I hiked less than a mile before I decided that Red Mountain is one of the most overlooked Arizona hikes.
Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. The sign-in sheet at the trailhead listed fewer than 20 names for the day I hiked the trail – which was a day of stupifying heat in the Arizona desert. Yep, a perfect getaway near Flagstaff from a 119-degree day -- yet few people took advantage of it.
So what brought me here? Well, it’s a geological oddity – a 750,000-year-old cinder cone with its innards exposed. The volcano’s interior is an amphitheater-shaped maze of red-tinted spires and hoodoos. Geologists aren’t sure exactly what forces created the amphitheater that makes Red Mountain so distinct. Hey, a little mystery is good for your hike.
You’ll get something here that you can’t get at any other local hikes -- a look at a volcano’s interior, eroded over nearly a million years. Want to check out a few more photos? I have a slideshow with more shots. And be sure to watch the video at the end.
Judging from the meager traffic on the trail, that’s not enough. Maybe it’s all the other well-known Arizona hikes nearby -- the San Francisco Peaks, Lava River Cave, Sunset Crater and its lava flows, Walnut Canyon, just to name a few.
I’m not saying you should skip a bunch of other great hikes near Flagstaff. But if you want to find a less-traveled spot that offers something unusual, think about Red Mountain.
It is an easy hike, though. You’ll put on about four miles hiking there and back, plus crawling around in the amphitheatre. On the way there, I hiked past hundreds of buzzing cicadas and managed to scare a few bunnies. The trail eventually turns up a wash, so you’ll have to slog through some sand.
One of the cool things is how your perspective will change during the approach. The amphitheater seems fairly flat from a distance – kind of eye-catching, but not that spectacular. As you get closer, though, you start to see the scope of it. It becomes more of a landscape and less of a simple backdrop. My wife said it reminded her of the Valley of Love in Turkey crossed with Sedona.
Red Mountain is definitely on my list of favorites Arizona hikes. Weird geology is one of my favorite reasons to hit the trails, and this is a great example of what you might find in an ancient volcanic field.
To get Red Mountain, head north on Highway 180. The turnoff is about 30 miles from Flagstaff. It’s marked with a sign. You’ll follow a dirt road – nothing your typical passenger car can’t handle. It leads to a parking lot. There’s no fee to use the area.