Fall Hiking Guide: Flagstaff

Written by Mare Czinar Category: Health & Fitness Issue: October 2011


••• - Best An abundance of water, interesting stuff to sniff and explore, easy-on-the-pads terrain and packs of other dogs to play with make these trails top-notch doggie destinations. 

•• - Good More challenging, longer and rougher, these hikes may put too much strain on older or inexperienced dogs.

• - Fair Only the most physically fit, provision-equipped dogs should attempt these “ruff” trails.


This unscientific formula (based on the author’s field observations) rates the probability of a mid-hike kiddie meltdown.
 •••: less than 20%
 ••: 50/50% (40/60% when chocolate treats or MP3 players are involved)
 •: 100%

In autumn, Flagstaff’s Quaking Aspens stand tall on the windward side of San Francisco Mountain. Here are five hikes that offer the best views of their splendid fall color.

On the western face of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, vast grasslands of wild roses, ferns and berries lap up against pine-studded slopes beneath an airborne tide of golden aspen leaves. This patchwork of wet meadows – collectively known as Hart Prairie – is home to some of the most beautiful aspen glens in the state. However, over the past 50 years Arizona’s aspen communities have been in decline. Non-native flora and fauna altered hydrology, and fire suppression has compromised their health. Without help, these elegant clonal propagators will likely disappear completely. That’s where the Hart Prairie Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project comes in. To save the aspens, the project seeks to restore the area to a more natural state through the use of forest thinning, sprout protection and prescribed burns. Wilson Meadow gives a glimpse of what the end results might look like – lots of open space with clumpy grasses and thickets of rare Bebb willows sharing the landscape with loosely woven stands of pines, firs and aspens.
Length: 2 miles roundtrip
Rating: easy
Elevation: 8,500-9,000 feet
Dog rating: This is a very sensitive area. Dogs must be on leash and owners must pack out all waste.
Kid rating: •••
Distance from Phoenix: 163 miles one way (roughly 2.5 hours)
Getting there: From Flagstaff, go 10 miles north on US 180 to milepost 225, turn right onto Hart Prairie Road (south access of FR 151) and continue 4.2 miles to FR 9007T on the right. Hint: If you reach the Nature Conservancy entrance, you’ve gone too far. Follow FR 9007T 0.2 miles to the trailhead. FR 151 is maintained dirt passable by sedan. FR 9007T requires a high-clearance vehicle.

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For those who want to experience Arizona’s fall foliage on foot but don’t have much time or hiking experience, this scenic loop trail at the base of Flagstaff’s Snowbowl ski area is just the ticket. Although short in length, this trail packs its dance card with views of the San Francisco Peaks and Kendrick Mountain, yawning vistas reaching all the way to Williams, lush meadows and, of course, brilliant aspen “conga lines” adorned with wispy, honey-colored crowns.
Length:  1.8 miles
Rating: easy
Elevation: 9,270-9,540 feet
Dog rating: •••   
Kid rating: •••
Distance from Phoenix: 160 miles one way (roughly 2.5 hours)
Getting there: From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US 180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and continue 6.2 miles to the Humphreys trailhead on the left. Hike begins on the northwest side of the parking lot.

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Known for its carousel of changing views and ecosystems, the Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop is among the most popular hikes in the Flagstaff area. The trail’s multiple personalities can be experienced several ways, although most hikers prefer to tackle the tougher part first by beginning on the Abineau trail.

From the signed trailhead, the path heads 2.3 miles up Abineau Canyon, climbing steeply on rugged terrain through dense woodlands, passing the scar of a February 2005 avalanche that scoured a large portion of the upper trail. At the 2-mile point (10,400 feet), the trail meets the talus slopes below Humphreys Peak and the junction with Abineau Canyon Road (FR 126, which appears on some older maps as Waterline or Pipeline Road).

From here, a barren, volcanic landscape spills north, melting into a pastel horizon. To connect with the Bear Jaw trail, follow the dirt road 2 miles to the (easy-to-miss) trail sign on the left. Along this segment, the pine-spruce-fir woodlands give way to alpine meadows and enchanting colonies of white-barked aspens. The trail is a bit treacherous in spots, so proceed with care and enjoy the fact that the final 2.5 miles are all downhill back to the trailhead.
Length: 6.8-mile loop
Rating: difficult
Elevation: 8,500-10,400 feet
Dog rating:
Kid rating:
Distance from Phoenix: 170 miles one way (roughly 3 hours)
Getting there: From Flagstaff, go 19.5 miles north on US 180 to milepost 235.2, turn right onto Hart Prairie Road (north access of FR 151), go 1.6 miles to FR 418, turn left and continue to the signed turnoff for Bear Jaw (FR 9123J) on the right near the 3-mile marker and follow the signs 0.6 miles to the trailhead. FR 151, 418 and 9123J are maintained dirt, suitable for sedan, but high clearance is recommended.

