The Kaibab Plateau sneaks up on you. A few sections of the Arizona Trail cut across its eastern flank, through big country that sticks to your memory and gets under your skin. There are some gorgeous walks up there. The trail cuts through timber and meadow, though aspen glens and evergreen clusters, mile after mile. Head north and it breaks and drops into sage and then on the Utah border. Head south and you’ll end up at Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
The first time I walked this stretch of ground I was doing a story on Mike Armstrong, a blind martial arts instructor from the Phoenix metro area. Mike hiked the entire Arizona Trail with aid of guides, and although my evil masters weren’t going to allow me to hike the whole Arizona Trail, they allowed me to follow Mike for a few days. I was with him on the first day, down on the Mexico border. I tagged along again when he hiked a section of the Mazatzals. When he was ready to finish, I drove up to the Kaibab. We walked the forest, followed the break and then down, camped in the sage and walked to the Utah border the next day. His whole family there to greet him. Champagne. Smiles and hugs all around.
Doing the story convinced me that I should section hike the Arizona Trail, so the next time I walked the Kaibab I started on the Kaibab Plateau Central Passage and walked to the North Rim. I took my time and did in about a week, with a day to rest and explore Saddle Mountain Wilderness. About the only part of this country that was not gorgeous was a burn scar that took some time to get through. The Kaibab is full of roads that make it easy to drop off caches. It will take the better part of a day to set them up, a few hours to pick up anything you have left behind, so plan accordingly.
You don’t have to walk the whole Kaibab Plateau to experience it, of course, and there are other trails in the area besides the AZT. There’s a short hike to a historic fire tower where Ed Abbey once worked, near the park entrance, as well as the Saddle Mountain Wilderness and a lazy walk along the East Rim. This is high country and winter comes early, so the Kaibab is a great place to see aspens in the fall.
The nitty gritty
Access: The Kaibab Plateau is located in northern Arizona. From Phoenix, head to Flagstaff and continue north on Highway 89 toward Page. Take the 89A loop to Lees Ferry and the North Rim, then head south on Highway 67. Several turnoffs on Forest Service roads that will allow you to access the Arizona Trail. The park closes in the fall and opens in the spring, based on weather, so if you plan to enter the park, plan accordingly.
Best time to go: spring, summer, fall.
Maps: Kaibab National Forest, Arizona Trail passages 39-43.
Disclaimer: Please Read. Have fun.