When To Go & Why
The Grand Enchantment
Trail features a wide diversity of elevation and climate. Lowland
desert areas tend to remain relatively mild throughout the winter,
a time of year when the highest terrain along the route sometimes
see bitter cold and deep snowpack. By late spring, these same mountain
heights offer a cool and pleasant retreat from the furnace-like heat
of the arid deserts below. Summer brings monsoon rains to the entire
region, often with violent thunderstorms and frequent lightning. Moderate
temperatures prevail throughout the region in autumn, although this
season can also be quite dry.
As on other long-distance
trails, there is no such thing as an all-around "perfect"
hiking season on the G.E.T. Although it is certainly possible to plan
a hike that avoids climatic extremes, the long-distance game always
requires a trade-off somewhere. On our route, the trade-off for a
milder desert is a snowy summit and lively creek, or a drier hike
with shorter days. It's a worthwhile trade-off, in most cases, since
a majority of the route is desert or semi-arid, and when it's extremely
hot here the hiking can become far less enjoyable.
Direction of Travel
To avoid seasonal
extremes, thru-hikers should plan to travel the 700+ mile route in
either spring or autumn. As a rule, summer is much too warm for
prolonged desert travel, while winter in the high country, including
a fair portion of the route in New Mexico, tends to be cold and frequently
snowbound, the latter making routefinding infinitely more challenging.
Thru-hiking in the June-August or December-February timeframe is
simply beyond the scope of this planning material and guidebook. We
don't advise it, nor do we offer any council on such a trip.
Of spring and
autumn, each season presents its pros and cons to the aspiring thru-hiker,
and each offers a different perspective of the land and its weather,
flora, and fauna. Direction of travel is likewise influenced by the
season you choose to hike.
Desert No More: Wet Spring in the Sonoran
A spring season
thru-hike offers the advantages of ample drinking water (following a winter of average moisture), more hours
of available daylight, and a chance to see the desert in bloom - which
in particularly wet years can be spectacular. The highest elevations
along the route can still harbor some snowpack, however. And a few
creeks and rivers may be running quick and high with snowmelt. Negotiating
snowpack and fording creeks can occasionally pose enough challenge
that you would need to follow a detour around these obstacles, meaning
that your hike might be a bit longer and perhaps not quite as ideal.
That said, not every spring in this part of the country presents mountain snowpack concerns or high meltwater runoff. And it is both possible and desirable to
adjust your itinerary to the seasonal conditions at hand.
in bloom, Aravaipa Canyon
would follow the G.E.T. eastbound from Phoenix to Albuquerque. This
approach lets you traverse the most torrid regions before they really
heat up, while it delays your arrival in the higher terrain of New
Mexico until later in spring when conditions are generally more favorable.
Begin at Phoenix between March 10 and April 10, choosing an early-side
start date in years of lower regional mountain snowpack, or a later-side
start in heavier snow years. Finish at Albuquerque by the end of May
in order to thwart the full broil of summertime heat and sun.
See the Planner
sections on weather, water, snowpack, and creek fording for further
information on what to expect in spring.
Fall is generally
a wonderful time of year for hiking, and this holds true in the Southwest
as well. The sun is lower in the sky and less intense than in spring.
Temperatures in the desert are beginning to moderate again, and in
the mountains the air is dry and crisp, with the fall color of aspens
on display. What's more, any spring snowpack is long gone by autumn,
and most creeks run lower and gentler.
forest, Canon Tajique NM
ideal, right? And a fall trek certainly can be. But before you commit
to this season, first consider its unique challenges. For one, some
water sources - particularly small mountain creeks - are snowmelt dependent,
and may not be reliable once the spring snowpack is gone. Too, all
drinking water along the route, to greater or lesser degrees, is dependent
upon precipitation patterns, and autumn is usually a dry season in
the Southwest. Summer rains may or may not be abundant, and their
effects may or may not linger into fall. The upshot is that, on average,
an autumn thru-hike will feature fewer available water sources, so
you will need to carry more of the wet stuff over greater distances.
berries near La Jencia Creek, New Mexico; edible pinyon pine
nuts also ripen in fall of some years
be another concern. Specifically, overnight temperatures in the high
country often approach or drop below the freezing mark by autumn, meaning you
might need to carry a heavier sleeping bag and more clothing than
in spring. And even though fall tends to be a dry season, early snowstorms
can occasionally hit the highest terrain in October, potentially
slowing you down or necessitating a detour. Don't discount autumn's
shorter days, either - they can noticeably decrease your daily mileage
as the hike progresses, especially since night hiking isn't always
feasible on a route that requires your attention. Trailside growth
can be more lavish at this time of year, too, as can burrs and other
In fall, thru-hikers
would begin in Albuquerque and travel westward toward Phoenix. Since
the G.E.T. in New Mexico is, on average, higher and cooler than Arizona,
this direction of travel decreases your exposure to the chilliest
weather, while it finds you arriving in the lowest terrain later in
autumn when the desert is milder. Begin at Albuquerque sometime between
the 5th and 20th of September, or generally just after the summer
monsoon pattern has diminished. Finish near Phoenix before the end of November
to minimize the risk of early winter storms in the higher terrain of Arizona.
See the Planner
sections on weather, water, and creek fording for more information
on fall season hiking
& Yang: ocotillo and brittlebush blossom in spring, Sonoran
desert (left); aspens aflame at 10k in fall, Mogollon Mtns (above)