Hello! I’m headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota this summer for work, and then I hope to hit another trail once I’m through. My season runs through Oct. 1. Does anyone have experience hiking the AZT at this time? How about the PNT? Will it be too cold? Are there other trails around that distance (500-1,000 miles) that you’d recommend? I’d like to be done by the holidays, moving around ~20 miles a day. Also, if anyone has recommendations for South Dakota spots not to miss, I’m all ears. Thanks!
I've done the AZT twice now (it's a long story), although I did it NOBO in the spring both times. The general consensus is that if you do it in the fall you should plan for some pretty long water carries, as many of the seasonal creeks will have dried up by then. I doubt there will be anything longer than 20-25 miles though.
Doing it in the fall definitely offers a few advantages. For example, you won't have any snow yet on the Colorado Plateau. Plus, once you're off the plateau, you can basically chill as hard as you want, because you won't have to race against the weather for the second half. I also imagine the Grand Canyon is less busy in the fall. And you might be able to hit the North Rim Country Store during their limited opening hours, which you can't really do in the spring.
That being said, I think it would be tough to commit to a fall AZT hike, because there's simply no way of knowing how the wildfires are going to shake out over the summer. There's still one closure from 2020, and 2021 burned a few different portions of the trail, and the Tunnel Fire came super close to burning a lot of the section near Flagstaff this year. But who knows! Could be that none of them even go anywhere near the trail, could be that there are massive closures because of them. Just good to be flexible, I suppose.
It's such a great trail though, I'm sure you'll enjoy it no matter how you do it. Let me know how it stacks up against the FT, hah.2
Awesome, and just what I was looking for! Thanks so much. Fingers crossed for a low wildfire season across the board.1