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Southwest in mid-March: looking for suggestions
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Chris Martin

Locale: Finger Lakes
Southwest in mid-March: looking for suggestions on 01/29/2014 20:51:04 MST Print View


Plotting my escape from the Finger Lakes during winter's wet, sloppy ending. Where should I go? Also, want to join me?

I want to avoid renting a car, which limits me to trailheads that have an airport within a day's hitchhike/shuttle/bus.

- 3-5 night backpack
- Confident existence of water sources (don't have much experience in dry country)
- Not super muddy or snowy
- Nighttime temps not much below freezing

Some ideas:
- Southern Utah, perhaps Zion?
- Does anyone suggest a section hike of the AZT or GET? I really like going somewhere, as opposed to out & back trips.
- Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson sounds like an awesome pre-trip visit, if hiking near Tucson.
- Don't know much about SoCal, anything I should consider there?

I'd like to explore Arizona, but it sounds like anything at altitude will have significant snow in mid-March, especially North of the Mogollon Rim. Some of NM sounds too snowy for the same reason. That's okay, hiking at altitude is not a requirement.

Edited by hope_for_gorilla on 01/29/2014 20:52:49 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Southwest in mid-March: looking for suggestions on 01/29/2014 21:16:32 MST Print View

The public transit requirement makes most of southern Utah a tough sell. Most THs are too remote to make this very practical.

I believe there is a shuttle from Vegas to St George. Could probably hitch or Craigslist a ride to Zion from there.

I think the Grand Canyon would be a good option. There are shuttles from Flagstaff to the South Rim, and you could do a big chunk of the Tonto Trail over 5 days, then shuttle back. Great temps that time of year too. The rim can be chilly, but down at 4k mid-canyon March is perfect. There aren't a ton of water sources in the canyon, but they're well documented, you just have to be willing to carry a gallon or so.

Edited by DaveC on 01/29/2014 21:17:22 MST.

Jacob Hammond

Locale: Central New York
Re: Re: Southwest in mid-March: looking for suggestions on 01/30/2014 07:25:16 MST Print View

In early April, I flew to S.F. and went right to Henry Coe State Park. I loved it. I only spent two nights - because I also wanted to explore the coast and S.F., but the weather was beautiful (compared to home). No snow, mild, misty mornings, warm afternoons. You could easily spend 5 days there.

I did have to rent a car, but there were ten dollar per day deals available when I booked a day before flying. The drive was short too - about an hour from the airport.

Having the car allowed me to do some of the skyline to sea trail and explore Big Sur as well.

Would be curious if Henry Coe could be visited with public transportation.

Edit: I realize that this doesn't really qualify for Southeast, but it does escape the winter weather and the proximity to the bay area probably increases the chance of others joining in.

Edited by woodpewee on 01/30/2014 10:25:33 MST.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: Grand Canyon on 01/30/2014 12:11:07 MST Print View

I agree, GRCA would be awesome in March. We originally intended to do this GRCA hike in March, but then I broke my clavicle and it got pushed to April:

One of these days I am ABSOLUTELY going back to GRCA in March, because April was just starting to get too hot. It should be divine in March.

Another option would be going down Grandview (where we came up) then along the Tonto to Bright Angel and out. Or, if you're a stud come up the Hermit's Rest Trail.

Water isn't as big a deal in GRCA as you think- all sources are very well documented, and March is a Good Time for water. Full potholes everywhere.

Edited by acrosome on 01/30/2014 12:20:44 MST.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Major spots in Arizona on 01/30/2014 12:20:01 MST Print View

Problem with the Grand Canyon is when I last hiked there (before Xmas), the backcountry ranger told me backcountry permits were full from March 9 onward ("Spring Break"). This was over a month ago. Phoenix has some wilderness areas but the mass transit doesn't go near the edges of Greater Phoenix last I checked. Mass transit in the lower Southwest is usually a problem,

…. except for Tucson...

