The WTH is a really excellent route. I think it's easy to say this is by far the best route/option to hike in the winter months in the US.....assuming you like the low desert (see more below). If I had to give it a grade I'd give it an A+ for the time of year and an A- if I were to compare it to everything else I've ever hiked. High marks!
I thought the WTH was interestingly different than a lot of other routes I've hiked. For an experienced hiker the WTH seems pretty moderate to me. There is very little that is hard, but there is also less "easy" walking than I was expecting. There was a lot more "moderate". What do I mean by this? Based on a bunch of other desert routes I've hiked I was a) expecting the dirt road walking to be very easy, and b) expecting the wash walking to be fairly easy.
For Sections 4-8, the WTH is routed on a lot of dirt roads that barely even exist. Things that at times are even hard to follow on the ground, like you'll just see more of a swath of cleared brush rather than a defined road. These are frequently rocky. I wouldn't call this difficult, just not as easy as walking a cush old jeep road through the desert that frequently fills in other desert routes. As for the washes, I found these to frequently be very rocky and tedious. Mapping a long route through the low desert without using too many miles of roads lends itself to using a lot of washes. Wash walking isn't always easy, but I was surprised by how rarely it was easy at all. Frequently the washes were full of rocks. If it wasn't rocks then it was deepish gravel slowing me down. And if it wasn't that then it was the catclaw, mesquite, Desert Ironwood and Palo Verde in my way (not bushwhacking, just a large prickly tree in the way to walk around somehow). The dirt roads and washes is sections 1-3 were more what I expected. Kinda a harder gravel that was easier to walk on without a ton of obstacles for washes and just old easy jeep roads.
Sections 1-3 (about 250 miles) are markedly different in difficulty than Sections 4-8 (about 575 miles). Sections 1-3 are more of the distant urban interface with Phoenix and Tucson with a lot more easy dirt road walking and I think just easier terrain to break in the route not too hard. Sections 4-8 to me had less roads, more XC and more rocks.
I never thought there was really any truly "hard" hiking. Just a large mix of moderate and easy walking. But enough XC, rocky washes, cactus dodging, catclaw dodging, weather, water carries and poor resupply to make the route "moderate" to me overall. Certainly far easier than the Great Basin Trail or Desert Trail I've hiked. But it's also just not a walk in the park like I kinda expected to be honest. I was thinking/hoping this would be a good option for me to hike late in the year when I don't feel like going back to work, but have limited options for hiking in November/December. I would definitely hike the WTH again, but this wouldn't qualify to me for that easy end of year walk in the park I was looking for. Like maybe the PCT SoCal desert is that. The WTH is more challenging overall as I've discussed.
Lastly, Rocks Rocks Rocks! You'll see this in my daily journal a lot. I've thought about this a fair bit and I really don't think I was just complaining. I think there were a lot of rocks! Similar to much of this summary entry it's heavily weighted to Sections 4-8 whereas Sections 1-3 were a lot easier. If you hike this route and don't think there were a lot of rocks (sections 4-8) then please email me and call me a wuss! Also, I think it felt worse as my shoe soles wore down quickly. I got new shoes with 250 miles to go and the rocky sections were better, but still rocky!
I think one thing that colored my overall judgment on a daily basis in my journal that I'm now trying to correct is that the route is laid out with the harder 2/3 on the west side where I started. So I basically hiked Sections 8 through 4 and about 575 miles and formed this certain opinion in my head (rocks! Washes!) and then out of nowhere the route got way easier with way more dirt roads, way less rocks and nicer washes for the last 250 miles in Sections 3 to 1.
From the WTH info:
Trail miles: 171 (22%)
Dirt road miles: 342 (43%)
Paved miles: 23.5 (3%)
Cross-country: 254 (32%)
Here's some commentary from me.
