Kachina Peaks Wilderness
This wilderness area protects 18,960 acres on the Peaks. Its name reflects the religious importance of the area to the Hopi Tribe. The Forest Service maintains a network of trails in the wilderness, many of which are described below. Cyclists may not ride here, even on the former roads, because of the wilderness designation. Equestrians may not ride within the Inner Basin, as it's a watershed. For current hiking conditions, maps, and other trails, call the Peaks Ranger Station at 928/526-0866.
Humphrey's Peak Trail #151
The alpine world on the roof of Arizona makes a challenging day-hike destination. Get an early start, as the strenuous nine-mile roundtrip usually requires about eight hours to reach the summit and return. To protect fragile alpine tundra, the Forest Service asks hikers to stay on the designated trails above 11,400 feet. Also, don't build campfires or set up camps here.
Snow blocks the way much of the year, so the hiking season usually runs only from late June to September. Come prepared for bad weather with good rain and wind gear. Snow and fierce winds can arrive any month of the year; getting caught in a storm near the top with just a T-shirt and shorts could be deadly. Lightning frequently zaps the Peaks, especially during July and August, so you'll need to be prepared to turn back if storms threaten. In winter, winds and sub-zero cold can be extremely dangerous—only the most experienced groups should attempt a climb and they'll need to get a backcountry permit. Carry plenty of water; you'll need more when hiking at these high elevations.
The trail begins from the north end of the lower Snowbowl parking area (elev. 9,500 feet), contours under the Hart Prairie chairlift, then switchbacks up the mountain. You'll hike through dense forests of Engelmann spruce, corkbark fir, and quaking aspen. Near 11,400 feet, stunted Engelmann spruce and bristlecone pine cling precariously to the slopes. Higher still, only tiny alpine plants survive the fierce winds and long winters. At the saddle (elev. 11,800 feet), turn left for Humphrey's Peak and follow the trail along the ridge. On a clear day you can see a lot of northern Arizona and some of southern Utah from the 12,633-foot summit.
Aspen Loop Trail #73
This easy 2.5-mile ramble crosses alpine meadows and features fine panoramas of volcanoes to the west and the Peaks above. Elevation change is only 300 feet. Begin from the Humphrey's Peak Trailhead at the north end of the lower Snowbowl parking area.
Kachina Trail #150
This moderate and popular trail contours 5.1 miles one way along the slopes of Agassiz Peak between the Snowbowl and Weatherford Trail, descending 700 feet along the way. You'll enjoy beautiful forests of aspen, Douglas fir (some huge), along with ponderosa pine and other trees, ferns, and wildflowers. At a trail fork about one mile in from the Snowbowl end, a side trail climbs to the left atop lava cliffs for fine views of the Peaks, Flagstaff, and far beyond. Most people do an out-and-back trip from the Snowbowl or arrange a car shuttle for a mostly downhill hike. From the upper trailhead, on the south end of the lower Snowbowl parking lot (elev. 9,500 feet), the Kachina winds east to the Weatherford Trail (elev. 8,800 feet). You can reach the lower end of the Kachina Trail by driving 2.4 miles up the Snowbowl Road and turning right four miles on Forest Road 522 (Friedlein Prairie Rd.) to its end (elev. 8,800 feet), then continuing 0.4 mile on foot. Or, you could continue down the Weatherford 2.4 miles down to Schultz Pass (elev. 8,000 feet) and the trailhead on Schultz Pass Road. Carry water. No mountain biking because most of the trail goes through the wilderness.
Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area
A small pond fed by two springs attracts birds and other wildlife. Ludwig Veit, for whom the springs are named, homesteaded here in 1892. Petroglyphs decorate nearby volcanic rocks. From the parking area, near Milepost 4.5 on the paved Snowbowl Road, walk through the gate and turn right 0.7 mile on an abandoned road. Lamar Haines (1927–86) was active in education and conservation in the Flagstaff area.