Tucson has a decent bus network and, patching bus routes, you could get close to the equally mountainous (1) East Saguaro NP (the western part doesn't allow backpacking) or the (2) Santa Catalina Mtns via Sabino Canyon USFS visitors center. Saguaro East had 2 inches of flowing water at Juniper Basin (checked last week) and the top has perennial water. It is the rainy season though which could bring a dusting or more of snow. Lower elevations will likely be hot, hot. (but prep for cold at night and storms). Tucson is a great outdoorsy town as well so probably won't get much flak walking a pack through the city vs Phoenix and the rest of Maricopa county.

Edited by hknewman on 01/30/2014 12:26:31 MST.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Re: Major spots in Arizona on 01/30/2014 13:50:09 MST Print View

March is unpredictable in the Tucson area -- temperatures could be in the 80Fs by day, or highs could be in the low 60Fs... traditionally, we don't get a lot of rain in March (and there's currently a drought, simila to CA) -- but who knows what the Climate Change Gods have in store for us over then next month or so...

As someone already mentioned, you should be able to get to Saguaro NP East without a car rental (at worst, you might have to use a taxi). From there, you could take a nice 3-5 day backpacking trip in the Rincon Mountains, an area inaccessible by roads. The Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is a very scenic route to Juniper Basin Campground in about 7 miles (water available); from there you could do a circuit via Cow Head Saddle around the peaks (Helen's Dome, Spud Rock, etc.) and camp at Manning Camp (water, but permit needed -- should be easy to get).

There are also countless dayhikes available in the Tucson area. You can PM me for more details.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Major spots in Arizona on 01/30/2014 17:25:18 MST Print View

I applied for a mid-March Grand Canyon backcountry permit (8 day trip) on Monday and got my permit confirmation within 24 hours. I have no doubt Indian Gardens is full, but places like Cremation and Grapevine likely have a few spots open. Only one way to find out.

Chris Martin

Locale: Finger Lakes
Ideas on 01/30/2014 21:54:35 MST Print View

Jacob, Never heard of Henry W. Coe, but it looks reasonably easy to get to, maybe hitchable from SF for a persistent hitcher. What did you think of the terrain there? I'm mostly aiming for vast and arid country, but could be convinced otherwise.

I know the Grand Canyon is like nothing else in the world, but dealing with the bureaucratic process required for a GC trip sounds unnecessarily burdensome for a vacation. (Planning and reserving each night's camping months in advance, combined with sketchy availability of said campsites.) Is this a distorted impression? Maybe the hiking is so good that I should shut up and deal with it?

Tucson is definitely on my short list. Accessible wilderness and good weather in March. Valerie, thanks for the Rincon tips, I'll research it. East Saguaro NP and Santa Catalinas sound interesting due to the large variation in terrain/climate as you gain altitude.

What is Zion like in March? I like the idea of something like this as a backpacking trip, though getting to the Western side of the park probably requires vehicular arrangements.

Thank you, everyone, for the feedback so far. I'm consistently impressed with both the quantity of knowledge and quality of passionate discussion here.

Edited by hope_for_gorilla on 01/30/2014 21:59:28 MST.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Henry Coe State Park on 01/30/2014 23:23:08 MST Print View

Never heard of Henry W. Coe, but it looks reasonably easy to get to, maybe hitchable from SF for a persistent hitcher.

Henry Coe State Park: Official and Unofficial-but-more-useful web sites.

It's one of my favorite backpacking destinations, but many people prefer to backpack elsewhere. Vast and arid almost describes Coe - scattered oaks, grasslands, and chaparral cover most of the park, though some of the creeks can be green and dense.

Hitchhiking to any of the park entrances might be tough - all of the entrances are way down rural roads with little traffic. The good news is if you get far enough down those roads, almost all the traffic is going to the park.

Unless we get a lot of rain in the next 6 weeks, backpacking in Henry Coe will involve carrying lots of water between a few reliable water sources. Virtually all creeks, many ponds, and some springs are dried up.

Good luck with your search.

-- Rex

Edited by Rex on 01/30/2014 23:23:49 MST.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Point Reyes National Seashore on 01/30/2014 23:37:02 MST Print View

You can easily do a 4 night trip in Point Reyes National Seashore, on the coast north of San Francisco, and get there from SFO by transit. Not arid, but great views from many locations.

Assigned camp sites, with piped water at each camp site. I would check with the park about water before making plans.

