Northern Arizona Hiking Guide << page 1
Mormon Lake Trail
Once used to haul logs in the 1920s, the railroad grade today carries hikers, equestrians and an elk herd through easy flatlands, ideal for summer family outings and bike rides at 7,100 feet elevation. The 6 miles of abandoned grade strewn with rotting ties is part of the 790-mile Arizona Trail that runs north to south bisecting the state. It's possible to begin a day hike where the signed trail crosses a dirt road, Forest Road 132, about .3 mile west of paved Forest Road 90 and 6 miles north of the town of Mormon Lake. South of FR 132, the grade runs for about a half-mile, skirting the base of 8,456-foot Mormon Mountain before petering out where a logging camp once stood. The Arizona Trail continues southward. Passing through a section posted as the Pine Grove Quiet Area with motor-vehicle restrictions, the grade curves gently around Pine Grove Hill through prime elk habitat. About a mile from the FR 132 trailhead, the grade forks to create a short siding. If you continue north on the trail for a couple of miles, you'll reach Going Pine Grove Campground, a private area that offers sites and water for a fee.
Trail GuideLength: 6 miles, round-trip
Elevation: 7,100 feet
Directions: From Flagstaff, drive 21 miles southeast on Lake Mary Road (Forest Highway 3) to Forest Road 90. Turn right (west) and travel less than 2 miles to Forest Road 132. Turn right (northwest) on FR 132, a dirt road, and drive .3 mile to the Arizona Trail-signed railroad grade crossing.
Travel Advisory: May through October are the best months to hike this trail. Other trail uses include mountain biking and horseback riding.
Information: Coconino National Forest, Mormon Lake Ranger District, 928-774-1147
Strawberry CraterPeaceful Strawberry Crater, located in the wilderness just north of Flagstaff in the San Francisco Volcanic Field, doesn't let on right away about its tumultuous past. Serene and stark, the crater and its terrain lie dark and silent. Only the telltale crunch of cinders under foot gives any hint of the devastation from its volcanic blast. Grayed juniper limbs strewn across the black cinder landscape set a moody scene for this mile-and-a-half-loop hike. The Forest Service has lined the route between the parking area and loop junction loosely with the tree limbs to keep hikers on the path. The right fork at the junction heads directly to Strawberry Crater and starts a comfortable climb across the cinder cone's south face. Midway across, the trail passes by the tail end of the lava flow that streamed from the cone in medieval times. The wall of long and brittle rock has the look of a coral reef. If hikers examine the ruddy lava, they can see scrape marks that formed as it oozed through cracks in the cooler surface. They may also notice how the volcano's boiling rock cooled into solid bubbles. After a couple of switchbacks up to a saddle, the path parts from the lava flow and focuses on other examples of volcanism in the San Francisco Lava Field. On the descent down the east face, a pretty panorama shows how the northern edge of the lava field's cinder-coned landscape stops abruptly at the terra cotta-colored Painted Desert. A short zigzag brings hikers to the base of Strawberry Crater, where the trail levels off, showing contours around the cone leading to more volcanic vistas to the north. When Humphreys Peak, located in the center of the lava field, comes into view, the trail drops back onto the floor of cinders to close the loop and head back to the trailhead.
Trail GuideLength: 2-mile loop
Elevation: 5,500 to 5,900 feet
Directions: From Flagstaff, take U.S. Route 89 about 15 miles north to Forest Road 546 (just past Milepost 434), and turn east (right); drive 3.5 miles to a fork and continue straight onto Forest Road 779; drive about 2 miles to the parking area.
Travel Advisory: This trail is located in the Strawberry Crater Wilderness, where no mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes, are allowed.
Information: Coconino National Forest, Peaks Ranger District, 928-526-0866; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.