Arizona Trail Passage 34 to Bismarck Lake
This is a very pretty mountain hike with gentle grades and mountain views. You'll enjoy aspen groves, conifer forests, meadows, and wildflowers. It's about 6 miles roundtrip to Bismarck Lake, though the shallow lake may be completely dry if there hasn't been much rain or snow. Elevations range 8,800-9,300 feet, so it's a very pleasant hike in summer. Mountain bikers also enjoy this trail as it's relatively smooth single track. Drive 5.5 miles up the Snowbowl Road and look for a large pullout on the left on a curve; this may be signed “Aspen Corner.” Follow a former road from the pullout through mixed forest for 0.2 mile to the Arizona Trail junction, just before a vast meadow; ignore side trails on the way. Markers on trees identify the Arizona Trail, and it's easy to follow. Turn right on the Arizona Trail for 2.3 miles across gently rolling terrain on the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks and you'll come to a junction for Bismarck Lake; fork left (there should be a sign) and you'll come out on a large meadow with fine views of the Peaks; the lake will be off to the right. You can walk to the lake and continue on a path (keep right at a fork) and loop back to the Arizona Trail, then turn right and return to the trailhead. You can also reach this section of the Arizona Trail from the Arizona Snowbowl via the Aspen Loop Trail or via FR 151 (south entrance to Hart Prairie Road) and FR 627.
Weatherford Trail #102
J.W. Weatherford completed this road into the Peaks in 1926, using only hand labor and animals. Cars could then sputter up to Doyle and Fremont Saddles. The toll road had few customers in the Depression years and fell into disrepair. Today, only hikers and those on horseback may travel the Weatherford Road, though livestock cannot be taken past Doyle Saddle.
The trail's gentle grade and excellent views make it a good choice for a family outing. You'll reach Doyle Saddle (elev. 10,800 feet), which is marked “Fremont Saddle” on older maps, after about six miles. Here you'll enjoy views of the Inner Basin, summits, and surrounding countryside. Although it's possible to reach the summit of Humphrey's Peak on the Weatherford Trail, the long 19.4-mile roundtrip discourages most climbers. Energetic hikers who've arranged a car shuttle can continue on the Weatherford Trail another 3.4 miles to its end at the junction with Humphrey's Trail, decide whether to make the side trip to the summit of Humphrey's Peak, about two miles roundtrip from here, then descend 3.5 miles on Humphrey's Peak Trail to the Snowbowl. Another option is to drop down into the Inner Basin and Lockett Meadow on the Inner Basin Trail. Carry water and foul-weather gear.
The trailhead (elev. 8,000 feet) is just east of Schultz Pass. Follow US 180 northwest three miles from downtown Flagstaff, then turn right 5.6 miles on Schultz Pass Road 420. Alternatively, you can head north 4.1 miles on US 89 from the Flagstaff Mall, turn west five miles on Forest Road 556, then turn left 0.4 mile on Forest Road 420. Still another approach is to follow Forest Road 420 for 8.8 miles from US 89; the turn is directly opposite the Sunset Crater turnoff, 12 miles north of the Flagstaff Mall.
Water Line Trail
Gentle grades and some good views of the San Francisco Volcanic Field and the Painted Desert are just two of the trail's attractions. The first nine miles from Schultz Pass to the Inner Basin skirt the Kachina Peaks Wilderness and are open to mountain bikers. Beyond the Inner Basin, the Water Line Trail enters the wilderness and continues another five miles, ending at the upper end of Abineau Trail (elev. 10,400 feet). The lower trailhead (elev. 8,000 feet) is 0.7 miles in on Forest Road 146, which turns off Forest Road 420 just 0.4 mile east of Schultz Pass.
Little Elden Springs Horse Camp
Designed especially for equestrians, it offers pull-through campsites with water, compost toilets, hitching posts, and ample room for horse trailers from May to September. Sites (elev. 7,200 feet) are $12 and can be reserved (877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov). A handful of sites are first-come, first served. Picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) costs $5. Anyone may stay here, but be prepared to camp among horses. An access trail leads to the Mt. Elden/Dry Lake Hills Trail system or you can head north five miles on Deer Hill Trail. From the Flagstaff Mall, go north 4.1 miles on US 89, turn west 2.1 miles on Forest Road 556, then north 0.3 mile at the sign.
Deer Hill Trail #99
This easy trail heads north five miles one way from Little Elden Springs Horse Camp or Little Elden Springs trailhead, farther west on Forest Road 556. There's little elevation gain. The north trailhead is on Forest Road 420.
