CASA GRANDE — Pinal County is home to plenty of trails and hiking opportunities and thanks to COVID-19, they’re more popular than ever.
“Outdoor recreation use, including use of hiking trails, has exploded,” said Kent Taylor, director of Pinal County Open Space and Trails. “People who traditionally work out or go to the movies for recreation are discovering that hiking and spending time outdoors is an adequate replacement.”
From March to April of 2020, county trail managers saw 33% more people visit trails than in the entire 2019 hiking season.
“And that was just March,” Taylor said. “It’s fantastic that so many more people are getting outdoors and exploring trails. It’s what we live for.”
Within Pinal County, there are four state parks, four wilderness areas, three national monuments and a portion of a national scenic trail, all with unique hiking opportunities, he said.
Pinal County manages more than 60 miles of trails including a 45-mile segment of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, 10 miles of the Central Arizona Project National Recreation Trail and the 10-mile Lost Goldmine trail.
Taylor, a cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, spends much of his free time biking on Pinal County trails.
“I love the quiet and solitude of exploring a trail,” he said.
He said each of Pinal County’s trails has its own unique characteristics, but he prefers the Pinal County segment of the National Scenic Trail.
“The scenic trail is a terrific back country experience,” he said. “The trailheads are harder to access but the reward is that it’s not very crowded.”
The CAP trail is the newest. It opened about 18 months ago.
“It’s a flat trail that runs adjacent to the canal,” Taylor said. “When hikers are on the trail, they have a visual of water. It’s good for all levels and we’ve had phenomenal feedback from cyclists.”
Taylor suggests hikers access the county’s Open Space and Trails website at parks-trails.pinal.gov for trailhead information and access locations.
Among the state parks in Pinal County are Picacho Peak State Park, Lost Dutchman State Park, Oracle State Park and McFarland State Historic Park. Several others are near Pinal County.
Michelle Thompson, chief of communications for Arizona State Parks and Trails, said that within the state park system, she has some definite favorites in the region, including:
- Guindani Trail at Kartchner Caverns State Park
- Nature Loop and Granite Overlook trails in Oracle State Park
- Sutherland Trail in Catalina State Park and
- Calloway Trail in Picacho Peak State Park
The Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Wallace Desert Garden, a nonprofit organization in Superior, is also popular with hikers. Set among a desert landscape with views of the Superstition and Picketpost mountains, the facility includes a 13-acre garden with 5,000 plants and 4.75 miles of trails.
The city of Casa Grande also has hiking trails within its parks system.
Casa Grande Mountain Park includes more than 17 miles of established and marked trails. At its peak, Casa Grande Mountain has an elevation of 2,538 feet and offers views of the city and surrounding valley.
Trailheads for Casa Grande Mountain Park are on Peart Road and Arica Road.
Hiking and outdoor enthusiasts urge that people educate themselves before hitting the trails. The Open Space and Trails website offers how-to guidelines for those who are new to Pinal County trails to reduce accidents and increase enjoyment.
“We preach hiking responsibly,” Taylor said. “The key to that is educating yourself before you go.”
Among the tips the Pinal County Open Space and Trails Development offers are:
- Know before you go and be aware of alternatives in the area if trails are busy or inaccessible.
- Plan ahead by packing water and snacks and dressing according to trail conditions and being aware that facilities might be limited.
- Stay close to home and use local parks, trails and public spaces.
- Practice physical distancing by staying 6 feet away from others on the trail and hiking in small groups.
- Play it safe by traversing slowly and choosing lower-risk trails to reduce risk of injury.
- Leave no trace by not littering and removing all pet waste.
A video is on the county’s website at www.parks.trails.pinal.gov. q