Hikes in Flagstaff
If you’re planning an adventure to the Grand Canyon State, there’s more than cactus and desert to be found. With peaks reaching over 3,840 m nestled right near the city, Flagstaff is closer in scenery and hiking opportunities to Colorado in some ways, but with its own fascinating perks. Volcanic craters, golden aspen forests, wildflowers and cacti, deep canyons and ruins–these trails have more to experience than you might have thought! With so many trailheads right within city limits, you can access the outdoors from your doorstep in Flagstaff, and there are trails here for every age and skill level.
Wherever your adventures in Flagstaff take you, a few things will remain constant: the San Francisco Peaks dominating the sky, the emerald Ponderosa forests stretching in every direction, and the welcoming charm of this down-to-earth city. Whether you’re exploring Flagstaff’s trails on two feet or otherwise, read on to see some of the top trails in and around the city.
15 Must-Do Hikes in Flagstaff
Ready to start exploring? We’re making it easy to get going with 15 of our favorite hikes in Flagstaff. Our list includes short, easy trails, challenging treks, and everything in between. Work your way through as many as you can on the weekends or make the most of your downtime while visiting the city–you’ll want to keep exploring once you get into that pristine mountain air.
Our top hikes in Flagstaff are chosen to show off the highlights of Flagstaff’s landscape, from mountains to volcanic craters and forests. While starting with these 15 hikes is a great way to get acquainted with Flagstaff’s hiking scene, remember that we’ve got plenty more route guides to keep you adventuring.
- Humphrey’s Peak - Humphrey’s Peak is on the list for many in the Arizona hiking scene, and no wonder: this is the tallest peak in the entire state, standing at 3,851 m. There’s no better view of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness and its sea of mountains, and there’s no higher peak in Arizona you could be standing on. The mountain is sometimes called “Arizona’s Little Colorado” since it seems almost out of place in the state.
- Lava River Cave Hike - The Lava River Cave is one of the most unique and fascinating hikes in the state of Arizona. Climbing down under the earth, you’ll walk (and sometimes crouch) through an underground cave system formed by a volcanic blast over 700,000 years ago. Here, the lava flowed through the earth, with the top, sides, and bottom cooling first while the middle continued to flow, creating the river-like system that exists today.
- Buffalo Park Trail - Buffalo Park Trail is one of many parks that serve the outdoorsy people of Flagstaff, but what makes this one so special? We think it’s the park’s location perched atop a mesa that makes it feel just far enough away from the city. With an imposing view of Elden Mountain, it’s a natural oasis that takes only minutes to reach from many neighborhoods in the city.
- Fatman’s Loop Trail - The Fatman's Loop Trail is a very popular hike in Flagstaff thanks to its ease of access and unique views. This loop hugs the eastern slopes of Elden Mountain, Flagstaff’s defining local peak. There are interesting rocks on this hike that give it its name: two sloping rocks that touch at the top, requiring you to shimmy through… But there’s lots of room.
- Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Loop - For hikers and campers spending time in Lockett Meadow, the views just can’t disappoint. This basin is tucked within the San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff, remnants of stratovolcanoes from many years past. The Inner Basin is on the eastern side of some of the highest mountains in the state (including the highest, Humphreys Peak). The aspen forest on this trail is a real gem in the fall.
- Mars Hill Trail - Mars Hill Trail is a relaxing route in every sense of the word. This hike leads you through a pine forest, and the dappled light and sound of the wind in the trees is enough to help anyone disconnect from the day-to-day. The viewpoints aren’t as huge as other hikes nearby, but the serene nature of the trail is definitely worth adding it to your list.
- Kachina Trail #150 - The Kachina Trail is one of Flagstaff’s most popular hiking trails. It can be used as a standalone adventure or it can be used as a connector between the Humphreys Peak Trail and Weatherford Trail #102. On its own, it’s a beautiful meandering trail that hugs the southwestern flanks of some of Arizona’s tallest mountains, Agassiz Peak and Fremont Peak.
- Old Caves Crater Trail - The Old Caves Crater Trail hints at northern Arizona’s volcanic past. Around 700,000 years ago, a volcanic field in this region experienced multiple eruptions and lava flows that shaped the landscape. The San Francisco Peaks are remnants of this volcanic range, but smaller features, like this crater and its caves, are direct results of volcanic activity many years past.
