The Flagstaff Ranger District encompasses nearly 850,000 acres of National Forest lands around the Flagstaff area, from Mormon Lake and Anderson Mesa to north of the San Francisco Peaks. At 12,643 feet, the San Francisco Peaks is not only the dominant feature of the forest area we call the Volcanic Highlands, it's also the highest mountain in Arizona. Three of the summits that ring this dormant volcano's now quiet inner caldera are higher than any other mountain in the state.
This mountain is sacred to the native peoples that live in the area and its soaring profile set against a blue Arizona sky serves as a source of awe to contemporary residents and visitors. Views from the summit of the San Francisco Peaks stretch to the Grand Canyon's North Rim over eighty miles away. Hiking, sightseeing, wildlife watching and skiing are the predominant recreation activities enjoyed in this land of mountains, forests and lava flows.
Flagstaff Ranger District, extends from north of the Peaks to the south. This rolling highland is a land of ponderosa pine forests and pinyon/juniper woodlands clustered around broad prairies and small lakes. Arizona's largest natural lake, Mormon Lake, is located here. The area is also known for its plentiful wildlife. Large herds of elk roam the forests and edgelands. Bald eagles and ospreys live and hunt around the lakes. Pronghorn antelope graze the prairies.
Principal recreation activities among the lakes and prairies are boating, fishing, camping, and wildlife watching. The area also boasts some excellent cross-country skiing in good snow years.
See the Winter Recreation page for a recreation map, backcountry permit information, and more info!
View of the San Francisco Peaks from the interior of extinct volcano's crater, the Inner Basin. Photo by Deborah Lee Soltesz, 2009. Credit U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest.
Here's a wilderness experience that takes you as high as you can get in Arizona. This 18,960 acre roadless area encompasses most of the upper reaches of the San Francisco Peaks including Humphreys Peak, Arizona's highest point at 12,643 feet. The area is named for the Hopi dieties, or Kachinas, whom that culture's mythology tells us live here for part of every year. In mid-summer these dieties fly from the top of the peaks to the Hopi mesas as clouds bringing the nourishing rains of the seasonal monsoons.
Not surprisingly, this most prominent feature on the northern Arizona landscape is sacred to all of the area's indigenous people and has become a source of awe and wonder to its more recently arrived visitors and residents as well.
A number of trails offer access to this mountain which is a dormant volcano that last erupted roughly two million years ago. Some of those 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. That once inhospitable crater now supports a thriving stand of white barked aspens and hardy mixed conifers. Other routes offer access to the forests and meadows which carpet the mountain's lower slopes. Views from any of these trails are well worth the effort of a visit.
Note: In the winter, a free Backcountry Permit is required when accessing the Kachina Peaks Wilderness from Arizona Snowbowl or Snowbowl Road. It can be obtained from either of the Forest Service offices in Flagstaff during regular business hours, or at Arizona Snowbowl Agassiz Lodge on weekends.
The Lake Mary recreation corridor centers on a pair of twin lakes near Flagstaff, Arizona. Two dams along the valley form two reservoirs offering fishing, boating, wildlife watching, and other lake activities. The corridor is accessed along Lake Mary Road (Forest Highway 3) a few minutes southeast of Flagstaff. There are picnic grounds, boat launches, campgrounds, and hiking trails in the area, and Lake Mary Road is popular with bicyclists.
The lakes are open year-round. In the warmer months (early May through early October), a fee is required to use the day-use areas, which are managed by a concessionaire. Vist individual sites for details and photos.
Upper Lake Mary is the largest of Flagstaff's twin lakes. This long, narrow reservoir is especially popular with power boaters and water skiers because there is no motor size limit on it. It's also popular with those who prefer people-power or windpower over horsepower. For those who like fishing, the lake has northern pike, channel cat, crappie, and some trout.
Lower Lake Mary is the smaller of Flagstaff's twin lakes. It has a tendency to disappear during the long dry spells that periodically hit this area. When the lake has water, its banks are usually lined with anglers trying to catch the trout which the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks here. If it stays full for a year or two, it will pick up a population of northern pike and catfish.
A volcanic cinder cone and lava flow form the centerpiece of this 10,141 acre wilderness. Though the area last erupted around the time that knighthood was about to flower in Europe, the volcanic features you'll see here look as if they had happened much more recently. Molten rock frozen in time still shows scrape marks left as it squeezed up through cracks in the cooler surface. Petrified bubbles of once boiling stone look as fresh as the sparse vegetation that struggles for a foothold on this rugged moonscape.