Trail miles: Feels very high to me! I guess the majority of the "real" trail is in Joshua Tree and Saguaro National Parks. I recall some more real trail in the Mojave Preserve near Hole in the Wall area. I recall a few other areas with short sections of singletrack. The rest of this "trail" is actually burro trail! I found the burro trail to be poorer than Nevada horsetrail but still very helpful. There's actually one more type of trail, a bunch of miles in the Sonoran Desert National Monument are "trail" but basically these miles were ancient 2 tracks or just a swath of open land with the old 2 track gone. So outside of those few areas noted above do not expect much singletrack trail, 171 miles seems way higher than it feels like, even if technically correct.
Dirt road miles: This feels right to me. I would say not only are almost all of these miles on dirt roads that nobody drives (more like "jeep" roads) but a lot of these miles are on "roads" that don't even really exist anymore. Roads that are easier to see on satellite view than on the ground. The dirt road miles are one of the more unique features of the WTH. Compared to other desert routes I'd say the WTH has more dirt road miles that just feel like a wide trail, super remote and quiet. Excellent.
Paved miles: I can barely remember ever walking pavement although I'm sure I did. It barely ever happens.
Cross Country (XC): This number just feels so low to me yet I checked it myself and it's correct. Not easy to find an error in a Brett Tucker Route! There are 2 types of XC, Overland XC and Washes. As I discussed above I didn't find the washes to be as easy or chill as expected. But they are easy to follow from a navigation standpoint and didn't really slow me down that much overall I guess. The Overland XC are these frequent little miles where the wash ends and you go up and over a small pass or alternatively you are walking across the flat desert or across an alluvial fan. I found these miles to be very "mild" compared to what I'm usually used to with XC in the Nevada Desert. They were a bit slower and definitely rocky at times, but overall these seemed a lot easier than I would normally expect.
As for quantity it felt like there was way more XC than 32%! I think this is because I was hiking Eabo and there are a lot more XC miles (washes especially) in sections 4-8 vs the last 3 sections 1-3 which I guess did really have a lot of easier dirt road walking.
Where to Start and Finish
The trail starts on the west side of Tucson in the western unit of Saguaro National Park. Flying into Tucson and getting an Uber to this point is super easy. I thought it was worth it to walk another 27 miles through Tucson and up the mountains to the AZT. And then to get back to Tucson you can walk 6 miles south on the very scenic AZT (Santa Catalina Mountains) and 3 miles south out on the very scenic Sabino canyon trail to the park tram which takes you a few miles down to the Tucson suburbs for a total extra of about 40 miles (or you can just turn around at the AZT and head back the way you came). Just something different and see my GWL discussion below.
The trail ends at the Boyscout trailhead in Joshua Tree National Park. This is just a couple miles from a bus stop and Twentynine Palms. From there you can basically get anywhere. I suspect getting a bus to Palm Springs and flying out of there is most convenient but you can get to LA or San Diego as well if you want.
Personally I would finish much further west through Joshua Tree at the Black Rock campground or even a bit further to the Yucca resupply alternate which takes you 3 miles into town. I thought the miles continuing across Joshua Tree were great. Mostly real trail and very scenic. I think Brett thought the Boyscout trailhead finish was the most epic and I wouldn't dispute that. That part of the park as you finish is wonderful. But I really thought the miles continuing on were very nice and worth doing a full east to west traverse of the Park which I also think is cool "achievement".
I started on the PCT at the US/Mexico border, hiked 222 miles north to the WTH PCT Connector at the West Fork Mission creek trail and took that cool connector east to the official WTH. Totally worth it!
Lastly, if you've hiked the PCT, CDT, PNT, GET and AZT then if you hike the WTH connectors (PCT connector and AZT connector mentioned above) then you will have connected your steps in a Great Western Loop (GWL) section hike! This is a 7000 mile loop invented by Andrew Skurka. It was meant to be done as a thru hike massive test of endurance. 30+ miles a day for 200+ days. I believe only 3 people have ever finished it as a thru hike. I'm pretty sure Nimblewill Nomad and possibly Bart Smith (National Scenic Trail finishers and frequent cross country walkers) would have previously connected their steps similar to this and completed a GWL loop. I thought it would be fun to connect my steps for this. Obviously section hiking this versus the massive thru hike effort is completely different but given the minimal effort for me at the end to just walk through Tucson and up to the AZT I was totally into it (due to food poisoning and a winter storm it actually ended up not being "easy" but I made it!)
