Flagstaff Chamber Front Office Manager (and counselor to leaf peepers everywhere) Tim Rodriquez advises us that the peak of the fall foliage season is coming a little earlier this year, possibly because of the generous monsoon rains in the summer. Best time to view is between now and about Oct. 13 (we equivocate because it’s nature and as such, unpredictable.) The north side of the San Francisco Peaks and Lockett Meadow/Inner Basin on the east side are already at their apex of color change. Meanwhile west and south of the Peaks are quickly approaching their best viewing opportunities.
Here’s rundown of Tim’s favorite drives and hikes:
Hart Prarie Loop
(graded dirt road)
Take US 180 (Humphreys Street) which starts at Route 66, the main thoroughfare in Flagstaff. Head north on US 180 for 10.8 miles to Forest Service Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road). Hart Prairie Road loops around through the aspen groves back to US 180. Turn left on US 180 and head back to Flagstaff.
(graded dirt road)
Schultz Pass is north of downtown Flagstaff. Proceed on US 180 to the Museum of Northern Arizona (about 3 miles). Just a little ways past the Museum is Schultz Pass Road. Turn right and you’ll be heading east. Continue to follow the signs for this road. After a short duration, the road becomes dirt. Continue (on FR 420) as this takes you up and over Schultz Pass (elev. ~8100 ft.) and all the way to Hwy. 89. Road is approximately 12 miles in length.
(graded dirt road)
From the Flagstaff Mall, drive north on Hwy 89 for 11 miles. At the “Sunset Crater National Monument” turnoff sign, turn left (away from Sunset Crater) at the “Forest Access” sign. Follow the marked signs to Lockett Meadow via Forest Road 552. This road is approximately 4.5 miles. In order to see the all the aspen groves in the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks, hike the Inner Basin Trail for 4 miles one-way.
Take US 180 (Humphreys Street) which starts at Route 66, the main thoroughfare in Flagstaff. Head north on US 180 for 7 miles to the Arizona Snowbowl Road turnoff. This is a two-lane paved road which proceeds up the southwest flank of the San Francisco Peaks to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort. The Arizona Snowbowl Road is approximately 7 miles in length. About ½ way up, you’ll encounter groves of aspen. There are a number of places to pull off, and some of these have hiking trails which lead further into these groves of trees. At the top of the road (roughly 9200 feet in elevation) you may want to take a “Scenic Skyride” up to 11,200 feet!
Follow Fort Valley Road/US 180 to the Arizona Snowbowl Road (see directions to Snowbowl on reverse). Drive up the Snowbowl road about 6.5 paved miles to the sign at the end that will point to the parking area and trailhead. This trail is easy and goes through a number of aspen groves. Total trail length one way is 5 miles.
Abineau/Bear Jaw Loop
Follow Fort Valley Road/US 180 north for approximately 19 miles. On the right will be the north (second) entrance for Forest Service (FS) road 151. Turn right on to this dirt road. Continue for roughly 1.6 miles to the junction with FS 418. Turn left on to this dirt road. Continue for 3.1 more miles to FR 9123-J. Turn right on to this dirt road. Follow this final road 0.6 miles to the parking lot for the trailheads. To see the majority of the aspen, go up the Bear Jaw trail. The entire loop is approximately 7 miles and has an elevation gain of 1760 feet and is therefore strenuous.
Follow the directions above for the Shultz Pass Road. The Weatherford Trail begins across the road (north) of Schultz Tank. This trail traverses through numerous aspen groves. It is rated from moderate to strenuous, depending on how far the trek continues. The complete trail is 9.9 miles one way and has an elevation gain of 4010 feet.
***Please take note of, and respect any and all closure signs!***