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This shallow “lake” in the middle of a breezy alpine meadow is actually the waterlogged remains of a volcanic crater. Vacillating between muddy marsh and a hip-deep reflecting pool, the tiny waterhole is a wildlife magnet. Footprints of raccoon, deer, skunk, birds and even bear can be seen on the lake’s grass-fringed margins. 

Beyond the lake, the trail meets passage No. 34 of the Arizona Trail under a canopy of amber-leafed aspens and fragrant Douglas firs. From here, hikers can opt to extend the trek by veering right (south) and hiking 2.5 miles to Snowbowl Road.
Length: 2 miles roundtrip to the lake or 7 miles roundtrip to Snowbowl Road
Rating: moderate
Elevation: 8,550-8,880 feet (9,200 feet to Snowbowl Road)
Dog rating: •••  
Kid rating: ••• to lake,  •• beyond the lake
Distance from Phoenix: 163 miles one way
Getting there: From Flagstaff, go roughly 10.5 miles north on US 180 to milepost 225.1, turn right onto Hart Prairie Road (FR 151, south access), go 6.4 miles to FR 627, turn right and drive 0.6 miles to the trailhead. FR 151 and 627 are maintained dirt, suitable for sedan, but high clearance is recommended.

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“Two springs run here.” Although it’s impossible to know for sure, that’s the popular interpretation of the cryptic pictographs painted on the cliffs above the source of Veit and Canadian Springs on the southwest slope of Flagstaff’s Agassiz Peak. The ancient artwork is just one of many interesting sights along this woodsy trail, which is why it buries the needle on the kid-pleasing scale. Allow time to explore the ruins of homesteader Ludwig Veit’s 1890s cabin, a historical marker commemorating the work of conservationist Lamar Haines and a concrete well and pond for collecting spring water along these 160 acres of wet meadows and old growth forest.
Length: 1.6-mile loop
Rating: easy
Elevation: 8,600-8,800 feet
Dog rating: •••  
Kid rating: •••
Distance from Phoenix: 158 miles one way (roughly 2.5 hours)
Getting there: From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US 180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and drive 4.5 miles to the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area trailhead on the right. Parking is very limited.

The Basics
Average October temperatures in Flagstaff: 63 high, 31 low
Sunrise: 6:21 a.m.
Sunset: 6:11 p.m.
Best time for fall color: mid-September to mid-November
Forest service fall color hotline: 800-354-4595; Updated weekly from mid-September through mid-November.
Flagstaff fall color primer: www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/fall-colors/fall_colors.shtml

Eat & Drink
Beaver Street Brewery: 928-779-0079, beaverstreetbrewery.com
Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar: 928-213-1021, brixflagstaff.com
Flagstaff Brewing Company: 928-773-1442, flagbrew.com
Macy’s European Coffeehouse: 928-774-2243, macyscoffee.net
Salsa Brava: 928-779-5293, salsabravaflagstaff.com

Sleep & Stay
England House B&B: 928-214-7350, englandhousebandb.com; $129-$199 per night
Hotel Monte Vista: 928-779-6971, 800-545-3068; hotelmontevista.com; $65-$125 per night. Pet-friendly, $35 pet fee
Hotel Weatherford: 928-779-1919, weatherfordhotel.com; $49-$130 per night
Ski Lift Lodge & Cabins: 928-774-0729 or 800-472-3599; arizonasnowbowl.com/lodging/summer.php; $79-$105 per night. Pet-friendly rooms available.

Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau: 928-774-9541, 800-842-7293,
Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest: 928-526-0866, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/peaks/rec_peaks.shtml
Sudden Aspen Decline Info:
Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest: 928-526-0866, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/forest-resources/forest-health/aspens/index.shtml
Friends of Northern Arizona Forests: friendsofnazforests.org
Aspen Delineation Project: aspensite.org/index.html

Road Conditions
All roads are passable by sedan unless otherwise noted. Call 5-1-1 for road conditions before heading out.