Plentiful ruins scattered across this inhospitable landscape prove the resourcefulness of an ancient people who lived here even as the land still fumed and spouted. In places you can also see remnants of the gardens they cultivated using volcanic cinders as a water-retaining mulch. On the horizon, the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, and the Painted Desert add another dimension to the view.
The Mogollon Rim is a rugged escarpment that forms the southern limit of the Colorado Plateau. It extends across the entire forest and provides excellent views within Plateau Country and Desert Canyon Country as well. Dropping as much as 2,000 feet in some areas, the Rim provides some of the most far-reaching scenery in Arizona. Views stretch from its rocky precipice to Four Peaks of the Mazatzals northeast of Phoenix.
Needless to say, sightseeing is a favorite activity along the Rim, but this forest area also boasts a historic system of hiking and horseback trails, a couple of picturesque lakes for boating and fishing, and backcountry skiing for wilderness adventurers. The Mogollon Rim is home to Camp Colley, an outdoor adventure camp at Little Moqui, run by the City of Phoenix, Parks and Recreation.
The photo above (see larger view) was taken by Mark Hickcox, Civil Engineer Tech on the Mogollon Rim District, from the Hutch Mountain Lookout Tower in the summer of 2011. It is looking south-east toward Long Lake.
Recreation activities for the Mogollon Rim District:
The Cabin Loop Trail System is the link between the earliest fire guard cabin network in this area of the Mogollon Rim and has its roots in the beginning of the Forest Service era here. The trail was developed between the General Springs Cabin, Pinchot Cabin, and Buck Springs Fire Guard Station. Administratively, the cabins were part of the Bly Ranger District, now the Blue Ridge Office of the Mogollon Rim Ranger District.
The Bly Ranger District had a winter administrative headquarters at the Old Bly Ranger Station located about 10 miles north of the present Blue Ridge Office. The summer headquarters for the Bly District was the Blue Ridge cabin near Rock Crossing Campground. These two cabins are no longer in existence.
The trail passes through some of the most spectacular country in Arizona and you will encounter a variety of landforms, vegetative communities, and a number of springs and perennial water sources. It is important to remember that trails such as those that make up the Cabin Loop Trail System provide the only access to the country in the early days. These and other trails were used and maintained by early Forest Rangers, ranchers and settlers. Livestock was driven up the Rim from the Tonto Basin and grazed during the summer up on the Rim. Portions of the trails are still used by ranchers for moving livestock. Historic accounts tell us that the old timers who made and used the trails blazed them to a height of 6 or 7 feet so the trails could be followed even after a deep snow. Maintenance and repair of the old telephone line was a priority for the rangers each spring. Their accounts indicate that snow lasted late here and it wasn't uncommon for them to have a ride over 4 foot drifts during spring rounds.
The Forest Service is proud of our history and we hope that you will enjoy your "walk into the past".
The colorful collection of buttes, pinnacles, mesas and canyons surrounding Sedona is famous the world around for its red rock vistas. Over the years, this area has served as the setting of many western novels and movies and has been the subject of uncounted paintings, photographs and other works of art. The remains of ancient wetlands, these crimson cliffs have been carved by the forces of the desert into one of nature's most magnificent masterpieces.
No matter what you do in Red Rock Country, you're always sightseeing. Ways to get even closer to all this scenery include: hiking, horseback riding, taking a scenic drive, sliding down a natural waterslide, picnicking, camping, taking lots of photos and fishing in Oak Creek. The Red Rock District includes some 160,000 acres of magnificent splendor. Some areas require a pass to park, so be sure to check out the information about our Red Rock Pass Program.
Fossil Creek, one of two "Wild and Scenic" rivers in Arizona, seems to appear out of nowhere, gushing 20,000 gallons a minute out of a series of springs at the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon. Over the years these calcium laden waters have laid down huge deposits of a type of limestone called travertine. Read more...
No more fighting the crowds at Fossil Creek! Visitors proclaim the new permit system is a roaring success.
Spring-Summer Season (April 1 - October 1): A reserved, printed permit is required. Reserve a spot at Recreation.gov for any of the parking areas in the Fossil Creek area. During the Spring-Summer Season, the Fossil Creek and Springs area is day use only. Camping, campfires, and glass containers are prohibited.
You can get to know Red Rock Country from top to bottom in the Munds Mountain Wilderness. This 18,150 acre area stretches from the tops of Munds and Lee mountains to the bottoms of Jacks, Woods, and Rattlesnake canyons. In the high country, you'll enjoy views that stretch all the way from the floor of colorful Oak Creek Canyon to the top of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona's highest mountain. From the trails that traverse canyon floors, you'll get an entirely different perspective on this area's red rock magnificence, looking up at crimson canyon walls set against a deep blue Arizona sky.
