12 Best Hikes & Trails in Flagstaff, Arizona

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Flagstaff, AZ is located in central Arizona, about 2 hours north of Phoenix and 1.5 hours south of the Grand Canyon. The city and its surrounding area offers a multitude of outdoor recreational activities for all levels. Flagstaff sits at about 7,000 feet elevation, just south of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in the state of Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point in the state of Arizona at 12,637 feet, is about 10 miles north of Flagstaff in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. Many of the best hikes and trails in the Flagstaff, AZ area are described below.  

Near the Flagstaff Area

Coconino National Forest

Cathedral Rock Trail No. 170
Cathedral Rock Trail No. 170, Photo by Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest is located in central Arizona around Flagstaff and Sedona. It is 1 of 6 national forests in Arizona and is surrounded by Kaibab National Forest to the north, Prescott National Forest to the west, Tonto National Forest to the south, and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to the southeast. The forest is one of the most beautiful and diverse in the entire country. Landscapes here range from the desert, to ponderosa pine forests, to the classic Arizona red rocks of Sedona. The forest encompasses 1.8 million acres and over 760 miles of trails. Coconino comprises 3 districts that each possess their own diverse areas.

The Flagstaff District (northern-most) encompasses the land around the Flagstaff area from Mormon Lake and Anderson Mesa to north of the San Francisco Peaks. The San Francisco Peaks are one of the famous highlights of this forest and can be found in the now dormant volcanic field surrounding Flagstaff. They contain the top 4 highest peaks in the state of Arizona including Humphrey’s Peak (12,633′) as the tallest.

The Mogollon Rim District stretches across the entire forest and provides some of the best views in Arizona. The rim forms at the southern border of the Colorado Plateau and in some areas the elevation drops as much as 2000′.

Finally, the Red Rock District centers on the town of Sedona and encompasses the famous red rock mesas, buttes, and canyons that have attracted visitors to this area for decades. Even if you’re not planning on doing any hikes in Coconino National Forest, this area has plenty to offer in terms of sightseeing.

Kachina Peaks Wilderness

Waterline Trail
Waterline Trail, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

Kachina Peaks Wilderness is an 18,000 acre roadless wilderness area within Coconino National Forest. The wilderness area encompasses most of the upper reaches of the San Francisco Peaks, see below. Kachina Peaks Wilderness is named for the Hopi deities, or Kachinas, whom that culture’s mythology tells us live here for part of every year. In mid-summer these deities fly from the top of the peaks to the Hopi mesas as clouds bring the nourishing rains of the seasonal monsoons. Some of the area’s trails lead to the top of the several peaks which form the rim of the mountain’s inner basin, a huge caldera which was formed during the mountain’s most recent volcanic cataclysm. 

San Francisco Peaks

October 2015 San Francisco Peaks Snow
San Francisco Peaks Snow, Photo by Maxwell Utter Photography

The San Francisco Peaks are a volcanic mountain range in the San Francisco volcanic field in north central Arizona, just north of Flagstaff and a remnant of the former San Francisco Mountain. The San Francisco Peaks are the remains of an eroded stratovolcano. The 6 tallest peaks in the range are: 

  • Humphreys Peak, 12,637’ 
  • Agassiz Peak, 12,356’ 
  • Fremont Peak, 11,969’ 
  • Aubineau Peak, 11,838’ 
  • Rees Peak, 11,474’ 
  • Doyle Peak, 11,460’ 

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon - South Rim - Mather Point
Grand Canyon – South Rim – Mather Point, Photo by G. Lamar

Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon National Park, seen its pictures, or flown over it, but only those that visit in person know what it is really like. Located 1.5 hours north of Flagstaff, the beauty of the canyon must be witnessed first hand at least one time in your life! Although the South Rim is open all year round, the North Rim is seasonal and is typically only open from March to October each year. As with all hikes in the southwest US, temperatures and conditions can get dangerous so bring plenty of water and plan ahead!

