Tag Archives: red rocks

Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Arizona

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

2,013,804 acres (1,855,955 federal/ 157,849 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/coconino/

Overview

Coconino National Forest has an elevation range of 10,000 feet from the Verde River up to 12,637-foot Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona.  It borders four other National Forests: Kaibab, Prescott, Sitgreaves, and Tonto.  The National Forest encompasses two busy recreational areas: the red rocks around Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff.  While in college for three years at Northern Arizona University, Scott probably hiked 100 different trails and more than 1,000 miles through Coconino National Forest.  He and his Siberian husky would often wake up early to get a hike in before class, including one moonlit summiting of Mt. Humphreys completed in time for an 8 a.m. lecture.

Highlights

Oak Creek Canyon, Bell Rock, Vultee Arch, Cathedral Rock, Sycamore Canyon, Honanki Ruins, Wet Beaver Creek, San Francisco Peaks, Mt. Humphreys, Lockett Meadow, Mt. Elden, West Clear Creek, Upper Lake Mary, West Fork Trail, Kachina Trail, Bear Jaw Canyon Trail

Must-Do Activity

North of Sedona is the deep, shady Oak Creek Canyon that houses a diversity of plant species, including riparian trees like sycamore and walnut.  The steep, forested walls make for beautiful scenery, but also create ideal conditions for crown fires as evidenced in 2006 and 2014.  The steep Wilson Mountain South Trail #10 provides extraordinary panoramas and the shady West Fork Trail #108 is perfect on hot summer days, though in the winter it is also beautiful covered in snow and ice.  The remains of the historic lodge and orchard at the latter site provide a glimpse into the past of a place immortalized in Zane Grey’s novel The Call of the Canyon.  Continue driving north up Highway 89A for unforgettable hairpin turns that lead to Oak Creek Vista and on to Flagstaff.

Best Trail

The San Francisco Peaks are the remains of an extinct volcano that forms the dramatic mountain skyline north of Flagstaff.  You cannot actually see the highest summit (12,637-foot Mt. Humphreys) from town, but you will if you drive Highway 180 toward Grand Canyon National Park.  The shortest route to the top leaves from 8,800 feet at Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort and is nine miles roundtrip.  For the more adventurous: start on the Inner Basin Trail from Lockett Meadow, hike 19 miles roundtrip via the Weatherford Trail, or tack on seven miles to Snowbowl on the scenic Kachina Trail.  The San Francisco Peaks are beautiful (especially when aspen trees turn in the fall), but can be dangerous during thunderstorms that occur almost every afternoon during monsoon season.  

Watchable Wildlife

Elk are the most prevalent charismatic megafauna in Coconino National Forest, although mule deer and pronghorns are also common.  We have encountered black bears in the San Francisco Peaks and rattlesnakes in Sycamore Canyon.  Tassel-eared squirrels are the noisiest residents of the ponderosa pine forests, enough so that Bertie the talking squirrel became the main character in the children’s book Scott illustrated while working for the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The cliff dwelling in Sedona’s Lost Canyon is in a beautiful spot overlooking a wide green valley that cuts between the red rock buttes and escarpments.  There is water in this narrow canyon, feeding the tall Arizona cypress trees below.  Just outside the cave, juniper trees offered firewood, pinyon pine produced edible nuts, and yucca plants provided thread for its former residents.  To the north numerous canyons drain the ponderosa pine forests where elk and mule deer reside in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

A day-use fee applies at nearly every trailhead in Sedona, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

Most of the dirt roads through Coconino National Forest are well maintained, especially around Sedona.  One exception to that is Woody Mountain Road that requires high-clearance once you get past the first 20 miles or so towards the Mogollon Rim above Sycamore Canyon.

Camping

Lockett Meadow Campground is special place that came in at #4 on our Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests list.  The coveted campsites in Oak Creek Canyon on scenic Highway 89A are full throughout the summer and fall.

