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Backpacker Magazine – December 2001

Desert Miracle: Hiking Arizona's San Pedro River

Shady hiking and cool waters make the San Pedro River an oasis for desert trekkers.

by: Paul Bogard

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Expedition Planner: San Pedro River, AZ

DRIVE TIME: The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is 1 1/2 hours (75 miles) southeast of Tucson.

THE WAY: From Tucson, take I-10 east and then AZ 90 south to Sierra Vista. From Sierra Vista, take either Charleston Road or AZ 90 east about 15 miles to trailheads on the river, or go south on AZ 92 and east on Hereford Road to the Hereford Bridge trailhead.

TRAILS: The most popular section of the River Trail is the 8-mile segment between Charleston Road and Fairbank Townsite. For a longer hike with more solitude, start at the Hereford Bridge trailhead (8 miles from the Mexican border) and hike north for up to 32 miles one way. A $2 backcountry fee is required (see Contact below).

DAYHIKE: For an easy out-and-back trip to the Narrows, where the San Pedro squeezes between two hills, hike downstream from the Charleston Road trailhead (3 miles round-trip). Continue through the Narrows to extend the route up to 8 miles one way.

ELEVATION: At the Mexican border, the elevation is 4,300 feet. It drops to 4,000 feet at Fairbank Townsite, and bottoms out at 3,600 feet at the northern edge of the NCA.

CAN'T MISS: Taking off your shoes and splashing through the creek on a warm winter day.

CROWD CONTROL: Spring weekends (the end of April and beginning of May) draw the most crowds, as birders come from all over the country. Go in fall or winter, or midweek, to avoid the crowds. Also avoid the busy trails near the San Pedro House (a nonprofit visitor center on AZ 90).

GUIDES: The San Pedro River: A Discovery Guide, by Roseann Beggy Hanson (University of Arizona Press, 800-426-3797;; $17.95). USGS topo Fairbank Townsite.

WALK SOFTLY: There are numerous historic and prehistoric archaeological sites in the area. Look, but don't touch.

CONTACT: San Pedro Project Office, Bureau of Land Management, (520) 458-3559;

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