Should I Hike This Route?
This route probably isn't for everyone! Don't just assume you'll like this route cause you've thru hiked a bunch before. Or don't just hike this route because your alternative is sitting at home or being chased by pit bulls on the Florida Trail. This route is probably unlike anything you've ever done. It's the LOW desert. That means average elevations of like 2k. The high point is around 5k. The LOW desert is like 99% greasewood. That's an exaggeration, but the low desert has a set number of very common plants and that's basically what you see all the time. This route also has a high number of dirt road miles if you've only done like the triple crown trails. This route has a lot of rocks and poor footing at times. This route has a lot of XC. You'll have to carry a bunch of water. If in your past you ever bitched about the "desert" on the PCT in SoCal or CDT in New Mexico then please don't do this route. You won't like it.
Personally I LOVE the LOW desert. I love having 360 degree views every moment. Seeing every sunrise and sunset in the short winter hours. I love all the cactus and I've always liked greasewood. But that's me. I really love thru hiking. I get the sense (from podcasts or blogs or whatever) a lot of people really like the social experience or the large network of trail angels and it's less about the actual hiking and being out in nature. If that's the case then you probably don't want to come out here. Everyone always says it's "all about the people". Well there are no "people" out here! You'll just take a spot on a trail that should only have a limited number of hikers from someone who wants to be out here. And like I said, if you didn't like the PCT and CDT deserts then go hike the Florida Trail!
I will levy one actual thought I had even though I love the desert. By the end the trail felt a little bit like the idiom "wash, rinse, repeat". Like I was doing a fairly similar thing every day. Now, I would argue that this trail is super scenic and interesting so doing a similar thing isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it also has its limits. Since it's a "winter" hike the route really can't get up into the big ranges. It does an amazing job of getting into the outskirts of them and going over low passes, but it's not the same. It sometimes felt like....walk an old road, drop into a wash for a while, leave wash for a short XC up and over a small pass and reverse that order on the other side. Again, I loved this route, but I also want to be honest about the limitations of the low desert. There's only so much one can do with a route like this.
Water and Season
Water is quite good for such a dry route but what else would you expect from Blisterfree. Essentially the route connects a lot of water sources, that's the main theme! In California almost all of your water comes from quail game guzzlers. In Arizona your water comes from around half big game guzzlers and half cow troughs. It's an interesting dilemma. In a good water year (like my year), I actually liked the guzzlers better, they felt totally reliable. Cattle troughs with windmills or solar or whatever can actually be unreliable from year to year. Ranchers rotate cattle and can turn the water off or these things frequently break down.
The primary reason the suggested hiking season is January-March is to give the winter storms a chance to come through and drop some rain to fill the guzzlers. But this is a tough call at times. 2022 was a wildly crazy water year. I had more water than anyone in the past and I hiked from late October to mid December (which is NOT the recommended season normally). WTH hiker #1 hiked in the regular winter of 2022 which was a very dry winter, the rains basically never came and this person had way less water than me. Based on the water chart observations this usually seemed ok and there was still enough but there were definitely some longer carries and unknown status going from source to source.
I also thing the weather and temperatures fluctuate a lot. Based on my experience I would think the winter is just too cold for me. My hike was actually on the chilly side with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s and 40s. Not cold cold, but I wouldn't want it that much colder. But I think I also just had a colder year. Talking to Eric (Seeking Lost) who did a similar route to the WTH at the same time last year, his weather was much hotter. And Brett and others weather in the winter months seems more like the weather I had in the late Fall. I guess the point is you never know what you will get. When a storm comes through the desert and they do come through, be ready! There is nowhere to hide. I had 3 solid rain storms, but luckily they were only 24 hours each. You can easily have a storm last 2-3 days out here and you'll be doing everything you can to try and bail and find a town. Especially if it's windy. It's virtually impossible to set up a tent with rain in big desert winds with very little option for protection.