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes & Trails in Flagstaff, Arizona

Humphreys Peak Trail

Humphreys Peak, San Francisco Peaks
Humphreys Peak, San Francisco Peaks, Photo by Coconino National Forest

Humphreys Trail to the summit of Humphreys Peak (12,637’) is one of the best hikes in the entire Flagstaff area and the Coconino National Forest. Humphreys Peak is the tallest peak in the San Francisco Peaks mountain range and the highest point in the state of Arizona. 

The trail starts at the north side of the parking lot for the Arizona Sunbowl, 14 miles north of downtown Flagstaff. Hikers will then cross an open meadow and before finding the trail heading into a ponderosa pine forest. From here it is a steady climb for nearly 4 miles until you reach the saddle. Brief but great views of the surrounding area interrupt your ascent through the forest. Eventually, the trees begin to thin as you approach the treeline just below the saddle between Humphreys Peak and Agassiz Peak. The route then heads north along the ridge continuing the steep climb. There are a few false summits along the way to the high point but you will eventually get to the 12,637’ Humphreys Peak! Keep in mind that once you get past the treeline, you are extremely exposed to the elements and at that elevation, weather can take a turn at any point. Humphreys Peak Trail is a challenging hike but the great views and accomplishment of getting to the top make it one of the most popular trails near Flagstaff. 

  • 9.6 miles out and back 
  • 3,420’ elevation gain
  • Strenuous 

Fatmans Loop

Panorama of Fatmans Loop Trail
Panorama of Fatmans Loop Trail, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

Fatmans Loop in Coconino National Forest is a moderate hike that offers scenic overlooks of Flagstaff and the surrounding countryside. Along the route there are a number of interesting rock formations that bear witness to Mt. Elden’s volcanic origins. One of these is a bit of a tight squeeze, hence the trail’s name. This is a great option for a short hike in the Flagstaff area that is fun despite a few steep sections of the trail. 

  • 2.4 mile loop
  • 500’ elevation gain
  • Moderate

Kachina Trail

Aspen Convergence
Aspen Convergence, Photo by Alan Levine

Kachina Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Flagstaff area. Skirting the south face of the San Francisco Peaks, the trail runs almost entirely within Kachina Peaks Wilderness. The best time to visit is in the fall when bright gold aspen leaves light the way. The trail crosses several canyons and even descends a high lava cliff. A dramatic, cave-like recess in the lava marks where a bed of looser volcanic debris eroded away from denser flow layers above. Views of Agassiz Peak high above, sometimes still snow covered, constantly remind you of the fiery origin of San Francisco Mountains. Many hikers leave a car at the end of Friedlein Prairie Road so the trail can be completed one-way. 

  • 5.2 miles one-way
  • 1,200’ elevation gain
  • Strenuous

Walnut Canyon

Walnut Canyon, Photo by Gavin Sandison

Walnut Canyon National Monument is located about 10 miles southeast of downtown Flagstaff. The Island Trail and Walnut Canyon Trail Loop descends into the canyon passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 AD. When you get back from this 0.9 mile loop, continue on to the Walnut Canyon Rim and Ruins Loop. This loop is a paved trail along the top of the rim with beautiful views of the canyon. This route can be considered one of the best easy hikes that Flagstaff has to offer. 

  • 1.7 mile loop
  • 300’ elevation gain
  • Easy

Elden Lookout Trail

Atop Mount Elden
Atop Mount Elden, Photo by John Vetterli

Northeast of Flagstaff, the Elden Lookout Trail climbs steeply to the top of Mount Elden within the Coconino National Forest. Sharing the same trailhead as Fatmans Loop (above), this trail leads you up a staircase of petrified lava to the mountain’s summit 2,300 feet above Flagstaff. Along the way, you will pass through a mixed pinyon-juniper woodland and ponderosa pine forest catching great views of the city and the surrounding area. 