Wilderness Areas

Fossil Springs Wilderness

Kachina Peaks Wilderness

Kendrick Mountain Wilderness (also in Kaibab National Forest)

Mazatzal Wilderness (also in Tonto National Forest)

Munds Mountain Wilderness

Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness

Strawberry Crater Wilderness

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness (also in Prescott and Kaibab National Forests)

West Clear Creek Wilderness

Wet Beaver Wilderness

Related Sites

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce, alligator juniper, one-seed juniper, Utah juniper, Rocky Mountain juniper, Arizona cypress

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, New Mexico locust, boxelder, bigtooth maple, Arizona sycamore, Arizona walnut, Arizona alder, velvet ash

Explore More – What is largest natural lake in the state of Arizona, which is found atop Coconino National Forest’s Anderson Mesa (although it is often dried up in the summer)?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Overview

In the heart of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Humans have inhabited this area for 4,500 years, leaving behind numerous pictographs and the dramatic ruins of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.  The Navajo arrived in this region around AD1700 with sheep they gained from Spanish colonists which they utilized to weave intricate wool blankets.  Wars with the Utes, Spanish, Mexicans, and then U.S. government eventually led to their forced migration (“The Long Walk”) to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico around 1864.

Highlights

Spider Rock Overlook, White House Ruin, guided vehicle tours, horseback tours

Must-Do Activity

Four years after being forced to the uninhabitable Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were granted the largest reservation in the country and families still inhabit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’shay”) to this day.  The 84,000-acre National Monument is administered cooperatively with the National Park Service (NPS).  However, entrance into the canyon is limited to guided trips and one publicly accessible trail that drops 500 feet to White House Ruin.  Overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives (17 and 18 miles respectively) are free and open year-round, though.  It not only seems like everything runs on a different clock here, but, unlike the rest of Arizona (and now New Mexico), the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so is always an hour later in the summer months (the same time as New Mexico until the fall).

Best Trail

White House Ruin was inhabited AD1060-1275 and is named for the white plaster used to coat the wall in the upper dwelling.  The 2.5-mile roundtrip White House Trail drops down the canyon wall and cuts through a tunnel.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of South Rim Drive is 800-foot tall Spider Rock, a great spot to watch the sun set, which is an ideal time to photograph the canyon’s red sandstone walls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cach/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Note that there is typically a time difference because Arizona and New Mexico do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Fees

There is no entrance fee for the North and South Rim Drives, but guided tours into the canyon do charge admission.

Road Conditions

All roads open to the public are paved, but guided tours can be very bumpy since they use the canyon bottom as a road.

Camping

The NPS runs Cottonwood Campground with 96 spaces (and running water in the summer) in a grove of Fremont cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the late autumn.  Guided camping trips in the canyon are also available.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Navajo National Monument (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – How many millions of years ago did sand dunes turn into Canyon de Chelly’s red sandstone?

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses 1.2-million acres surrounding the snaky shoreline of Lake Powell, named for geologist John Wesley Powell who led a mapping expedition down the Colorado River in 1869.  The reservoir was formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, which was built between 1956-63 to store water for the Southwestern U.S. and generate hydroelectricity.  The damming was controversial because it destroyed archaeological sites, submerged scenic canyons, and altered the flow of the Colorado River into Grand Canyon National Park

Highlights

Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Dam, Cathedral Wash, Lees Ferry, Hole-in-the-Rock

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) run Carl Hayden Visitor Center in Page, Arizona is a good place to start a visit, where you can purchase tickets for a dam tour.  The meandering lake has about 2,000 miles of shoreline (mostly in Utah) with plenty of coves to explore and spend the night aboard a houseboat (rentals available).  If you do not want to attempt navigation there are many commercial boat trips, including an all-day cruise to Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  If you plan to stay on land, be sure to walk out to Horseshoe Bend Overlook, hike through the high desert landscape, or drive some of the hundreds of miles of dirt roads.

