Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona is worth a closer look than a drive-by on your way to Grand Canyon National Park. As its name suggests, this thousand-foot high cinder cone is stained red as though in perpetual twilight. Volcanic activity last occurred here in the year 1180 AD, but even though geologists consider this area dormant, it is just possible that a new cinder cone might start erupting at any time.
Lava Flow Nature Trail, Bonito Lava Flow, Lenox Crater Trail, O’Leary Peak
A 35-mile loop drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument to neighboring Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forest and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert region that is dotted with ruins. From the road you can see the San Francisco Peaks rising to the west, as well as a series of cinder cones outside the monument’s boundaries. Several of these mini-volcanoes are accessible by roads, including our favorite: S.P. Crater.
To experience the black cinders you have to get out of your car and hike through them, but take your time as the elevation is around 7,000 feet. Lava Flow Nature Trail provides interpretive signs along a partially paved one-mile loop. You cannot climb to the top of Sunset Crater, but you can summit nearby Lenox Crater on a steep one-mile trail.
Sunset Crater and the Bonito Lava Flow are especially eye-catching when viewed from atop 8,900-foot O’Leary Peak, accessible by hiking to a fire lookout tower in adjacent Coconino National Forest. The awe-inspiring vista will make you glad that movie producers were stopped from dynamiting Sunset Crater in 1928.
$25 per vehicle, which also covers entrance to neighboring Wupatki National Monument.
All roads paved
The U.S. Forest Service runs the Bonito Campground across from the Sunset Crater visitor center from May through October. Dispersed camping is allowed in portions of Coconino National Forest.
Wupatki National Monument (Arizona)
Capulin Volcano National Monument (New Mexico)
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