- Sandys Canyon Trail - The Sandys Canyon Trail is an interesting hike not far outside of Flagstaff in the Coconino National Forest. This hike provides a few lovely photo spots as you make your way down into Walnut Canyon. Appreciate the layers of rock visible in the canyon, which are the same layers you’d observe in the nearby Grand Canyon.
- Elden Lookout Trail - The Elden Lookout Trail is a very popular hike in Flagstaff, thanks to its ease of access and unique views. Starting right within city limits, this hard hike climbs up the eastern side of Elden Mountain, Flagstaff’s defining local peak. Earn great views of the city, mountains, and forests that surround it after a sweaty climb to the top.
- Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop - The Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop is a fabulous hike that climbs up and through two canyons on the northern flanks of Aubineau Peak and Humphreys Peak. This route is beloved for its varied scenery. The star of the show is the Grand Canyon, which is visible from the top of the loop 70 miles away. For this view alone, we recommend trying to hike this route on a sunny, clear day so that you can see as far as possible.
- Aspen Nature Loop - The Aspen Nature Loop is a delightful hike through most seasons, but it’s very well-known as a fall hike when the forests of aspens go gold. Hikers flock to this loop in the fall, and for good reason–it’s beautiful! Speaking of the trees, some of the pine stands and bristlecones you can spot higher up on the Peaks have been living for over a thousand years!
- Walnut Canyon Island Trail - Over 700 years ago, a pueblo community lived within Walnut Canyon. While the community is long gone, their structures still partially stand. Peer into the rooms of their dwellings as you explore this short, interesting historic trail. This is an ideal trail if you want to connect with Native history in Flagstaff.
- Sunset Trail - The Sunset Trail leads you up and across some of the most visible mountains in Flagstaff’s skyline, heading up Little Elden Mountain to the top of T-V Hill, next to Elden Mountain’s summit lookout. This route is used by hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers, and is enjoyed for its lovely views, especially when the fall colors start to paint the mountainsides.
- Tunnel Spring Hike - Some hikes are just made for quiet mornings, and Tunnel Spring is one of them. This is a relaxing route through the forest that leads you to the top of Observatory Mesa. With a calm forest and a route that can be customized with added length, this is a great, relaxing hike.
Scroll down to see the full list of hiking trails in Flagstaff.
When is the Best Time to Hike in Flagstaff
Flagstaff experiences very different weather than what you’d expect from Arizona. Throw your ideas of scorching summers and warm January hikes out the window–we’re playing by different rules here!
Flagstaff has four distinct seasons: a cool spring, a warm summer, a pleasant fall, and a snowy winter. The hiking season normally runs from March through November, but some trails will be accessible year-round and some will become snowed in.
We love hiking in this area between May and mid-October. Spring and summer bring wildflowers and the fall colors in Flagstaff are excellent. Keep in mind that Arizona experiences summer monsoons, which are heavy, brief rainstorms that can bring lightning and flash flooding. Monsoons tend to come in the afternoons, so getting early starts on your hikes is wise.
Other Outdoor Activities in Flagstaff
While the trails are excellent, hiking is certainly not the only way to explore Flagstaff! This region boasts plenty of space for other outdoor activities.
Adventurers on two wheels can take advantage of the many mountain bike trails. Those with four-legged friends can explore horse and dog-friendly trails. Campers can set up their tents in sites near the city, and birders and animal lovers will be spoiled with the fascinating variety of species that call the desert home.
How to Plan a Trip to Flagstaff
Planning a trip to Flagstaff is pleasantly less high-pressure than planning trips to some of Arizona’s other outdoor destinations. You won’t find long lines of cars vying for trailhead parking here, nor will you be strapped for places to stay.
Flagstaff has a good selection of accommodation options, from hotels in each corner of the city to short and long-term vacation rentals. If you’re wanting to prioritize hiking, we suggest staying in the northern or northeastern parts of the city to have easy access to the Dry Lake Hills and Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
Renting a car will make getting around the city as easy as possible, especially since Flagstaff lacks a well-developed transit system. Trailhead parking is normally easy to find, save for the busiest weekends. You may wish to rent a high-clearance vehicle since some of the forest roads that lead to the trailheads are rough.
