The monsoon season is upon us but that is no excuse to stay indoors. At least not in the morning, before the rains. With the abundant outdoor and nature-loving experiences at your doorstep here in northern Arizona, we put together a short list of some of our favorite on and off the beaten path destinations. While enjoying your hiking or biking, horseback riding or trail running, remember to be good stewards of our natural environment. The Flagstaff area is home to three unique arboreal biomes including Douglas fir and aspen forest, Ponderosa pine forest and Pinyon-juniper woodland. It is also important to acknowledge that the Walnut Canyon, Sandys Canyon and Fisher Point Trails listed below all reside within the ancestral lands of the Hopi people and are home to meaningful historical and archaeological sites of the Sinagua, Cohonina and Puebloan people; much of the land that Flagstaff sits upon, its mountain range and the hiking spots its boasts are considered sacred by Diné, Apache, Hopi and other tribes. Always research and keep in mind the land you are walking on.
Gold Digger and Two Spot Trails
The word lake isn’t one tossed around frequently in the high desert that is Flagstaff. Apart from Lakes Mary and Mormon, as well as the not-so-distant Oak Creek, large masses of water are scarce in these parts and so are the terms associated with them. But don’t be fooled, the environs surrounding us are well adapted, with snow runoff and catchments, wildlife and we within it keep living, keep existing. This is what makes Rogers Lake so special. Though you’re not likely to see water of vast depths, the wide open wetland a few miles southwest of the Arboretum at Flagstaff is host to wildlife of all varieties: plant, mammal, avian. Part of the Upper Verde watershed, Rogers Lake is also home to elk, black bears, pronghorns and migrating waterfowl, plus the smaller critters we know and love. Bald eagles have also been spotted there, so bring your binoculars. There are two main trails with parking areas at Rogers Lake, Gold Digger Trail, a four-mile single track path that involves a rocky but beautiful climb and the Two Spot Trail, a two-mile loop that skirts the edge of the wetlands. Both trails are accessible to hikers and mountain bikers. You can even combine the two, hiking the Gold Digger until you hit the Two Spot, making the roundtrip journey around 5.1 miles total.
Getting there: Head down Woody Mountain Road (Forest Road 231) for 6.5 miles until you reach The Rogers Lake County Natural Area sign. Stop here and walk the perimeter of the wetlands or continue 1.3 miles to the Gold Digger trailhead, the parking lot will be on the right side of the road and the trail begins at the green gate on the left. About 50 yards from the gate will be trail signs. Go right for Gold Digger, hike four miles until you hit Two Spot and then wind your way back.
The Arizona Trail may be lesser known, considered by some to play second fiddle to its grandiose and famous siblings the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails, but the 800-mile, Mexico to Utah stretch is no less scenic or varied. From mountains to desert, cacti to pine trees, those of us in Flagstaff are lucky enough to call a little more than 10 miles of this meandering beauty, ours. You don’t have to hike the entirety of the AZT’s Flagstaff segment to appreciate what this path has to offer. Start at the Fisher Point access spot, which descends into the Rio de Flag drainage area and hike or bike as far as you’d like. The portion known as Segment 34c could be the place, too—filled with vast patches of ponderosa pine trees, meadows, unobstructed views of the San Francisco Peaks and Hart Prairie valley to the west. This portion of the trail is special. Spanning 6.2-miles of the AZT, Segment 34c starts at Aspen Corner on the way up to Snowbowl and ends at the intersection of Forest Road 418. There is a nearly 800-foot elevation gain so be prepared.
Getting there: To access Segment 34c, park at Aspen Corner, head north and slightly west on a rocky trail that descends for 0.25 miles. From there, at a four-way intersection, you’ll see the AZT sign. Go right on the AZT. All AZT trail access information and directions are available at aztrail.org
Trail no. 37
Located just a short drive from downtown Flagstaff near the rim of Walnut Canyon, the ponderosa-lined Sandys Canyon Trail offers stunning views of the San Francisco Peaks and geologic formations unique to the region. The trail meanders along the rim of Walnut Canyon before beginning its dramatic descent into the main gorge of Sandys Canyon, and continuing along the canyon basin where it intersects with the Arizona Trail. From inside the canyon, hikers will have intimate views of the Permian Kaibab Limestone, the cross-bedded Toroweap Formation and Coconino Sandstone. This moderately strenuous trail is suited for any hiker or trail runner as well as for those who’d like to see it from the saddle. Looking for a quicker jaunt through the wilderness? The Fisher Point trail can also be accesed via the Sandys Canyon Trail.
Getting there: Head southeast from Flagstaff approximately five and a half miles along Lake Mary Road until you see signs for Sandys Canyon Trailhead on the left. A parking area is there about a quarter mile up the road.
Clear Creek Reservoir and McHood Park
Just a few miles south of the historic Route 66 town of Winslow, lies the canyon oasis of McHood Park and Clear Creek Reservoir. Whether you're inclined to camp out, grill or fish from the shore at the reservoir’s ample park ramada or venture through miles of winding red rock canyon via kayak or paddleboard, Clear Creek has something for everyone. A popular spot among locals, there are bound to be teenagers leaping from ledges into the current and families picnicking on the rocks. The paleontologists in your crew will marvel at the Pueblo Period petroglyphs: magnificent images of bighorn sheep and elk and snakes rendered over a thousand years ago into the sheer cliff walls. Another treasure of the Clear Creek canyoneering is the birding. Cliff swallows make spectacular nests in the clefts and overhanging ledges of the canyon. Coots swim in pairs and green herons fish amid the shallows. If you are lucky, you might also hear the sonorous call of the canyon wren as you float down the current. Don’t own a canoe or kayak but still want to paddle down the canyon? Call Clear Creek Rentals located in downtown Winslow. Not only will they outfit you with a vessel for your adventure, but they’ll also provide transportation.
Getting there: From Flagstaff, take I-40 East toward Albuquerque until Winslow. At Winslow take exit 252, Hipkoe Drive, turning right onto Hipkoe. Turn left onto W. 3rd St., which turns into historic Route 66. Just before La Posada, take a right onto AZ-87. Take 87 for about a mile before turning left onto AZ-99. Take 99 four and a half miles until you see the sign for McHood Park and Clear Creek Reservoir on your left.
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