Backpacking with Dogs in Arizona: Katie, Chipper, and Quinci’s Seasonal Favorites

Story and photos contributed by Ruffwear Ambassador Katie Pollack

When you find a state that has year round backpacking opportunities, you take advantage of it. And we try to do just that. By “we” I mean myself and the 2 best sidekicks a gal could ask for, Chipper and Quinci.

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I wasn’t born in Arizona, I haven’t even spent most of my life here. I grew up in Northern California, before spending quite a few years back East. I adopted Chipper when I was living in the Outer Banks, a stretch of islands off the coast of North Carolina. Together, we moved to Arizona – It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Quinci joined our pack 3 years ago. Chipper and I rescued her after she was found to be living in a hoarding situation in Yuma, AZ. Prior to moving to the Grand Canyon State, I’d only visited Arizona once, during a spring break in high school, to attend some Oakland A’s Spring Training games. I never imagined I could love a state so much. Living in Arizona these past 7 years has been the longest I’ve ever lived in one place, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything.

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I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors, but it’s continued to grow monumentally since moving to the desert. Whether it’s the dead of summer or the winter solstice, Arizona has a place where you can spend a pleasant evening under the stars. A common misconception is that Arizona is nothing more than a desert filled with cacti, rattlesnakes, coyotes and tumbleweeds. False. Arizona has 4 glorious seasons, if you know where to look. The best part is that they’re all close enough for a weekend getaway.

Backpacking is easily my favorite outdoor activity. It provides the solitude, intimacy with nature and endless possibilities that I desire most. There is something so freeing about knowing that all you have is what you can carry.

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This activity wouldn’t be the same without Chipper and Quinci. They bring along the best listening ears, a sense of protection, comic relief and sheer joy. Backpacking provides them with the opportunity to roam and explore, with complete freedom. No neighbors. No roads to worry about. Nothing but us, in nature. Just the way we like it.

The dogs and I are going to share one of our favorite places to escape the world during each of Arizona’s seasons.

Winter: Western Superstition Mountains

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There are fewer than a handful of states where you can camp comfortably in the dead of winter, and Arizona is one of them. The Superstition Mountains fill my heart with wanderlust and joy. They offer endless trails, canyons and peaks to explore. Whether you’re following a well established trail, using Google Earth to find a lesser traveled path or bushwhacking through a canyon – these mountains never disappoint. Be creative in your explorations, and be safe.

Spring: Mt. Wrightson

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Springtime in the desert is already heating up. A perfect escape is to head south (surprising, I know) towards Tucson, AZ. The Santa Rita mountain range offers a wide variety of trail opportunities. Mt. Wrightson is a great option for a moderate workout, beautiful views and the chance to see wildlife, all while escaping the rising temps on the valley floor.

Summer: Cabin Loop Trail, Mogollon Rim

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It’s here. Summer heat. 120 degree temperatures. Time to head North, to the Mogollon Rim. Forest Roads, hiking trails, lakes, creeks and backpacking options galore. One of my favorites is the Cabin Loop Trail. You’ll be surrounded by natural springs, luscious ferns and birds chirping. You won’t believe you’re in Arizona.

Autumn: Haunted Canyon, Eastern Superstition Mountains

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Guess what, the desert is still hot. But, the mountains are getting cold. The best solution is climb just a little in elevation and head to the Eastern Superstition Mountains. There is a unique area called Haunted Canyon. With running water and changing leaves, this is a true haven from the heat of the desert. Enjoy!

To be honest, backpacking in Arizona (with dogs) is not for the faint of heart. It’s challenging, thrilling and a very unique experience. A few tips to leave you with:

  • Pack water. Lots of water. All the water. You can’t rely on finding water sources. But if you do come across the treasured resource, let the dogs enjoy. But always filter for your own use.
  • Bring dog boots if your dogs aren’t used to rough terrain.
  • Research the weather. I don’t recommend taking your dogs out in temps higher than 80 degrees. Keep a particularly close eye during Monsoon season, from July-September.
  • Always have sunscreen and chapstick, it’s dry down here.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, such as: cacti, rattlesnakes, wildlife and sun exposure.
  • HAVE FUN!

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Follow all of Katie’s adventures with Chipper & Quinci on Instagram: @trustyourtrail.

2 thoughts

  1. Katie, I want to offer my apologies for my comment above in stating my personal negative vibes about AZ. It took away from your story and love for the state and how you’ve found great places to explore with both of your dogs. I’m truly sorry – my bad. I’ll have to check out the trail on the Mogollon Rim; and you should check out areas in Tucson, like the Catalina Mountain and Sabino Canyon. You offered great advice especially as the temperature get warm, have LOTS of water as heat exhaustion can come on fast for both humans and pets. And I would add another helpful tip to add your backpack/camping – heavy duty gloves and pliers to take out cacti that happen to be stuck in your shoes or clothing or on your dogs. The Cholla cactus is nothing to mess around with. Take care

  2. Katie, glad you love AZ; I hate this state for the reasons you stated. I’ve lived here for 32 years, moving from beautiful Colorado. Now that is a state that has 4 seasons, mountains, trails, rivers, lakes and more! AZ has none of that. Winter hardly exists, Flagstaff/White Mtns barely get enough snow; AZ has been in a drought for 20 years now. Have you seen Lake Powell? It’s low and it’s just hot all year round. I can’t wait to move back to CO or somewhere else, with my dogs, to truly enjoy nature. AZ is not the place – sorry.

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