Exploring Arizona’s Hiking Trails with Mare Czinar
An exclusive interview with the author the The Hike Book, Mare Czinar.
By Olivia Munson
Arizona has a lot to offer in terms of hiking. Endless possibilities are waiting to be added to your hiking bucket list, from cactus-filled treks to mountain conquests to forest strolls.
When Mare Czinar, director of production for Phoenix Home & Garden and its sister publication, PHOENIX magazine, moved to the Valley, she was eager to hit the trails after learning that the landscape is not just barren desert.
After outdated hiking sources proved unhelpful, Czinar decided to create her own frequently-updated travelogue, “Arizona Hiking”. As her website proclaims, “We got lost, so you don’t have to.”
Nearly 12 years and more than 800 trails later, Czinar sat down to compile some of the best hikes throughout the state into the 256-page guide, “The Hike Book: 228 of our Favorite Arizona Trails.” Whether you’re an outdoors novice or aficionado, this beautifully photographed and informative volume provides expert insight on how to choose and conquer a range of trails throughout the state. Categorized by geographic regions, each page spotlights a different trail and includes such key points as length, difficulty and best season to go.
We recently spoke with Czinar to discuss the book’s release and her love for the outdoors.
Phoenix Home & Garden: Where did your love for outdoor excursions and hiking begin?
Mare Czinar: When I was a kid, I went to church camp in New England, and they took us out into the middle of the woods where we slept on the ground and walked around. I had never hiked before in my life. It was scary and fascinating at the same time, so I guess that’s where the bug hit.
PHG: When you moved to Arizona, were you excited to begin hiking here?
Czinar: Anytime you move somewhere new, you have to regain your sea legs. Church camp was in the Northeast, and when I moved here, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, now I am in the desert. What am I going to do?’ I spent a lot of time doing research and finding out that Arizona really isn’t just arid landscape. There are rivers, lakes and mountains. During the course of a single day, you can begin hiking in the desert and end up at the top of a 12,000-foot-tall mountain. So it was kind of like, ‘Woo-hoo, this is hiker heaven!’
PHG: How do you find the trails you write about on your blog?
Czinar: I keep in contact with the trail-builders themselves. There are grassroot organizations out there, such as The Beaver Creek Trails organization, Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation, and Arizona Trail Association, as well as small towns such as Lake Montezuma and Cornville, that understand that building trails are economic drivers, and it is very important to them. I keep my finger on their pulse to find out what they’re doing and what they’re working on next. Any time I find one of their trails and write about it, they are usually pretty thrilled because then people start coming, and those guests visit the restaurants and hotels. As the saying goes, ‘If you build it, they will come.’
PHG: What inspired you to create “The Hike Book?”
Czinar: PHOENIX magazine has been around for a while, and the editors known what their readers are all about and what they expect. Plus, the outdoor travel industry is a $60 billion-a-year industry—so people love to hike. As a way to extend its audience and reach out to people who like the outdoors, PHOENIX magazine likes to keep a foot in the door in terms of creating content for nature lovers. The book is our segue into getting in touch with the people who really live and adore Arizona’s natural landscape.
PHG: How did you decide what trails to include in “The Hike Book?”
Czinar: My first priority was attainability. I didn’t want to include hikes that encompass
driving 50 miles of dirt roads and then climbing 4,000 feet to the top of a peak. When speaking with hikers—and I am connected to a group of 28,000 of them—I find that there is a lot of intimidation: “Where do I start?” “What do I need to do?” “How do I access all these thousands and thousands of miles of trails that are in Arizona?” So I didn’t want to focus on impossible, inaccessible trails. I looked at it and said, “OK, let’s include a bunch of easy ones, kid-friendly ones and moderate ones.” There are some difficult ones in the book, but even those are not going to be off the radar.
PHG: What is your favorite hike?
Czinar: Mountains are my first love. If I had to point to one hike in the book that is my absolute favorite in Arizona, it would be the Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop. However, creeping up on that is the Maricopa Trail. It is a 317-mile-long trail that goes all the way around the Valley of the Sun. It is broken into 20 segments, and each segment has its own personality. If you’re in the Phoenix area and you don’t know where to start hiking, step out onto the Maricopa Trail and you can’t go wrong.
PHG: What do you hope people will gain from reading “The Hike Book?”
Czinar: I want them to get an appreciation for how these trails evolved. There are several stories in the book that talk about how grassroots organizations stood up and created the preserve area—saving it from development and raising their own funds and volunteer work to build the trails. There is a misconception that the trails come from your tax dollars. Once readers understand that that is not necessarily the case—it’s everyday people who want to preserve these places—they’ll hopefully have a deeper appreciation for our natural surroundings and be less likely to vandalize it by going off trail, cutting their own messes and leaving garbage behind. Respect what we have out here, because there is no place like Arizona for hiking trails.
“The Hike Book” is available for $20 on select newsstands or at cities-west-publishing.square.site.