Canadian or Mexican border, or atop a prominent summit. But the GET isn't really about its endpoints. Instead, it's what happens between those endpoints that matters most. The termini, in this case, have been selected to get that grand adventure into high gear (or, when the time arrives, to end it) as quickly and as easily as possible.

In fact, a hiking party could theoretically board a flight from the east coast of the US, and 6 hours later find themselves in the wilderness, along the GET, already beyond sight and sound of the city. Both Phoenix and Albuquerque have international airports, as well as taxi/Uber/shuttle services that run directly to the trailhead. Once beyond the trailhead only a mile or two, the wilderness is spectacular and all-encompassing!

Q: The Southwest United States is pretty arid country. How's the water situation along the GET?

A: The availability of water is always one of the biggest concerns when hiking in the Southwest. The GET was designed to maximize the odds of finding it and to minimize the distances between sources. It does this by brushing up against seemingly every spring, creek, river, windmill, and cow tank that occurs along the way. In the desert, this means following drainage courses frequently. Aravaipa Creek and Eagle Creek, for example, are year-round sources that the GET follows for a fair number of miles, all the while benefiting from the cooling shade of cottonwoods and willows that grow along the stream banks. Where surface water is unavailable, the GET seeks out stock tanks and windmills (one must be prepared to share water with cattle in the Southwest). And although these sources are never guaranteed to be wet, the route passes a sufficient number of them sufficiently often to tip the odds in the hiker's favor. Same with the mountain sources - most often springs and small creeks fed by melting snowpack and monsoon rains. Of course, not all potential sources will be flowing at a given time, so it is always best to err on the side of caution and carry more than you think you need in case the next source is dry.

Q: What is the recommended hiking season and direction of travel for a thru-hike of the GET?

A: Like most long-distance trails, the GET has limiting factors that tend to channel thru-hikers into predictable patterns of movement. This route's limiting factors are basically twofold: snowpack/cold in the higher terrain and dry conditions/extreme heat in the lower regions. To avoid both, the hiker needs to time the hike to avoid seasonal extremes. This means summer and winter are out. Luckily, though, the GET is "only" 770 miles long (compared with 2600 for the PCT, e.g.), and spring and autumn at these latitudes are comparatively accommodating. Beyond that, the trail's highest terrain is located toward the eastern end nearer to Albuquerque. This set of circumstances virtually decrees the advisability of beginning an eastbound hike from Phoenix in the springtime (when the weather there is still comparatively mild) and finishing a couple of months later in Albuquerque as the weather in that region is just starting to warm up. Along the way, the winter snowpack will be melting and all the while providing precious drinking water. Ideal timing means the hiker is through the lowest terrain before it gets too hot and dry, without arriving in the high country too early when the snow hasn't yet sufficiently melted. This springtime "window of opportunity" will vary from year to year, but will translate to a start date at Phoenix of between March 10 and April 10, and a finish date at Albuquerque by May 31.

The trail can also be hiked successfully in autumn. In particularly wet years, this season of travel may in fact be preferable to a springtime journey, due to the absence of lingering snowpack and difficult creek crossings. (Other years, autumn can be quite dry, and water much less available than in spring.) Fall in this climate is also cooler overall, and the sun angle is lower and less intense than during springtime. (Days are shorter, of course, and nights can sometimes be quite chilly up high.) In any case, fall season hikers would begin hiking at Albuquerque, generally in mid to late September after the summer monsoon rains have abated, and hike westbound toward Phoenix, arriving there by mid to late November. Storms can bring cold rain and sometimes snow to the highest terrain of the GET in late October and November, but following a reasonable westbound itinerary the hiker would be clear of most of the high country before that time.

Q: How long is it between resupply towns? Will I have to hitchhike?

A: Part of the criteria for the trail's route involved the need to allow for resupply access at regular intervals along the way. The longest distance between near-route resupply stops is only about 100 miles, or 6 days out (for the average thru-hiker type), allowing hikers to focus instead on the wonders of their surroundings and on the honest challenge of a day's hiking in remote and scenic lands.

Many of these town stops are not located directly along the route, but are a few miles away - reachable by thumb or by foot. Some of the town stops are, indeed, directly along the route. The towns are mostly small villages-some are pretty quirky. Almost all have post offices. Some have more. Download the free town guide for full details. [ GET Town Guide ]

Q: Is the GET the right hike for me?

A: Thru-hiking. Everyone is different of course, but from what we've seen since the route's inception in the mid 2000's, the following skills/characteristics seem to be common denominators among the long-distance hikers that get the most enjoyment from the route:

  • Have completed at least one thru-hike greater than 500 miles (preferably more)
  • Have some desert hiking experience (especially in the areas the GET travels through)*
  • Are comfortable with navigation by map and GPS*
  • Travel during the ideal seasons* and in the recommended direction
  • Are able to maintain a pace of 100+ miles a week
  • Are okay with a lot of solitude* (you may not often - or ever - run into other thru-hikers)
  • Can be good ambassadors for the GET in the towns and among locals along the way, especially with ranchers and other rural landowners
  • Like the idea of contributing to the cause by taking water notes and submitting feedback for other hikers and the GET website (not required of course; we won't be offended, but there seems to be a correlation between participation and enjoyment on these kinds of routes)
  • Are patient and open-minded about ever-changing environments and treads*
  • Are willing to wear pants* (shorts may be cooler but the sun burns and the plants bite… just trust us on this one!)

If any of these are making you second-guess whether a long hike of the GET is right for you, but you would like to explore this part of the world on foot, you may want to consider hiking the Arizona National Scenic Trail. It is about the same length as the GET, it travels through all the bio-zones of Arizona, you will gain valuable desert hiking/camping experience, there is an established trail community and you are sure to run into other thru-hikers, the trail tread is in place and fairly well-maintained, the navigation is straight-forward, and you can probably get away with short shorts. Visit www.aztrail.org for more information.

* As far as section hiking / shorter-distances goes, experience certainly counts here too. Ideally you should be able to check off a majority of the above skills / characteristics that show an asterisk after them. Yes, your hike may afford certain advantages and safety nets, but still, enjoyment has to be an important consideration, and being competent and prepared for the challenges of a hike is often a big factor that determines how much you'll enjoy it. So don't take a shorter outing along the GET lightly. Be ready for it! Read as much information on this website as possible and seek advice from others who have gone before you. Also see the "Challenge Factor" ratings for each segment of the GET and learn what they mean before commiting to hike a particular segment. (See the Challenge Factor column on the GET Guidebook launch page.)

Q: The Grand Enchantment Trail is starting to sound pretty interesting! When can I expect to see a finished guidebook?

A: The guidebook is a work in progress, however the GET has been successfully hiked with the mapset, water chart, town guide, and unfinished guidebook. The mapset comes with a GPS track that can be loaded into a GPS app on your phone (such as Gaia GPS) or onto a handheld GPS.

Note: USGS topo maps are available free at various websites, or at cost per copy for the paper versions. However, none of these show the route of the Grand Enchantment Trail, nor do they highlight the locations of reliable water sources or agreeable campsites along the GET. Altogether, the GET Topo Map Set contains over 100 high-resolution custom maps (PDF images) and is available as an online download, a CD-ROM, and now as a pre-printed mapset. See here for details.

Q: Cool! Where can I learn more about the route?

A: Photos and more


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