You could make it a 5 or 6 night trip by getting off the bus at Samuel P Taylor State Park, and staying in their walk-in camp site, although they have a severe water shortage. Lots of redwoods in a canyon.

-- Rex

Edited by Rex on 01/31/2014 00:12:21 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Ideas on 01/31/2014 10:59:47 MST Print View

"Maybe the hiking is so good that I should shut up and deal with it?"

I'd be inclined to say so. The permit process really isn't that complicated. The main corridor sites do get insanely crowded, and while backpacking away from the Bright Angel and North Kaibab isn't nearly as hard and dangerous as the BC office will make it out to be, you should be confident in your skills to do so. Call them and ask for a ballpark of what's available.

The classic Zion Traverse from Kolob to the East Entrance is a practical option for you. Fly to Vegas, shuttle to St George, shuttle or hitch to Springdale, hire the Zion Adventure shuttle to take you up to Kolob, hitch back to Springdale from the east entrance (should be fairly easy). In my book this backpack doesn't hold a candle to something like Grandview-South Kaibab, I'm jaded. If you've never seen anything like Zion it'd be pretty great.

Flying across the country to go to a place like Henry Coe is a (rather unkind) joke. Unfortunately it's tough to do worthy backpacking trips in the US without a car.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Re: Re: Ideas on 01/31/2014 11:48:13 MST Print View

DaveC is right about Grand Canyon. I've spent at least 60 nights below the rim, and I've never even seen Phantom Ranch! We're always doing something "less traveled"... once you get away from the "corridor trails", GC is a big wide-open wilderness with plenty of room for wandering and camping. Many of the "use areas" allow for "camping at large" (i.e., wherever you want), and the difficulty with planning is all about water availability, which you can research ahead of time. We also use water caching -- regularly -- in warmer weather.

There are many books/websites about backpacking in GC on non-corridor trails, and if you've never seen GC,'s memorable. Not your average place. :~)

Chris Martin

Locale: Finger Lakes
Saguaro Itinerary on 02/04/2014 21:15:52 MST Print View

I also have an impression that the Grand Canyon is remote, far more than previous solo trips I've done. Saguaro NP is close-ish to a major city, so I am guessing the trails will be better-traveled, though perhaps this is false.

Valerie, what do you think of the itinerary below for Saguaro NP?

Day 1. 6 miles
Start at Javelina picnic area (3116 ft). Hike up Tanque Verde Ridge to Juniper Basin (6010 ft), camp there.

Day 2. 12ish miles
Leave from Juniper Basin. Tanque Verde Ridge to Cowhead Saddle, past Helen's Dome (8269 ft), Spud Rock (8613 ft), Mica Repeater, Mica Meadow. Camp at Manning Camp (7941 ft).

Day 3. A few options:
a. Spud Rock (7359 ft), Happy Valley Lookout, Rincon Peak (8483 ft) out & back, Happy Valley Camp (6117 ft) (14.4 miles) (water?)
b. Douglas Spring trail, ending out at Douglas Spring trailhead (2752 ft) (13 miles) (water?)

Day 4 (If option a. is chosen on day 3):
Miller Creek trail to Happy Valley Rd, pre-arranged ride back to Tucson.

Edited by hope_for_gorilla on 02/04/2014 21:16:26 MST.

Chris Martin

Locale: Finger Lakes
Superstitions in March on 02/10/2014 20:18:31 MST Print View

Also, what is the Superstition Wilderness like in March? Is water more plentiful than in the Tucson area?

Edited by hope_for_gorilla on 02/10/2014 20:19:07 MST.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Saguaro Itinerary on 02/10/2014 21:55:43 MST Print View

so I am guessing the trails will be better-traveled, though perhaps this is false…

I'm not going to get into the rest of the itinerary (let Valerie answer that) but regarding trail conditions in east Sagauro, I did an overnight along the Tanque Verde last October for some gear testing and found the last half of the trail pretty much abandoned, parts almost overtaken by grass … Juniper Basin was in disuse. Closer to the TH the trail was wide and exponentially more people. Ran into an Arizona Black Rattler in fact but he was pretty mellow. Watch the feet.

Higher in altitude starts the grasslands and a few miles in you can no longer see Tucson … might need to stop for a few seconds or a minute to connect the trail ends if the grass is overgrown/trail hasn't been used.