  • 2.7 miles out and back
  • 2,392’ elevation gain
  • Strenuous

Inner Basin Trail 

Panorama of Lockett Meadow
Panorama of Lockett Meadow, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

Inner Basin Trail is part of the Kachina Trail System and begins at the beautiful Lockett Meadow north of Flagstaff. The trail winds through extensive stands of aspens and ascends to join Waterline Trail. The best time to go is at the beginning of October when the brilliant color of aspen leaves transforms the area with yellow foliage. You will also need to make sure that Lockett Meadow is open when you visit to avoid hiking 3 miles in to get to the trailhead. 

  • 3.9 mile loop
  • 1,300’ elevation gain
  • Strenuous

Weatherford Trail

Weatherford Trail
Weatherford Trail, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

Weatherford Trail ascends up the remains of an old road that once took Model T Fords to the top of the San Francisco Peaks. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area and the surrounding area. Along the steady but gradual climb, views stretch to Oak Creek Canyon and the Verde Valley over fifty miles away. The Weatherford Trail is one of the best places in Coconino National Forest to enjoy the autumn change of leaves among the huge aspen groves in the mountain’s inner basin. Weatherford Trail ends at its intersection with the Humphreys Trail (above), which then continues on to the top of Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona at 12,643 feet.

  • 15.4 miles out and back
  • 3,750’ elevation gain
  • Strenuous

Aspen Nature Loop

Aspen Nature Lollipop Trail No. 73
Aspen Nature Loop Trail No. 73, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

Situated on sloping meadows and open glades high on the western slope of the San Francisco Peaks, the Aspen Nature Loop Trail affords unhindered views of the volcanic field to the west and the Grand Canyon to the north. The Peaks loom high above with fine views of the nearby Arizona Snowbowl. This trail sets off from the same trailhead as Humphreys Peak Trail (above). 

  • 2.5 mile loop
  • 300’ elevation gain
  • Easy

Mars Hill Trail

Flagstaff - Mars Hill Rd - View of Snow Covered Mountains (3)
Mars Hill Rd, Photo by Jared

Mars Hill Trail begins in Thorpe Park and makes a steady climb westward through a draw on the east slope of Mars Hill. Portions of this climb are very steep. Once on top the trail continues to climb, but much more gradually, as it winds through the Ponderosa pine forest on Mars Hill. The upper portion of the trail is on land that is part of Lowell Observatory’s scientific reserve. 

  • 3.6 miles out and back
  • 450’ elevation gain
  • Moderate

Fisher Point Trail 

Canyon Vista Campground
Canyon Vista Campground, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

Fisher Point, located in the Coconino National Forest, provides great views over Walnut Canyon National Monument. Take the route north from Sandys Canyon rather than starting from the city limits as it has more to offer. Once you get near the end, there are caves to explore and take a cool respite before venturing onto the overview at Fisher Point.  

  • 4.5 miles out and back
  • 200’ elevation gain
  • Easy

Buffalo Park Trail

Behold, San Francisco Peaks
Behold, San Francisco Peaks, Photo by Alan Levine

Buffalo Park consists of a main loop that is flat, well-maintained and great for all levels of ability. This park stretches north into the Ponderosa forests before rolling up into the Dry Lake Hills. Not only do you get to take in a perfect view of Mount Elden in all its glory, there’s also a unique view of Mt. Humphreys, Arizona’s tallest peak. This beautiful local park offers a great option for families or younger hikers while still providing great views of the surrounding Flagstaff area. 

  • 2.2 mile loop
  • 100’ elevation gain
  • Easy

Arizona Trail

Arizona Trail Passage 34
Arizona Trail Passage 34, Photo by Coconino National Forest, Ariz.

The Arizona National Scenic Trail stretches 800 miles from Mexico to Utah across Arizona to link deserts, mountains, canyons, forests, history, communities and diverse peoples. If backpacking the entire trail is not up your alley, sectional day hikes of the AZT are a good option. Passage 33 of the Arizona Trail passes straight through Flagstaff and offers a great option for hikers to tackle close to the city. The north part of the trail runs along the east rim of McMillan Mesa then continues north through the heart of Buffalo Park. 

  • 3.4 miles out and back
  • 300’ elevation gain
  • Moderate

Featured Image: Desert Sky, Flagstaff, AZ, Photo by Don Graham

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