Nankoweap TrailThe Nankoweap Trail from the Kaibab Plateau into the Grand Canyon, described by geologist Charles Walcott as "a perfectly frightful trail," has never shaken loose from its longtime reputation as a challenging route. In 1881, Walcott and Maj. John Wesley Powell developed a treacherous path along an Indian trail so Walcott could get a better look at the Canyon's rock layers. The Nankoweap's below-the-Rim infamy is well earned. The 4 miles of the trail above the Canyon traverse the Kaibab National Forest between House Rock Valley and the North Rim, presenting a hike that retains a bit of color, but mostly in cliffs and crags, rather than crime and crazy ideas. Nankoweap Trail 57 crosses a segment of the Saddle Mountain Wilderness and ends as it meets a forest road and a second trailhead. This little-used route will appeal to well-conditioned hikers who like variety and views. Eventually, the trail switches gears and makes a steep climb up a knob. The trail then plunges down a north-facing cliff in an unforgiving way on a testy tread of sand, cobbles and pinecones in the Coconino sandstone formation, into the ruddy Hermit shale formation where it continues to drop, but at a less manic pitch, to an overlook at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Hikers going into the Canyon proceed straight ahead about 50 feet to where the trail begins its 11-mile hair-raising descent to the Colorado River. To continue on Trail 57, turn left at a sign pointing toward "Road 445G" and head into the wilderness. The Nankoweap Trail ends at Forest Road 445. Hikers who don't want to make the hard hike back up the plateau should plan to shuttle using two vehicles. Hikers in shape for the challenge can return the way they came for an instant replay of variety and views on the North Rim's most colorful of trails.
Trail GuideLength: 4 miles, one-way
Elevation: 6,800 to 7,640 feet
Directions: To reach Forest Road 610 Trailhead from Jacob Lake, drive 26.5 miles south on State Route 67 (just beyond DeMotte Park Campground entrance), and turn east onto Forest Road 611; after about 1.4 miles turn south onto FR 610 and go 12.3 miles to the end of the road at the trailhead. To reach Forest Road 445 Trailhead from Jacob Lake, drive about 20 miles east on U.S. Route 89A and turn south (right) onto Forest Road 8910 (House Rock Valley Road), which becomes FR 445; drive about 27 miles to the trailhead and stay on the right fork of the road.
Information: Kaibab National Forest, North Kaibab Ranger District, 928-643-7395; www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai.
Kendrick MountainSeveral trails lead to Mount Kendrick's summit, but the 3.5-mile Kendrick Mountain Trail is short, sunny, easy and offers the best vistas. The trail begins at a parking lot at the end of Forest Road 190. At the summit, after an hour's climb on a well-marked trail, you may meet a Forest Service fire lookout at the steel tower. He stands watch during the fire-danger months of summer, scanning the landscape for traces of smoke. From the tower, look 40 miles south to Bill Williams Mountain across vast the pine-filled countryside. To the east, view the lava slopes of Humphreys Peak, just 10 miles away. Summer and fall are best for climbing Kendrick, but beware of summer lightning storms. Plan for three hours going up and two hours back down.
Trail GuideLength: 3.5 miles, one-way
Elevation: 7,700 to 10,600 feet
Directions: From Flagstaff, follow U.S. Route 180 to Forest Road 245, and turn left. Head west for 3 miles to a junction with Forest Road 171. Turn right, driving north, then west for 2.5 miles to Forest Road 190. Follow FR 190 about 1 mile to the trailhead.
Information: Kaibab National Forest, Williams Ranger District, 928-635-5600; www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai.
Sandys CanyonSandys Canyon Trail is a 3-mile round-trip hike that follows level ground for the first half-mile, passing big yellow-bellied ponderosa pine trees with spiraled lightning scars. The trail skirts a massive tumble of car-sized basalt boulders, then swings around the head of Sandy's Canyon and steps down into it, away from the thrum of the vehicles on the road. At the bottom, the trail enters Walnut Creek. Walnut Canyon National Monument lies a few miles downstream. In a mile and a half, the Sandys Canyon Trail officially ends where it meets the Arizona Trail, the 790-mile route that will eventually stitch the state together from south to north. The Arizona Trail drops in from Marshall Lake along peach-colored sandstone cliffs. Ahead is a sign that indicates 1.1 miles to Fisher Point. To reach Fisher Point, follow the Arizona Trail as it switchbacks up the side canyon and out onto the point, which offers splendid views back down the cliff into Walnut Canyon.