One random other water thought is that based on all the observations to date there's always a weird chance that you arrive at a water source and find a dead animal in it. It's actually not that uncommon. It seems like folks so far have been lucky and when this has happened it's been at a guzzler with 2 troughs so there is the other trough to drink from. I had a large dead fox in a cow trough but luckily the windmill had a rare faucet I could get water from. It's something I considered when arriving at what I felt like would otherwise be reliable water. What if that one guzzler trough had a dead rabbit in it? That's hard to drink. Maybe a small rodent or bird, but a larger animal is rough.
Lastly, if you don't know how to make water assessments on your own and do decent water carries then don't try and learn out here! Go hike the Florida Trail.
Number of Days
With both connectors I took about 50 days and about 875 miles. I found it fine to do about 20 miles a day. Keep in mind that daylight hours are very short in the winter. I'm not a super fast hiker and everyone will be different of course. But even with all my complaining about the rocks, my average moving speed was pretty close to 3 mph most days. Just a hair under usually due to slower passes or rocks. There aren't a lot of good towns to zero in so that will cut down on the days hiked!
Resupply is pretty rough on the WTH. Prepare yourself for it and then enjoy what is given to you. The previous entry has a summary of each town from my point of view. The WTH materials have a good word doc for resupply. It's more comprehensive than my entry but then my entry focuses in more detail on what I consider most important like that one motel you should choose that's in the best location for food etc.
There's almost no good towns on the WTH! I guess Parker would be the best but even that has a good motel that is like a mile from all the really good stuff (but there is some stuff nearby so it's ok). AZ City is ok but if you want to stay in a motel then it's on a resupply alternate that adds miles and is separate from the resupply which is on the trail. Wendon/Salome and Tonopah require you to walk 5 miles into town and are very poor excuses for a "town". Buckeye also requires you to walk 5 miles off trail, but is a better town. Fenner is the world's most expensive gas station and Amboy is a tourist gift shop where you will be lucky and happy to microwave yourself a Hungryman meal! Yucca/Twentynine Palms are probably the best towns which are the end and probably of no use other than to finish and travel onward.
You can resupply easily in all of these towns except: 1) Amboy you must send a package to the gift shop, you couldn't possibly resupply from here nor would you want to, and 2) Fenner has enough selection to resupply but is seriously the world's most expensive gas station. Imagine resupplying from a gas station on the PCT and CDT and then 2x the prices which means things are like 3x or 4x what a grocery store charges. It's about 100 miles to resupply on either side of Fenner, if you need 5 or so days of food then I bet you spend $ 125-$ 150 for this resupply. Seriously.
With all that said, just appreciate what you do get. For example, in Fenner I was super stoked to just be able to sit inside at nice tables with roller grill hot dogs, frozen food to microwave and fountain drinks. That's the life!
I would recommend not catching unless you really want to. I know Brett worked extremely hard to develop this route with enough water and resupply to not have to cache. The only reason I cached is because I was hiking this in the late Fall when the water was unknown. In a normal Fall the winter rains wouldn't have come yet and it's possible I could have had real water issues. In reality 2022 was a crazy monsoon year and pretty much all of my water caches were useless. However, I still really did enjoy my food caches! It saved me a bit of money by not having to resupply in Fenner and not mailing a package to Amboy. But that cost wasn't close to how much it cost me to rent a car and high gas prices so that's not worth it necessarily. But it was also nice for the 6 sections that were about 100+ miles to have a food cache midway. It was great to usually only carry 50 miles of food. Much more comfortable! If you are interested in my "no return trip" caching strategy check out this journal entry from my Desert Trails hike:
Brett as always provides excellent maps and GPS tracks. I think he may have this in Avenza now, that wasn't quite ready for me.
