The trail takes its name from the old Spanish colonies in northern New Mexico and southern California that were linked by this rugged route. The Spanish outpost of Santa Fe, New Mexico was founded in the early 1600's and the pueblo of Los Angeles, California was founded in 1781. But it was not until 1829 when Santa Fe merchant Antonio Armijo led 60 men and 100 mules northward on the known trails blazed by native peoples that a suitable land passage between these colonies became established and regularly used. On the return trip, Armijo backtracked along the route Spanish padres Dominguez and Escalante recorded as they returned to Santa Fe from southern Utah more than fifty years earlier. Portions of both the Northern Route and the Armijo Route pass through the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Arizona Strip District.
The Old Spanish Trail was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail in December 2002. By memorandum from the Secretary of the Interior, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail is jointly administered by the BLM and the National Park Service, working in partnership with other federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as private landowners who manage or own lands along the trail route. Today, only a few remnant traces of the trail can be seen where hundreds of fast trotting mules and their tired drivers once traversed the high country of the Southwest on their way to California’s fertile trading fields.
The Old Spanish National Historic Trail links Santa Fe and Los Angeles across six states and 2,700 miles passing through red rock mesas, below snow capped peaks, fording untamed rivers, avoiding the immense depths of the Grand Canyon, and skirting the continent’s harshest deserts near Death Valley. The trail crosses public lands administered by the Arizona Strip District Office in Arizona. There is an auto tour route through the Arizona/Utah border region that closely parallels the trail following U.S. Highway 89 and State Route 59 in Southern Utah and in Northern Arizona, U.S. Highway 89 Alternate, State Road 389, old Highway 91, and Interstate 15 between Fredonia, Arizona and Mesquite, Nevada.
Opportunities include viewing scenery, camping, hiking, and viewing wildlife. Additionally, many points of historical or cultural interest can also be found along the trail. Vehicles must remain on existing roads.
The Old Spanish Trail in northern Arizona and southern Utah passes near the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Old Spanish Trail also crosses Pipe Spring National Monument west of Fredonia, Arizona. The Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area on Interstate 15 offers opportunities to enjoy a rugged, colorful, Grand Canyon-like setting deep within the Virgin River Gorge.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
No permits or fees are required to visit the portions of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail that cross BLM administered lands in Arizona or to follow the auto tour route.
Accessible facilities along the Old Spanish Trail on Arizona BLM administered lands are very limited. Accessible facilities along the auto tour route may be available.
Camping and Lodging
The White House Campground is 30 miles west of Page, Arizona on Highway 89 and two miles down a dirt road south of the BLM Paria Canyon Ranger Station just off of Highway 89. Fees are charged for overnight camping. The Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area on Interstate 15 (Exit 18), 16 miles NE of Littlefield, Arizona, and 20 miles SW of St. George, Utah, has 75 developed camping sites (many are pull-throughs), tables, charcoal grills, water, flush toilets, two handicapped-accessible sites and paved roads. The 33-site day use area offers picnic tables, charcoal grills, shade shelters and rest rooms. Three group sites are available by reservation. Fees are charged for overnight camping and group use. Lodging is available in cities along the auto tour route.
Food and Supplies
Food and supplies can be purchased in cities along the auto tour route.
There are no first aid stations along the Old Spanish Trail on BLM administered lands. Hospitals and clinics are found in cities along the auto tour route.
Due to its recent authorization, few visitor facilities or services exist along the Old Spanish National Historic Trail through northern Arizona at this time. However, Pipe Spring National Monument and the Interagency Information Center in St. George, Utah do provide basic information about the trail. There are museums, historic sites, and markers along the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Environmental conditions along the route in Arizona may vary from extreme heat to flash floods. Poisonous reptiles and insects may be encountered. Be prepared with the appropriate equipment and supplies, including sufficient water for a remote setting. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for more remote areas that access the historic route.