Some of the parks and recreation areas near Flagstaff charge modest day-use fees, but many of the routes are free to hike. Check in with each area you want to hike in to plan ahead for possible fees.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Flagstaff
What is Flagstaff known for?
Walnut Canyon, the Arizona Snow Bowl, Grand Falls, Sunset Crater… Flagstaff is known for its incredible landscapes. From volcanoes to canyons, it’s an adventurer’s dream. Flagstaff is also known for very low light pollution (stargazing, anyone?), and its Western culture.
Does Flagstaff get snow?
Oh, yes. Flagstaff averages over 100 inches of snow each year.
What is the population of Flagstaff?
As of 2021, the population of Flagstaff was just under 80,000.
Does it get really hot in Flagstaff?
Flagstaff’s summers are warm but not nearly as scorching hot as the rest of the state. Expect average highs in the 80-88°F range.
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Best Hikes in Flagstaff
Humphreys Peak Hike
Humphreys Peak is one to put on the top of your Arizona hiking bucket list, as this mountain is the tallest point in the entire state at 3,851 m. It’s a challenging route with stiff elevation gain, but most strong hikers can find their way to the top thanks to the lack of technical challenges (aside from some light scrambling) and the clearly defined trail. From the top, you’ll enjoy an expansive view of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
Humphreys Peak can be hiked year-round, but the winter months make for a more demanding climb. You’ll need snowshoes and you may benefit from packing ice axes and microspikes, too. Navigating the route is more difficult in the winter when the trail is covered in snow. Try the summer ascent first, which is generally easier to follow and more suitable for less experienced hikers. Bring a camera for that top-of-the-state view!
Lava River Cave Hike
Over 700,000 years ago, the Lava River Caves in Flagstaff were formed when molten rock erupted from a volcanic vent near Hart Prairie. The lava flow cooled from the outside in, while the center continued to flow, creating the hollowed-out caves that are present today. Evidence of this molten-hot activity can be found in the stone icicles that hang from the ceiling, which were formed when blasts of heat melted the rock ceiling, allowing it to drip down as it cooled.
The hike itself is very unique. You’ll climb down the rock into the cave, which is pitch-black without the help of headlamps and flashlights. Consistently about 42 degrees year-round, it’s a dark, cool environment to explore. Sturdy boots are a must due to the sharp rock footing, and you definitely need to come prepared with two or three sources of light. A dead battery down here will leave you over a mile from the nearest light source.
Buffalo Park Trail
Buffalo Park might just be one of the prettiest parks in all of Arizona, and Flagstaff residents can stroll its wildflower-lined walkways without needing to leave the city. In fact, this park is accessible from most parts of the city without too much hassle. Buffalo Park sits atop a mesa with a wonderful view of Elden Mountain, and the Buffalo Park Trail is a very easy loop that allows users of all ages and skill levels the chance to appreciate the park.
Buffalo Park is one of Flagstaff’s busiest and most-used parks, and as a result, the trails are very nicely maintained. They’re suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, as well as bikes and dogs. The park is open throughout the year, so stop by whenever you like. We especially enjoy exploring it when the wildflowers are blooming.
Fatman’s Loop Trail
Fatman’s Loop Trail is one of Flagstaff’s most popular trails. This moderate 3.9 km loop climbs along the eastern slopes of Elden Mountain, which is a main focal point from many parts of the city. The coolest parts of the trail are the rocks and trees, as you’ll see rocks with face-like caves in them. Along the route, you will climb between rocks tipped over towards each other, and make your way up smooth stone steps. It’s an interesting peek at the volcanic past of the Flagstaff area and lots of fun for kids and adults alike.
The trees on this route are excellent, with several different species displaying their individual quirks. Take the time to revel in your surroundings on this loop and you’ll find lots to appreciate. The hike itself is moderately difficult, but still suitable for most skill levels. We do advise bringing a downloaded GPS track to help at unmarked junctions.
Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Loop
The Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Loop leads you through a gorgeous basin in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness underneath some of Arizona’s tallest mountains–Humphreys Peak, Aubineau Peak, and Rees Peak. With those kinds of mountains surrounding you, the views have to be good. This route leads you through a meadow that’s easily accessible from the Lockett Meadow Campground, making it a perfect trip for campers.
This route is moderately difficult, but we’d say it’s on the easier side of moderate. Hikers of most skill levels and ages will be able to complete this route. It’s especially brilliant in the fall when the aspens at the start of the route are alive with bright color. The drive to the trailhead might be the most intimidating part of the whole trip; buses, trailers, and RVs are not recommended up here.
Inner Basin Trail
The Lockett Meadow Inner Basin is one of the top hikes near Flagstaff. The Inner Basin Trail leads you through a stunning aspen forest to a basin in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. The basin is tucked underneath some of Arizona’s tallest mountains–Humphreys Peak, Aubineau Peak, and Rees Peak. This route leads you through a meadow that’s accessible from the Lockett Meadow Campground, making it a perfect trip for campers. Take note that this approach is an out-and-back, and is shorter and more direct than the Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Loop, which you can take if you want a longer hike with a different return trip.
This route is moderate, but it’s definitely on the easier end of moderate. Most skill levels and ages will be able to complete this route without difficulty. This is a very popular hike in the fall when the aspens at the beginning of the hike are in their full fall colors. The drive to the trailhead might be the most intimidating part of the whole trip; buses, trailers, and RVs are not recommended up here.
Kachina Trail #150
In the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, the Kachina Trail #150 links Humphreys Peak Trail and Weatherford Trail #102. This is a popular route all on its own though, featuring beautiful mountain views and an approachable difficulty level. This route hugs the southwestern flanks of Agassiz Peak and Fremont Peak with a view of Schultz Peak. It’s a great trek if you want to be close to the mountains without needing to work all that hard. This is an especially enjoyable hike in the fall when the aspens turn color.
The Kachina Trail #150 is a longer hike, but the elevation gain is very gradual and spread out, so there aren’t many intense climbs. For this reason, we consider this route beginner and kid-friendly, although families may need to turn back if the entire distance is too much. With peekaboo views the whole way, this won’t prevent a hike on this route from being an enjoyable outing.
Old Caves Crater Trail
The Old Caves Crater Trail is a fascinating hike that reveals a small piece of the volcanic history of the Flagstaff area. Many years ago, a volcanic field in northern Arizona shaped the landscape through eruptions, with the crater and caves along this route remaining as two small pieces of this past. This hike leads you around the entire crater area, where you can explore the caves and hollowed-out areas where looser volcanic material has been eroded over the years.
This hike is moderately difficult. There are some switchbacks and a bit of elevation gain to complete, but it’s still suitable for strong beginners and adventurous kids. Two words of caution: the signage can be confusing, so consider bringing a downloaded GPS route. Additionally, there is a lot of wildlife on this trail (particularly deer), so remember that dogs need to be kept on leash. Expect heavy traffic on this hike.
Sandys Canyon Trail
Sandys Canyon Trail is an interesting hike just outside of Flagstaff that makes for a super convenient adventure for campers at Canyon Vista Campground. This hike is 3 miles long and is rated as easy thanks to its relative lack of elevation gain. You’ll hike down into Walnut Canyon for a peek at the interesting geology of this area, and can also enjoy a good view of the San Francisco Peaks.
This hike is pleasant but not jaw-dropping on its own, so we do recommend continuing further from the end of the trail to reach Fisher Point, which is a gratifying endpoint. There are actually quite a few trails in this area that you can use to extend your adventure should you wish to. If not, you can still enjoy the beautiful canyon and the serenity of the forest.
Elden Lookout Trail
The Elden Lookout Trail is a hard hike near Flagstaff that leads you up Elden Mountain (as the name would suggest). This mountain is one of the most obvious geographic features around Flagstaff, and getting on top of it can show you both the city and the surrounding landscape in a fresh, beautiful way. You can also use this route to quickly traverse over to T-V Hill, whose summit is just northwest of Elden’s summit.
This hike is rated as hard, and we don’t recommend it for beginners or children. While there aren’t any significant technical challenges to note, there’s a fair amount of elevation gain required and you’ll be heading up, up, up, then down, down, down. Poles might be helpful.
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