Navigation is pretty simple and straightforward. It's basically all open desert and small ranges. Pretty hard to get lost if you know what you are generally doing. There are a lot of surface type changes on a daily basis. Like you might change from dirt road to wash to XC over and over all day. I missed a lot of little turns here and there but it's always quite easy to correct. This was my first year with a fancy Garmin watch with topo maps on it. I also loaded the track and waypoints on it. I found it to be super helpful to stay on top of all of these turns my just flicking my wrist as opposed to having to check my phone constantly.
Brett has perfected the waypoint labelling which is cool. Basically most waypoints show the change from one surface type to another like this: XC > wash. This means change from walking XC to a wash. Super simple and ingenious. Or JL which just means turn left (junction left).
The WTH is one of the best trails for camping. You can literally almost camp anywhere, anytime. It's really that easy. And my campsites were super scenic. Great 360 views all the time.
If it's windy out though you are going to have a hard time finding protection. I'd suggest cowboy camping rather than dealing with a tent in the wind if it's not going to rain. If it's going to rain and be windy then pick your spot wisely!
I can't think of anything in particular for an experienced hiker. I didn't even see a rattlesnake the entire trip. If you know how to read a map and manage your water you should be fine. If you don't, well please go hike the Florida Trail! It has a Guthook.
Do read Brett's discussion about the migrant corridor nearing Tucson and if curious my entries on days 43 and 45. Neither of these situations concerned me a ton but a solo hiker and possibly a solo female hiker might think differently. I was pretty surprised by my encounters given how north of the border the WTH is (60-70 miles at the closest). It's possible I also had these encounters due to the massive rain storm that came, I think that may increase crossings as the migrants have more chances for life saving water that sticks around a few days.
If you are out here then you know your gear so I won't say much.
My pants were important. There's no real bushwhacking on the WTH but you will do a lot of XC where you brush up against a lot of prickly brush like catclaw. My legs were constantly touching plants on XC stuff and in washes. The brush didn't really slow me down and the pants help keep things moving normal. Sections 1-3 have more thick prickly brush than sections 4-8.
My gaitors were also key. Dirty Girls will be shredded, I'd highly recommend the Levi gaitors from Blisterfree. These are very light but much more rugged. Again, with the XC and washes I would have had so much in my shoes without gaitors.
I got 5 holes in my Neoair. There are a ton of cactus on the trail. I repaired them all but it was a pain.
My silver umbrella is usually my favorite thing but it was almost useless on the WTH. It just wasn't hot enough to need it and usually if there was a storm it was also super windy and impossible to use. I used it once early on in the last real heat of my trip across Bristol lake and then for 2 days going into AZ City with a ton of rain and no wind. I probably wouldn't bring it again if i had the choice.
The rocks of Sections 4-8 chewed up my shoe soles really fast. I'd recommend having a shoe with a rock plate, seriously! Or changing them out more than usual possibly.
Dress warmer than you think, it can be surprisingly cold in the desert. I think a winter hike could easily have highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s during cooler periods even if it's normally warmer.
I didn't see that much honestly. I think I'm bad at spotting wildlife. A few javelina's, a bald eagle pair in the Bill Williams river, a lot of burros for days around the Bill Williams, a few foxes. No bighorn sheep was disappointing and no rattlesnakes was a bonus. Some deer. Lots of little birds around the guzzlers and in the washes in AZ. No desert tortoises :(
I basically had no bugs and didn't carry DEET or a headset and didn't need them.
Tons of cell reception. Not a day went by where I didn't get reception at least once. Frequently I had it all the time and other times it was just occasionally during the day.
And if you've really made it this far and want to hike the WTH then read all the info from Brett on his blog!
You'll see a requirement to have previously hiked a Brett Tucker Route of 400 miles or more in order to help ensure that this route with very sensitive water sources (the game guzzlers) stays within the hands of hikers who will practice LNT and make good decisions. If you knew how many hikers have been rescued off of the GET over the years for what can only be described as idiotic decision making (like mailing home your tent to save weight in the Black Range and then a snowstorm comes) you'll forgive the WTH for trying to make sure responsible and experienced hikers are out there.