Here's some pics of the grass growth (not really a spoiler since the recent rains may have greened the place up …)

Start of grass
Here's where it got really overgrown with grass

In the grass

You start in desert (which doesn't really change with rain) and that's where all the day hikers are


In the desert area, you can look back and get a big panorama of Tucson ..

The Grand Canyon trails are pretty wide, even the Tonto, Hermits, etc.. Water could be an issue (plenty of waterfalls when I was there before Xmas but it's been almost 2 month). I remember going down to the Colorado for water from one camp on the western Tonto during one hot than normal March.

ed: gr

Edited by hknewman on 02/12/2014 12:48:07 MST.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Henry Coe State Park on 02/11/2014 23:44:50 MST Print View

Sorry I'm late to this thread.

Following up on some things Rex said up-thread about Coe; we love it there. But...

This drought year is not a good one for the park. It is in the interior range, meaning it's generally a lot drier than the coast ranges. And our two visits to different parts of the park in January - the grass has still not sprouted. Usually by January the grass is lush and the Shooting Stars are blooming.

Second, I don't think Coe is the best that the Bay Area has to offer for somebody coming from the east (agreeing with David Chenault here). The oak savannah habitat type is important from a habitat and ecological point of view, but it is not dramatic or stunning in comparison to other destinations. Coe is a fantastic park for the few million people who live within a couple hours drive, but it doesn't hold a candle to any place on the Colorado Plateau (Grand Canyon, Zion, Escalante, Grand Gulch, and so on). Just my opinion. I think that the Bay Area coastal ranges that include ocean views and redwoods and grasslands and such are more diverse and more dramatic.

And third, it is not really viable to hitch to Coe. The last few miles on rural roads might be viable, but hitching in urban areas is just not done much anymore, and I'm not confident you could get from SFO or San Jose airport down to Morgan Hill or Gilroy. Sad. It's not like hitching on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, where I would confidently say you could do it with <10 minutes wait.

All that said, a long hike from SFO to Point Reyes, including the ferry to Sausalito, and bus back to the city -- now that's a March hike that's worth hiking :) Many options, many routes, great ocean and bay scenery. Not wilderness like the Colorado Plateau, but excellent scenic hiking.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Think outside the burrito on 02/12/2014 08:16:42 MST Print View

I do similar types of trips a couple dozen times a year. Have a business meeting in some city, then go backpacking. Often I don’t have much time to plan, but can usually find a cool remote trip somewhere. Sometimes I have to be creative with stealth camping. At the same time I like to catch some historical and cultural stuff. Right now I am sitting in a hotel in Columbia, SC -- my planned trip not going to happen, roads are closed due to ice. Should have done more pre-work :)

The Grand Canyon is special. Luckily for me, I can drive there in a few hours. To fly there and deal with the logistics, I would set aside at least a 7 day trip. 14 days would be better. I mean, would you take your kids to Disneyland for 30 minutes?

So here are some not so conventional suggestions…


First read Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana.

Fly into LAX, Long Beach, or John Wayne airports.

Take a shuttle to Dana Point.

Stop by the visitor center, the Pilgrim Tall Ship (replica of the ship in Dana’s book), walk around the beach – it is awesome.

Take a 2 hour whale watching boat tour – this will be prime time. If you're inclined, rent a sea kayak instead.

Then take the Express boat to Catalina Island.

There are some Catalina Island trip reports posted here on BPL. Should be able to do a great 3 day hike. Spend the last night in Avalon Bay. Take the express boat back to Dana Point, San Pedro, or Long Beach. Take shuttle to airport.

If you go back to Dana Point and have time, hop over to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano… you need to research the history of the 21 Missions and the El Camino Real ahead of time to fully appreciate it.


Fly into Vegas.

Catch transportation to Boulder City (or Hoover Dam if possible). BC is close to the dam.

Take a tour of the dam. It is worth the time.

After the tour, you can walk across the dam into Arizona or go north through the railroad tunnels to Boulder Beach (Lake Mead). You can stitch together all kinds of trips in either direction, though it may be best to hitch a ride from Boulder Beach to the more remote areas to save some boring walking. There are a few trillion gallons of water in Lake Mead. So water is not a huge concern.