Best Trail

Wiregrass Canyon is located east of Big Water, Utah and the rocky trail passes hoodoos and two natural bridges.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You might want to bring your “selfie stick” to iconic Horseshoe Bend Overlook, a short 0.7-mile one-way hike from the parking area on Highway 89 outside Page, Arizona.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/glca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Parking is now $10 at Horseshoe Bend Overlook (no NPS passes accepted), but many other sites are free. There is a $30 per vehicle entrance fee at some marinas (NPS passes accepted), in addition to charges for the dam tour and guided boat tours.

Road Conditions

This park is famous for its backcountry 4×4 roads (like Hole-in-the-Rock Road) and flash floods, so check with a park ranger before attempting anything unpaved.  A fee is charged to ferry across the lake between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog Marina.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds (mostly near marinas), but free primitive camping is allowed along most dirt roads.  A permit is required for overnight camping in the beautiful Coyote Gulch area, which is popular with backpackers.

Related Sites

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – Lake Powell is well known for its “bath tub ring,” so when did the reservoir last reach its high-water mark?

Colorado National Monument

Overview

The name Colorado translates from Spanish as “red colored” and Colorado National Monument is exactly that.  From the numerous overlooks along Rim Rock Drive, the farm-dotted Colorado River Valley stretches out to the Book Cliffs and the evergreen forests of Grand Mesa.  But your attention will be drawn to the red rock formations in the foreground, like Independence Monument topped by an improbably placed American flag.  Do not miss a visit to neighboring McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area (held by the Bureau of Land Management), which has been proposed to be combined with Colorado National Monument to form a new National Park.

Highlights

Museum, film, Rim Rock Drive, Serpents Trail, Independence Monument View, Liberty Cap Trail

Must-Do Activity

Enjoy the stellar scenery and hiking while watching the cliffs for raptors, especially during the golden hours when the red rocks really shine.  While Interstate 70 offers easy access to the National Monument on the way to Arches National Park, we recommend heading south along twisty Highway 141, passing through stunning Dolores Canyon.

Best Trail

There are many great (and steep) canyon hikes in this area, including the former roadbed of Serpents Trail, once known as the “Crookedest Road in the World” until closed to vehicles following a highway reroute in 1950.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Sunrise and sunset are the best times for photography at the numerous overlooks along 23-mile Rim Rock Drive.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/colm/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

From Saddlehorn Campground you can see the lights of Grand Junction, Colorado and Interstate 70, but up here you feel like all of that is a million miles away.  Free backcountry camping permits are also available.

Related Sites

Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – John Otto petitioned hard for the creation of Colorado National Monument in 1911 and served as its caretaker for 26 years at what ridiculously low salary?

Natural Bridges National Monument

Overview

South of Canyonlands National Park is isolated Natural Bridges National Monument.  First established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it was not accessible by road until uranium mining developed this part of Utah in the 1950s.  As you may recall from our post on Arches National Park, bridges are created by flowing water, unlike arches that are primarily carved by wind.

Highlights

3 huge natural bridges, scenic views, ruins, hiking, stargazing

Must-Do Activity

The monument is home to 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to Glen Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge as the largest in the world.  Kachina Bridge, at 210 feet and growing, may catch up to it someday.  Perhaps the most visually striking of the three standing bridges is the 180-foot span of Owachomo Bridge that is only nine feet thick at its center.  Handicap accessible overlooks are available along Bridge View Drive.

Best Trail

A nine-mile loop hike connects all three natural bridges, which are also accessible by shorter trails from the rim drive.  Do not attempt this rugged trek if you are not prepared; it is a rocky canyon bottom at high elevation with little shade.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest of the three standing natural bridges in the National Monument.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nabr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The secluded nature of this region and its elevation of 6,500 feet were factors in naming it the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007.  If you make it out this far, you might want to spend the night under the stars at the campground.

Related Sites

Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – In 1992, how many tons of rock fell from Kachina Bridge (the youngest of the three)?