Inner Basin Campground and Hiking
The San Francisco Peaks surround a giant U-shaped valley known as the Inner Basin. It's a wonderful place to walk in summer amongst the aspen, fir, spruce, and wildflowers. At the entrance to the Inner Basin, Lockett Meadow Campground (elev. 8,600 feet) lies in the aspen and conifers along the loop at road's end. Depending on weather, the season runs mid-May–mid-Oct.; there are vault toilets and an $8 fee, but no water; you can also use the sites for picnicking 10 a.m.–4 p.m. for $5. Designated day-use parking is free.
Inner Basin Trail offers wonderful hiking in the forest and a flower-filled meadow; it's a steady climb from Lockett Meadow and 3.8 miles one way, ending at the Weatherford Trail. The first 1.5 miles follows a road through conifer and aspen forests to the Water Line Trail junction, where you have the options of turning left 9 miles for Schultz Pass Road or right 3 miles for the Abineau-Bear Paw Trail loop. Continuing on the Inner Basin Trail, you'll reach a long meadow and views of the surrounding peaks. If you still feel like some more climbing, continue to the far end of the meadow, where the trail enters conifers and steepens a bit on the ascent to the Weatherford Trail; turn left 100 feet on the Weatherford for a great panorama of the Inner Basin and the Painted Desert far beyond. You could climb Humphreys Peak or, with a car shuttle, descend to Weatherford or Humphreys Peak trailheads. Elevations range from 8,600 feet at Lockett Meadow to nearly 11,000 feet at the Weatherford Trail junction. The springs in the Inner Basin supply some of Flagstaff's water, but are covered and locked, so it's necessary to carry your own water. Aspen turn a magnificent gold in late September and early October. Because the Inner Basin is protected as a watershed and wilderness, there's no camping, bicycling, or livestock allowed.
From the Flagstaff Mall or I-40 Exit 201, drive north 12 miles on US 89 and turn left (west) onto Forest Road 420, opposite the Sunset Crater turnoff between Mileposts 430 and 431; be in the left lane in order to make the turn. Drive 0.6 mile on Forest Road 420, then turn right on Forest Road 552 and follow it 4.3 miles to Lockett Meadow. The unpaved road is steep and winding in places, so isn't suitable for low-clearance vehicles, large RVs, and vehicles pulling trailers.
Abineau and Bear Jaw Trails
These two trails climb about halfway up the north side of the San Francisco Peaks. On either path you'll enjoy cool forests of pine, fir, and aspen. Wildflowers grow in rocky alpine meadows near the top of Abineau Trail. Both trails start near Reese Tanks. Abineau Pipeline Trail, a dirt road closed to vehicles, connects the upper ends. With this road, Abineau and Bear Jaw make a good 6.5-mile hiking loop. Abineau is probably the prettier of the two, a good choice if you don't want to do the whole loop.
The trailhead lies on the opposite side of the Peaks from Flagstaff. Either take US 180, Forest Road 151 (second turnoff), and Forest Road 418 around the west side of the Peaks, or follow US 89, Forest Road 420, and Forest Road 418 around the east slopes; consult the Coconino Forest map. Beginning at Flagstaff, each drive is about 26 miles long one way. A sign on Forest Road 418 marks the turnoff for the trailhead, 1.2 miles in on Forest Road 9123J. Park and walk up the trail to a T intersection: Abineau Trail goes to the right, Bear Jaw to the left. Signs and tree blazes mark both trails. Abineau Trail soon enters Abineau Canyon—actually more of a valley—and stays in it all the way to Water Line Trail, 2.5 miles away. You can retrace your steps or turn left 2.1 miles on the Water Line Trail and keep a sharp eye out for the upper end of Bear Jaw Trail, marked with a sign.
Bear Jaw Trail, two miles one way, doesn't follow a valley at all—you have to be very careful to look for signs and tree blazes. Take special care near the bottom when following a road, because the trail later turns left away from the road; this turn is easy to miss. Allow 4–5 hours for the complete loop. You'll begin at 8,500 feet at the trailhead and reach 10,400 feet at the upper end of Abineau Trail. Carry water and raingear.
On to Other Good Hiking Areas