If you have a packraft, you could launch below the dam and float through Black Canyon to Lake Mojave. Check the launch permitting regulations. Pretty cool. Then you hike back. If you do the Nevada side, you have to deal with the Black Mtns; many are unimpressed with them, I find them enchanting. Can be very, very difficult. To read about them, try Colin Fletcher’s, Man From the Cave. Or you can hike back on the Arizona side. Again, no trails.

All the hiking in Nevada and Arizona will need to be mostly cross country. Here are some samples

Lake Mead Walk-abouts





Highly recommended. They can provide you so many alternatives. Away from metro areas, public transportation limits your options. Rental car at airports are most expensive. Daily rates are higher and there are all sorts of airport franchise fees and taxes. Mid size cars are the cheapest, compact cars are expensive. Don’t purchase the fuel option. Don’t purchase insurance, your personal auto insurance probably covers the rental. Many credit card companies provide insurance if you rent using their card. Most rental cars have unlimited mileage. Some (few) don’t allow you to cross state lines. Of the large chains, National is usually the cheapest. Hertz provides the best service. If you take your rental car on dirt roads, wash it before returning it. I always rent a car on my wanderings away from home when I fly.

Edited to fix hyperlinks.

Edited by ngatel on 02/12/2014 09:02:58 MST.

Chris Martin

Locale: Finger Lakes
mmm burritos on 02/13/2014 22:14:58 MST Print View

HK, beautiful photos!

Nick, you picked the wrong time to visit SC. We poke fun at the South for completely closing down when it snows. There's not much else to do when the city lacks a garage full of plows and salt trucks.

Your Option 1 sounds really cool. I love maritime history, and you're not the first person to suggest I read Two Years Before the Mast. I've occasionally wondered what it's like to walk around Lake Mead. I'll read your trip reports. :)

After making both an old and a new connection, the entire trip is shaping up like this: backpacking in Marin County, followed by hiking/backpacking in Southern Utah, and possibly day hiking in Tucson.

Thursday: Fly to SFO/Oakland, ferry across Golden Gate to Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Friday through Monday: Four-ish day hike in GGNRA and surrounding preserves, maybe some of Point Reyes National Seashore
Tuesday: Transit to SFO/Oakland, fly to Vegas to meet up with an old friend (who will be traveling by car from Tucson), drive to Northern AZ or Southern UT.
Wednesday-Friday: Exploring Colorado Plateau. Could be Zion, Escalante, The Waves, etc. Unsure if we are day hiking or backpacking yet. Eventually driving back to Tucson.
Saturday: Either day hike near Tucson, or spend the day on Amtrak's scenic route to Houston for a much cheaper flight home.
Sunday: Fly back to the real world.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: Saguaro Itinerary on 02/14/2014 12:22:33 MST Print View


Sorry -- I didn't press "watch this thread" -- so I forgot about it for a while!

Your proposed itinerary sounds great. My husband and I are hoping to do something similar in March, too (schedule dependent on work).

The only caveat will be about snow levels (and, since it's mid-February now, who knows what March will bring?)... obviously, you'll be able to get a reasonable weather forecast before you leave, and that will tell you what gear/clothing you'll need.

I did a day hike a few weeks ago along Tanque Verde Ridge to Juniper Basin and back (about 7 miles each way), and the trail was in fine shape. Juniper Basin is not in disuse (we met one couple who had spent the night there, plus a father and son on their way up to spend two nights) and there was plenty of water there. It also had a few patches of snow. The Rincons have NEVER been a high-traffic area because there are no roads into the heart of them -- but that's what makes them a good backpacking destination. This is black bear country, but there are bear boxes available at some locations (Happy Valley, for sure -- and, I think, Manning Camp and Spud Rock Campground).

But weather here in the winter/spring changes on a dime. Last week, highs were in the 60Fs; tomorrow, the high will be 89F!!! So your planned route could be in "winter" or "summer" conditions, depending on the weather gods, LOL. But even if the temperatures are warm, you should be able to find adequate water, esp. at the springs marked on your maps. Keep track of the weather here -- If it stays hot and dry for the next month, you'll want to call the ranger station to find out about the water situation.