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The Black Canyon National Recreational Trail – Arizona

Interactive Map – how to use

On a PC, drag the map around and zoom in/out.  On a mobile device, use 2 fingers to move the map around and to pinch for zoom.  Click or tap on a track or a waypoint dot for more details about that feature.  Mouse or finger slide over the elevation profile graph and look to see where that point is located on the map as you move along it.

Click the white arrow in the lower right corner of the main map to expand a mini-map that gives reference to the surrounding area around it.

Download this map file for your own use:

Download the tracks and waypoints files in various different formats via clicking the small icons on the top right corner (GPX, GeoJSON, KML, or GeoRSS) and saving to your computer/mobile.  GPX format is the most versatile, and has all track and waypoint data.  The KML download feature currently is only providing some waypoints, but no track data.

Mouse over this icon (if visible) in the upper right corner of the map to get an option to select an individual track section for which you’d like to see details, or to see it on the elevation profile graph below the map.  (for maps with multiple tracks only)

Trail Safety Warnings:

The best seasons to hike/backpack the Black Canyon National Recreational trail safely is in the spring, winter, or fall.  Summertime temperatures in this region are dangerous and water availaility is very limited and sometimes non-existent or unreliable.  Use good judgment planning water carries and know your bodies ability to handle extreme heat if you decide to challenge yourself on foot in the summertime Arizona desert heat out here.  I do NOT recommend it, even for the most seasoned desert hiker.

Also, there are multiple required crossings of the Agua Fria River on this adventure, so observe recent and active rainfall or snowmelt (the Bradshaw Mountains snowpack drains into the Agua Fria River in the springtime) which will make this river uncrossable and dangerous for days or more.  This region is scattered with many dry drainages which can flash flood in just minutes after even a short thunderstorm or any rainfall.  Pay attention.  The way you came in may NOT be the way you have to exit.

I have included all of the river crossing waypoints and possible/reliable water sources in the KML file download below.  Use them but don’t expect every one of them to provide you with all of the water your body will need especially in the hot season.

Hike this trail in the spring for an awesome experience.  There will be very plentiful water at the waypoints I provide in the file download, but be cautious of the power of the Agua Fria River.  Sometimes it’s a trickle, and sometimes it’s 30 feet wide and pulling trees out of the ground.

 

Trail History

This prehistoric path consists of a quality 84.1 mile trail (85.8 miles when you add in the side trail to get in and out of Black Canyon City trailhead) that has partly been used since the 1600’s by Native Americans traveling through this region of central Arizona.  Official construction of this trail to its current quality was done with federal stimulus funds in 2008 and was professionally routed through this stretch of Arizona with excellent engineering and attention to sensitive areas and to avoid erosion.  The BCT was built to last and to provide an excellent well-marked travel surface for hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.  Signage along the Black Canyon Trail is unparalleled to other trails its size in Arizona and marks even the trickiest junctions quite well, minimizing the need to keep staring at maps and GPS.

The Black Canyon Trail travels north/south from the northern Phoenix area at the Carefree Highway close to Lake Pleasant and finishes just north of Highway 69 in the Prescott National Forest just north of Mayer.  This thru hike can be section hiked in either direction via multiple well-marked trailheads with ample parking and either paved or well-grated dirt roads which provide easy passenger car access to the trail via various exits along Interstate 17.  Northbound travelers will encounter a gradually increasing altitude while southbound travelers will get the advantage of more downhills.

 

My Northbound Section-Hike Adventure

I hiked this trail in northbound section day hikes on the weekends, mostly due to its lack of reliable water along the trail which requires either water resupply caches or having to carry many liters of water at a time.  As I hike the trail during the early part of 2018, I’m finding water still flowing in the Agua Fria river at multiple crossings, and also water at Bumble Bee creek, Hidden Treasure trailhead, some of the trailheads that have bathrooms/faucets, one unnamed creek, and just 1 mile off-trail at Black Canyon City trailhead bathroom or at local restaurants right there in town.  This trail could be backpacked in one trip during cooler months (springtime is ideal due to snowmelt runoff from teh Brandshaw mountains feeding the Agua Fria River) even in a dry fall/winter based on the water that I’ve come across even when we haven’t had decent rains in over 2 months and with virtually no snowmelt from the Bradshaw mountains.  At most, a 15 mile water carry would be all that was needed to backpack this entire trail without even a resupply in town.

I separated out each completed section as its own write-up, and I have been carefully recording my GPS tracks in KML format (compatible with Google Earth, Google Maps, and most phone apps like Backcountry Navigator that allow track imports).  I recorded my track points in 1-second intervals for maximum accuracy so you never miss a junction or a switchback and you can get correct mileage measurements as you plan your own hike.

You can find free downloads to my actual tracks down below for the full trail and waypoints/water markers, or for each section individually on their write-up pages near the top of each write-up page, which are listed below.  The major trailheads marked on the map files area all passenger-car friendly so you can plan to stage a vehicle at them or have a friend pick you up or drop you off.

There is very little digital mapping information online for the true BCT (particularly the very weakly documented true northern terminus), so I hope that the information I provided will help you learn about this high-quality Arizona trail before you head out, and help you easily navigate it with your own GPS app or device.  I was careful to be very precise in my GPS track measuring, since various sources on the internet give slightly varying distances of the actual trail from terminus to terminus.  Thus, I recorded my movement with the most accurate settings possible – using my Garmin inReach, my foot tracks were recording in 1 second intervals between tracking points as I was moving.  This accommodates for the missed distances of even the smallest changes in direction.  With longer tracking interval settings, you can be guaranteed to miss the added distance of switchbacks and many small direction changes which can literally lose miles per day in true distance tracking.

I completed the Black Canyon Trail in 7 day hikes due to time limitations, car shuttle logistics, concerns of water availability, and easier access to the trailheads that I used.  Had I known what I know now about water availability this season, I would have backpacked the trail in a single trip, or broken it up into overnighters on 3 different weekends.

Individual Sections as Day Hikes (in order if hiking northbound)

Click one of the links below to go to that section’s write-up, gallery, data, and downloadable tracks and waypoints.  I hiked each section northbound, but each has a car-friendly trailhead at each end so you can travel northbound or southbound and just reverse the car shuttle logistics.

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