Trail GuideLength: 1 mile, one-way
Elevation: 6,950 feet
Directions: Sandys Canyon Trail begins at Canyon Vista Campground off Lake Mary Road (Forest Highway 3). Turn into the campground, go past it and park in the designated day-use lot.
Information: Coconino National Forest, Mormon Lake Ranger District, 928-774-1147; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.
Inner Basin TrailFew hiking trails offer as much variety as the Inner Basin Trail near Flagstaff. Hikers, mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, amateur geologists, regional history buffs and flora-and fauna-watchers all flock to this very popular 2- to 4-mile trail. The length of a hike on the Inner Basin Trail depends on how far past the basin one ventures. Although it's somewhat steep, the ascent feels only moderately strenuous if you pace yourself. The trail starts in Lockett Meadow at the end of an unpaved road. Following a primitive rock-strewn roadbed – an ankle-twister for the unwary – the path climbs 1,100 feet through a ponderosa pine and aspen forest. After 1.5 miles, the Inner Basin Trail comes to a junction at Jack Smith Spring, where water flows from an untreated tap. Continuing past Jack Smith Spring for another half-mile, the trail enters the Inner Basin.
Trail GuideLength: 2-4 miles, one way
Elevation: 8,800 to 9,900 feet
Directions: From Flagstaff, drive north on U.S. Route 89 for 12.5 miles to Forest Road 552, .8 of a mile past the turnoff to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Turn left (west) onto FR 552 and continue for approximately 1 mile to the Lockett Meadow sign. Turn right (north), and drive 3 miles to the trailhead.
Warning: The dirt road to Lockett Meadow is narrow and winding. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Snowdrifts may block the road in early spring and late fall.
Information: Coconino National Forest, Peaks Ranger Station, 520-526-0866
North Canyon TrailDescend into North Canyon on Trail 7, the East Rim Trail. Dropping very steeply into the canyon, the trail, though clearly marked, proves quite brushy. Portions of the upper trail offer glimpses of House Rock Valley and Marble Canyon, but it soon drops down into a mixed forest of aspen, ponderosa pine and bigtooth maple trees. After 1.5 miles, the East Rim Trail intersects Trail 4, the North Canyon Trail. From there the North Canyon Trail, which crisscrosses a perennial creek where native Apache trout lurk, runs east 5.5 miles to the lower trailhead in House Rock Valley. A westward turn goes 1.5 miles to North Canyon Spring. From this point, a round-trip hike to House Rock Valley is 11 miles; to North Canyon Spring, 3 miles. Take your pick. Keep in mind, though, that you've already dropped 1,000 feet in just 1.5 miles, and, descending to the valley, you lose another 1,500 feet. So, unless you've shuttled a car to the lower trailhead, the hike back up to the rim will be long and steep.
Trail GuideLength: 5.5 miles, one-way
Elevation: 8,900 to 7,400 feet
Directions: To reach the upper trailhead, drive 26.5 miles on State Route 67 from the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center at Jacob Lake to Forest Road 611. Turn left (east) and drive 3 miles to the trailhead. To reach the lower trailhead, drive 20 miles east on U.S. Route 89A from the North Kaibab Visitor Center to the House Rock Valley-Buffalo Ranch Road (Forest Road 8910) and turn right (south). Drive 17.5 miles to Forest Road 631 and turn right (west). Continue 1.3 miles to the trailhead. A high-clearance pickup or 4WD vehicle is recommended.
Travel Advisory: The best months to hike North Canyon in the Saddle Mountain Wilderness are May through mid-October. Early snowfall may block access to the upper trailhead. Information: Kaibab National Forest, North Kaibab Ranger District, 928-643-7395; Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center, 928-634-7298.
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