To reach the summit of Mt. Elden, a 9,299-foot peak on the north edge of Flagstaff, you can hike any of several good trails or drive up a rough road. Wildflowers, a variety of forests, and panoramic views reward those who ascend even part way. A fire-lookout tower marks the summit. Climb the tower, if it's open, for the best views. On a clear day you'll see much of north-central Arizona: Oak Creek Canyon and Mormon Lake to the south; the Painted Desert to the east; Humphrey's Peak, Sunset Crater, and other volcanoes to the north; and Bill Williams Mountain to the west. Flagstaff lies directly below. An eruption of thick, sticky lava created Mt. Elden.
The hiking season runs from May to October, a bit longer for the drier eastern slope. You'll need to carry water. To avoid the hair-raising experience of afternoon thunderstorms, set out early when hiking during July and August, the peak storm months. Allow at least half a day for a hike to the summit and back; elevation change is 1,300–2,400 feet, depending on the trailhead. Horseback riders and mountain bicyclists can use most of the trail system. Contact the Flagstaff Ranger District for current trail information; 928/526-0866. The distances given below are one-way. Hikes are described clockwise, beginning on the east side.
Elden Lookout Trail #4
This 2.9-mile (one way) trail seems easy at first, but then it becomes a steep and strenuous climb up the rocky east slope of Mt. Elden to the lookout tower, gaining 2,400 feet in elevation. To reach the Mt. Elden Trailhead (elev. 6,900 feet), head east from downtown Flagstaff on Route 66, which becomes US 89, or take I-40 Exit 201 toward Page; the trailhead is on the left side of US 89, 0.3 mile north of the Peaks Ranger District turnoff. The grades and loose surface of this trail make it too hazardous for horse travel or mountain biking; neither is allowed.
Fatman's Loop Trail #25
The moderate two-mile loop has a few short steep sections. You'll pass volcanic rock formations (one that hikers have to squeeze through) and diverse plant life; elevation gain is 600 feet. Views take in parts of east Flagstaff and beyond. The loop begins from the lower part of Mt. Elden Lookout Trail; it's closed to horses.
Pipeline Trail #42
This easy 2.8-mile trail follows a gas pipeline right-of-way between the lower parts of Mt. Elden Lookout and Oldham Trails. You can see old lava flows on the south side of Mt. Elden and in the Elden Environmental Study Area. The Forest Service set aside the study area in the mid-1970s for school and environmental groups. Ponderosa pine and Gambel oak dominate the forest at the trail's 7,100- to 7,200-foot elevations.
Oldham Trail #1
Mt. Elden's longest trail at 5.5 miles, it begins at the north end of Buffalo Park (elev. 7,000 feet) in Flagstaff and climbs gradually past boulder fields and cliffs on the west side of Mt. Elden. You cross Elden Lookout Road several times as the trail winds higher through forest and meadows to Oldham Park and on to Sunset Trail near the summit. The trail is moderately difficult and has an elevation gain of 2,000 feet.
Rocky Ridge Trail #153
Ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, alligator juniper, cliffrose, and yucca line this western approach to Mt. Elden. The easy trail begins from Schultz Creek Trailhead and connects with the Oldham and Brookbank Trails. Distance is 2.2 or 3 miles depending on which fork you take. Schultz Creek Trailhead lies a short way off Schultz Pass Road 0.8 mile in from US 180. Elevation change is only about 100 feet.
Brookbank Trail #2
This moderate 2.5-mile trail climbs north through a forested drainage to the edge of Brookbank Meadow, owned by the Navajo Tribe, then curves east to eventually meet Sunset Trail at a low saddle. Elevation gain is 1,000 feet. The trailhead (elev. 7,900 feet) can be reached by hiking the Rocky Ridge or Oldham Trails or by driving a half mile in on Schultz Pass Road from US 180, then turning 2.5 miles up Elden Lookout Road.
Schultz Creek Trail #152
This gentle 3.5-mile trail parallels an intermittent creek flowing between Sunset (elev. 8,000 feet) and Schultz Creek (elev. 7,200 feet) Trailheads. Sunset Trailhead is at Schultz Pass, 5.6 miles up Schultz Pass Road from US 180, and Schultz Creek Trailhead is a short way off Schultz Pass Road 0.8 mile in from US 180.
Sunset Trail #23
Alpine meadows and forests on the north side offer some of the most pleasant hiking on Mt. Elden. The four-mile trail climbs gradually through pine, fir, and aspen to Sunset Park and on to the summit; elevation gain is 1,300 feet. The Radio Fire of 1977 left scars visible on the east slope below. You can view the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, and Painted Desert.
Begin from the Sunset Trailhead (elev. 8,000 feet), just west of Schultz Tank at Schultz Pass. To reach the trailhead, follow US 180 northwest three miles from downtown Flagstaff to Schultz Pass Road, then turn right 5.6 miles. This and the following Mt. Elden trails are open to people on horseback or mountain bike as well as on foot.
Little Bear Trail #112
This trail—steep in places—switchbacks 3.5 miles with a 1,000-foot elevation change between Little Elden Trail and Sunset Trail. See the map for the trailhead options.
Heart Trail #103
In a strenuous 2.5 miles, the trail switchbacks along a steep, rocky ridge within the area devastated by the 5,000-acre Radio Fire of June 1977. It connects Sandy Seep and Little Elden Trails with Sunset Trail at the saddle between Mt. Elden and Little Elden Mountain; elevation change is 1,300 feet. Local mountain bike enthusiasts have dubbed it "expert only." Experienced horseback riders can use the trail too. Seemingly desolate at first glance, the land is actually full of new growth and new life.
Northside Connector Trails
Three easy trails on the north side of Mt. Elden link with other trails to form a complete loop around the peak. They offer a variety of views and terrain—from the cool fir and pine forest of the north slope around the buttress of Little Elden Mountain, past the lower reaches of the Radio Fire area, and into dry ponderosa pine and Gambel oak of the east flank of Mt. Elden. Little Elden Trail #69 curves around the north side of Mt. Elden from Schultz Tank to the bottom of Heart Trail in 4.7 miles. Sandy Seep Trail #129 goes west 1.5 miles to the Christmas Tree Trail, then a bit farther to Heart and Little Elden Trails from a trailhead at the end of short Forest Road 9139; the turnoff is just north of Milepost 421 on US 89, 0.4 mile beyond the Townsend-Winona Road. Christmas Tree Trail connects the north end of Fatman's Loop with Sandy Seep, Heart, and Little Elden Trails in 1.7 miles one way.
On to the San Francisco Peaks