Lockett Meadow to Inner Basin, a spectacular 1.7 mile out and back journey through towering aspen trees, is Flagstaff’s premier fall and summer hike. If there is any trail to add to your Northern Arizona outdoor adventure bucket list, the Inner Basin hike is definitely one of the most worthy additions. You will start at Lockett Meadow campground and begin your journey into the heart of the San Francisco Peaks, an extinct volcanic mountain range with a height of over 12,000 feet (Humphrey’s at 12633 feet is the tallest peak in Arizona).
While the trail sparkles in October with hundreds of beautiful golden quaking aspens lining the entire route, a summer visit holds its’ own special beauty. At 8500-10,000+ feet in elevation, it’s one of the best places to be during a hot Arizona summer. And although many residents of brutal summer areas like Phoenix and Tucson make the 2 hour drive to Flagstaff nearly every summer weekend, the Inner Basin trail still remains quiet with never more than handful of hikers on the trail at one time.
Because areas of this high elevation tend to be at least 15 degrees cooler than the town, even a hike on the hottest summer day is still possible. While summer temps in Flagstaff are pretty mild (typically in the low 80’s), it can feel really hot, really quick on a trail due to the intense heat of the blaring sun. The sun tends to feel hotter at high altitude (Flagstaff is located at 7000 feet) and unfortunately many of the in town trails offer little shade. However, Inner Basin keeps cool all summer long due to the very high altitude combined with very dense tree coverage.
During your summer hike, you will be treated to a picturesque walk through towering green aspens. The contrast between the white trunks, green leaves, and a blue sunny sky are simply incredibly, and as you can imagine, make for some pretty incredible photos.
You may also see wildflowers in a range of pretty hues like the purple ones seen below.
However, the best part of a summer visit is the lack of crowds as compared to the busy fall season. During a typical fall visit, you may have to wait at least an hour just to drive up the narrow ride to the trail parking lot (entry is limited due to the narrow nature of the road and limited number of parking spaces). Surprisingly, not as many tourists take the time to explore this beautiful trail come summer: quite a surprise given how many people stay here each weekend to visit the Grand Canyon and other national parks in the region. Luckily for any hiker who decides to embark on the trail, this means a nice secluded nature trek through one of Flagstaff’s most picturesque areas.
You will also get in a fabulous workout as the entire first 1.7 mile section is almost entirely uphill. It’s a rough workout due to the high altitude and hills, however, so worth it for the walk through the unending forest of rare-for-Arizona aspens. The way down is where you can really take in the scenery as you stroll downhill.
While the Inner Basin trail is definitely not for those out of shape or anyone else who has not had the time to get acclimatized to the high elevation, it is a must for any regular hiker up for a moderate challenge.
If coming from a low elevation area, give your body a change to get accustomed to the high elevation before attempting this hike. Many visiting hikers (even those in good shape) are hospitalized every year due to dehydration and altitude sickness! So take it easy and enjoy the views! Bring plenty of water and eat a few snacks to replace lost electrolytes. Also be aware of rapidly changing weather during summer monsoon season.
To get to the Inner Basin trailhead, Drive northeast of Flagstaff on US Highway 89 for 12.5 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 552. Follow FR 552 for a mile. Turn rightwhen you see the Lockett Meadow sign and continue on to the campground area. You will have to drive on a dirt road which is closed when there is heavy snow. There is no fee to park.
Total Distance: 3.4 miles
Elevation: 8600-10,500 feet
Difficulty level: Moderate due to the beginning uphill climb and high altitude. May be even harder for those visiting from low altitude areas.
Best season: Late spring to early fall