The area is very convenient to the villages of Sedona and Oak Creek, extending right up to the edge of their posh resorts and galleries. Within this bit of suburban wilderness you'll find two of the area's most famous and most picturesque landmarks, Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock. Many people believe there is spiritual energy in these rocks, concentrated in centers they call vortexes. Whether you follow this spiritual belief or not, you'll be one of a very few if you don't experience your own energizing bliss among these picturesque formations.
A number of trails offer access to the wilderness. Two you may want to try are Jacks Canyon Trail and the Hot Loop Trail. Both lead from canyon bottom to high overlook. Quite likely you'll have them to yourself, just you, the jackrabbits and the rest of the wildlife, that is.
Trails in Munds Mountain Wilderness
The following trails and areas are partially or completely inside the Wilderness. Bicycles, unmanned aircraft (including quadcopters, or "drones"), and other mechanized equipment are prohibited in designated Wilderness Areas by federal law.
Oak Creek Canyon is a gorge carved into the edge of the Mogollon Rim of the Colorado Plateau along the Oak Creek Fault. Tectonic forces shifting the land to either side of the fault and subsequent erosion by Oak Creek have created a spectacular canyon where the geologic history of this area is an open book.
The Canyon is approximately 12 miles long. Oak Creek flows year-round along the bottom of the Canyon, providing water for plants and wildlife, as well as fishing and swimming opportunities. Oak Creek continues on through Sedona, Arizona, meeting up with the Verde River southeast of Cottonwood, Arizona.
The depth of the Canyon ranges from 800 to 2000 feet, with trails providing access from the Canyon’s bottom up to the 6500-foot eastern rim and 7200-foot western rim. Some of these trails follow historic routes early Oak Creek Canyon settlers used to access the top of the plateau in the days before the road was built. Trails on the west side of the Canyon head into Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.
Approximately 65 million years ago, during a period of great mountain building, movement along Oak Creek Fault caused the east side of what is now Oak Creek Canyon to shift upwards approximately 600 feet. The exposed top rock layers eroded away until the eastern and western sides of the fault were level once again.
A few more millions of years passed, and a canyon had formed. Streams carrying gravel, then lava, flowed into the canyon from the north. In the past six million years, the fault became active again and the modern Oak Creek Canyon was carved along it. This time, the fault caused the eastern rim of the Canyon to drop around 700 feet lower than the western rim.
One of the best places to get the big picture view of the Canyon’s fascinating geologic history is Oak Creek Vista. The Vista provides a view from the top down the middle of the Canyon, where the eastern drop is easily seen.
This clear, cool brook remains pleasantly secluded in the deep red rock canyon it has cut into the southern rim of the Colorado Plateau. For much of its length, the land bordering Wet Beaver Creek has been declared a Wilderness Area, the Wet Beaver Wilderness. In addition to the opportunities for solitude such an area offers, the stream's pools and riffles are a popular place to fish, hike, swim, and bird watch. The waters of the stream are stocked with trout. The lush riparian area beside its banks is alive with a full palette of songbirds. The desert beyond that oasis bristles with the highly adapted plants of the upper Sonoran Desert.
The second largest canyon to emerge from Arizona's Red Rock Country is a lesser known, but just as scenic, cousin of famous Oak Creek Canyon. But you won't find any roads, developed campgrounds or crowds in Sycamore Canyon, just 55,937 acres of wilderness marked by colorful cliffs, soaring pinnacles and one of the world's rarest habitats, a desert riparian area. The wilderness encompasses all of Sycamore Canyon from its forested rim near Williams, Arizona to its desert canyon mouth in the Verde Valley. This area is home to black bear and mountain lion as well as a number of less celebrated but just as notable creatures.
At night, in the flicker of your dying fire, you may catch a glimpse of a notorious camp robber, the bandit-masked ringtail cat making off with a bit of tomorrow's lunch. Recently these wide-eyed relatives of the raccoon were designated Arizona's state animal in a poll of the state's school children. More likely you'll notice canyon wrens and hermit thrushes along the trail during the day. They'll catch your ear as well as your eye. If you hike to Taylor Cabin you'll see the picturesque lair of another of the canyon's historic residents, the American cowboy. The Parsons Spring Trail meanders up a fertile desert riparian area, a habitat as rare as it is productive. The Sycamore Rim Trail (Kaibab National Forest) skirts the canyon's upper reaches through an area of secluded pools and tall forests.
This area is sufficiently unique to have been the first in Arizona to be designated a Wilderness Area in the 1972. A number of trails provide access to its beautiful and fragile landscape. This guide mentions only the most prominent. Those who wish to explore further will find much to reward their efforts.
