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Ratings are based on the following round-trip distances and accumulated gains in elevation over the course of the hike. The hike rating is determined by one (or both) of the two values being exceeded. For example, if a hike exceeds the criterion for distance but not for corresponding elevation, the rating would be set for distance. In the hike descriptions that follow, both parameter values are exceeded for some hikes. However, that does not necessarily justify a higher combined rating.

Hike Rating Distance(Miles) Accumulated Elevation Gain (feet)
A >14 >3000
B 8-14 1500 - 3000
C 4-8 500-1500
D <4 <500

Special Conditions

***Some hikes may have special conditions that make a hike more difficult than the mileage/elevation gain rating would suggest. This could be due to unusual trail conditions, such as a very rocky trail, large steps up or down, or more exposure (steep banks or a cliff) which are present.  These hikes are denoted with three asterisks beside the letter rating and will be repeated in the hike description with an explanation.  When hikers sign up for a hike with the symbol *** they should clarify with the guide about the special condition to determine if the hike is right for them. 


Pace for our hikes is described in terms of the moving average speed in miles per hour (MPH) over the course of a hike. The overall average speed is much more variable, depending on the number and duration of rest breaks and lunch, and the condition of a particular trail (smooth and flat versus rocky and steep). The following four categories are used to describe pace in the hike descriptions. The following four categories are used to describe pace in the newsletter:

Pace Moving Average Speed (mph)
Leisurely <1.5
Slow 1.5 to 2
Moderate 2 to 2.5
Fast >2.5

Elevation Change

Three indicators are used in the hike descriptions to convey hike difficulty as it relates to elevation change:

Net Elevation Change is generally the change in elevation obtained by subtracting the starting elevation from the highest (or lowest) point reached during the course of the hike, in feet. This estimate may be obtained from USGS maps or a global positioning system (GPS). If no destination is listed, which may be the case for loop hikes or point-to-point hikes, net change is defined as the difference between the trailhead elevation and the highest elevation reached during the hike. If net elevation lost between the trailhead and the destination, a minus sign is used to show that elevation is lost. If an elevation profile is available, which applies in this database to mostly the Arizona Trail hikes for which GPS tracks have been generated, the net elevation change is the difference between the highest and lowest points along the trail.

Accumulated Gain is the sum of all upward stretches of a hike as recorded by a GPS device over the course of the entire hike. Accumulated elevation gain is always a more accurate indicator of hike difficulty than net change in elevation.

Accumulated Loss, another measure of hike difficulty, is the sum of all downward stretches of a hike. Accumulated elevation loss is useful for some downhill hikes and is usually obtained with a GPS device. A cursory critique of the definition for “net elevation change” reveals that it is vague and imprecise and provides limited insight into trail difficulty (which is more accurately described in terms of accumulated gain or loss (parameters that are measured by GPSs). However, accumulated gain/loss information is unavailable for many hikes in the database, so net change has, for the time being, been retained because it is the only statistic available.

Accumulated gains are always greater than net elevation changes, except for point-to-point hikes where the destination is at a lower elevation than trailhead elevation. In this case, the accumulated gain could be much lower than the net elevation change. A good example of this is the hike from the top of Mt. Lemmon to Catalina State Park, which actually results in little gain but rather a significant accumulated loss. For loop and out-andback hikes, accumulated elevation gains are usually greater, sometimes much greater, than net elevation changes.