Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument: Often Overlooked

Yesterday we were out on a hike at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Arizona, and ran into a really nice young man from Washington DC. Jonathan was his name, and he commented on how spectacular this place is. He said he was amazed at all the people who drive right by this National Monument to visit the Grand Canyon National Park and never stop. Often overlooked, this place truly is an undiscovered gem!

Where is Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument?

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is located less than 25 miles north of Flagstaff Arizona, off highway 89 – one of the main routes to the Grand Canyon. It is an easy stop and even if you only have a couple hours, you will get a great overview of the monument. Drive into the park and stop at a couple of the trailheads and the Cinder Hills Overlook.

We had planned to simply stay overnight at Bonito campground, located in the National Forest right outside the entrance to the monument, across from the visitor center. But the scenery was so amazing, we ended up staying for 3 nights and doing all of the established hikes.

Hikes at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

There isn’t a lot of hiking, but each hike is different. We started with a walk from the campground along the edge of the Bonito Lava Flow up to the trailhead. That’s about 1.5 miles through a forest of ponderosa pines with the lava to your left. (3 miles round trip)

If you aren’t camping, you can drive and park at either trailhead. There is one that says Lenox Crater Hill and another just up the road that says Lava Flow Trail. All of them are interconnected.

The trail from the campground comes out at the parking near Lenox Crater Hill. If you park there, you can walk any or all of that trail. Or you may take the shorter .2 mile A’a trail that walks right out into the lava flow. It is truly otherworldly.

Across the street from this trailhead, you can jump on the Lenox Crater Hill Trail. This one is a bit longer (~2 miles) and more strenuous. You climb 200 feet and walk up and around the other side of the hill, looking down into the crater.

Connect from here, or drive to the parking lot at the Lava Flow Trail. This one offers a short paved loop trail, and a bit longer option that takes you off the pavement along the base of Sunset Crater.

The hike we enjoyed the most was O’Leary Peak. Starting from a parking area at the Bonito group campground, this hike was on the forest road up to the fire tower at the top of O’Leary Peak.

It is 5 miles to the top, but the views are worth the walk. After about two miles you will begin to see the amazing views out over the lava field. You also get an entirely new perspective of Sunset Crater, looking across and down.

The last couple miles are a pretty good climb; the switchbacks get a bit shorter and steeper. But the views are worth it.

Along with the always gorgeous San Francisco Peaks, there are volcanos in every direction, of every size and shape. If you are physically able, don’t miss this!!!

Like Jonathan, we fell in love with this place – the crazy lava rock formations, the treeless sides of cinder cones that look like black sand dunes, the silence, the vistas… not to be overlooked.

Need Help Planning Your Visits?

If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.

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