Attractions: Wilderness solitude, trails for hiking and horseback riding, red rocks, pinnacles, buttes and arches, photography & wildlife viewing, swimming, and fishing, history (Native American ruins, historic cabins).
Sycamore Canyon is the second largest canyon is Arizona and offers hikers plenty of solitude and natural beauty. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness was Arizona's first Wilderness Area, designated in 1972. The trails in the upper part of the canyon are accessed from Flagstaff, Arizona, and are mainly at higher elevations, primarily in forests of pine, oak, and juniper. The canyon is marked by colorful cliffs, soaring pinnacles, and desert riparian areas. It is home to black bear and mountain lions, as well as many other creatures. The Wilderness falls within the Prescott, Kaibab, and Coconino National Forests. The Coconino National Forest manages the canyon on the east side of Sycamore Creek.
Sycamore Canyon can be very hot and dry during the summer months. There are several springs located near the northeastern Wilderness trails which normally have water year round, but hikers should not depend on this water being available. All ground water should always be treated or filtered. There is plenty of shade along all of the trails as you descend into Sycamore Canyon through a thick forest of ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, and juniper trees. The lower part of Winter Cabin Trail and part of Kelsey Trail takes you through chaparral type vegetation which offers spectacular views of Sycamore Canyon.
The Sycamore Canyon WildernessNortheast Trail System within the Flagstaff Ranger District consists of five trails with a combined mileage of 11.3 miles with the longest trail being 5.6 miles. These trails include:
Each trail is suitable for day hikes or longer overnight loop hikes. Winter Cabin joins up with Sycamore Basin Trail on the Prescott National Forest. Visit the Prescott National Forest Sycamore Canyon Wilderness page for additional information about trails on the western side of Sycamore Creek.
Sycamore Canyon is the second largest canyon is Arizona and offers hikers plenty of solitude and natural beauty. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness was Arizona's first Wilderness Area, designated in 1972. The canyon is marked by colorful cliffs, soaring pinnacles, and desert riparian areas. It is home to black bear and mountain lions, as well as many other creatures. The Wilderness falls within the Prescott, Kaibab, and Coconino National Forests. The Coconino National Forest manages the canyon on the east side of Sycamore Creek.
Sycamore Canyon can be very hot and dry during the summer months. Most of the trails in the lower part of the Wilderness do not have reliable water sources. All ground water should always be treated or filtered.
The Sycamore Canyon WildernessSoutheast Trail System on the Red Rock Ranger District consists of three trails. These trails include:
The deep, rocky canyon cut by West Clear Creek, as it slices its way free of the Mogollon rim, is home to West Clear Creek Wilderness, one of the most unique Wilderness Areas in the Southwest. This gorge is so narrow that in places the stream fills it from wall to wall. To descend one has to swim or wade, not once but as many as 15 or 20 times. Lower reaches of the canyon are more accessible and provide excellent places for secluded recreation such as swimming, hiking, trout fishing, and wildlife watching. In addition to the many colorful birds in this area, it is home to some interesting larger creatures such as black bear, javelina, and mountain lion.
Campground Season: All year at Clear Creek Campground near Highway 260. Clear Creek Campground is open year-round.
Bullpen Day Use Area has vault toilets and access to the nearby Blodgett Basin Trail and West Clear Creek Trail. There are no other amenities at the Bullpen area. There is no camping (dispersed or campground) at Bullpen.
Hiking through the canyon's inner gorge is difficult and can be dangerous. It is not recommended for inexperienced hikers.
No mechanical vehicles in Wilderness.
The western portion of West Clear Creek is managed by the Red Rock Ranger District (928-203-2900). The eastern portion is managed by the Mogollon Rim Ranger District (928-477-2255). The District boundary runs north-south through the Home Take Draw area.
In an isolated corner of the Coconino National Forest, Willow and Clover Creeks flow together to create West Clear Creek. Several writers have described this stream as one of the most remote and beautiful in the American Southwest. The canyon that the creek has cut into the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau is so deep and narrow that to proceed down it one is required to wade or swim as many as 15 to 20 pools that stretch from canyon wall to canyon wall. Some are as long as a quarter mile.
It goes without saying that any place this remote and inaccessible provides superior opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. For most of its length the stream is a valuable fishing resource, too, and is stocked with trout by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Trails leading into the canyon from the rim attract hardy adventurers seeking good fishing and secluded swimming holes. Trails that lead up from the canyon mouth get a lot of use by weekend anglers, picnickers, day hikers, and backpackers who use the primitive trailhead at the old Bull Pen Ranch.