3. Aspen Nature Loop

Golden aspen trees on the Aspen Nature Loop in Flagstaff, Arizona

The Aspen Nature Loop is one of 4 trails at Arizona Snowbowl, the state’s premier skiing resort. This trail on the Western slope of the Peaks takes you past some truly stunning views of the mountains. You will definitely want to bring you camera along for this beauty! The trail consists of a leisurely, short stroll through serene ponderosa pine trees and groves of quaking aspens. Not only is this trail beautiful, it is also one of the easiest of the highest altitude hikes. The trail is just a 1.5 mile loop with one minor hill near the end, making it one of the best return on your investment hikes in town. For spectacular views and a relatively easy (for the area) nature walk, there really is no better choice.

The Aspen Nature Loop is one of my favorite year-round recreation destinations. In the summer, The Aspen Nature Loop is a nice choice for escaping the heat in town. Even though Flagstaff sees cooler temperatures in the 70’s & 80’s, the relentless sunshine can be brutal. Thus, summer is the perfect time to explore the beautiful high altitude hiking trails which will be at least 15 degrees cooler than in town. Plus, the scenery is so much more stunning at high altitude with the gorgeous aspen trees. Lovely wildflowers of all different hues line the trail in the summer. In the fall, it is one of the best leaf peeping trails, with some of the brightest foliage you will ever see. And, winter is not to be missed either, as snowshoeing/skiing with snow capped mountains in the background really creates a picture perfect winter setting not found elsewhere in Arizona.

Distance: 1.5 mile loop

Difficulty: Easy

Best season: Fall

More information and pictures from the Aspen Nature Loop

4. Red Mountain

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Red Mountain is another underrated Flagstaff area trail, also located about 30 minutes outside of town along Hwy 180, nearby the Slate Mountain trailhead. Like Slate Mountain, it is worth the drive to experience the peace and quiet and unique scenery of this unique geologic wonder. This interesting trail takes you to the inside of a volcano which erupted 740,000 years ago. It is a really neat experience to explore the amphitheater of an ancient volcano, and one not to be missed on any vacation to the area. You’ll have a great time exploring the unusual hoodoos which decorate the amphitheater.

The Red Mountain hike is mostly flat and just 1.5 miles each way, meaning almost any regular walker should be fine with this trail. The scenery along the walk is quite beautiful, consisting of a diverse variety of plant life including pinyon pine and juniper trees. You will even to enjoy a few nice views of the San Francisco Peaks along the way. The drive to get out here is beautiful and peaceful, and overall the entire experience makes for a nice half day out. Stop by for a tasty espresso drink at Late for the Train, conveniently located on the way.

Distance: 3 miles round-trip

Difficulty: Easy

Best season: Spring

More information and pictures from the Red Mountain Trail

5. Bear Jaw Trail

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The Bear Jaw Trail, located on the north slope of the San Francisco Peaks, is one of the area’s hardest, most difficult to get to, and time consuming hikes. However, do not let this stop you from exploring one of the most incredible hikes in the Flagstaff area. This jaw dropping trail is absolutely spectacular in the fall, with glowing yellow aspens mixing in with the green pines to create the most amazing setting.

A hike along Bear Jaw is a quiet and peaceful nature experience, and fortunately one that does not see much traffic, so you feel like you get a wonderful area of nature all to yourself. The reason this amazing trail sees such low traffic is the long, rough drive required to get to the trailhead. Unlike the super popular & easier to get to Inner Basin trail, there is no wait to get in to see the amazing fall foliage of Bear Jaw. The trail ends at Waterline Road, just like Inner Basin, where gold colors paint the entire landscape.

Bear Jaw is just 2.5 miles each way, however, the trail is very steep and located at a very high starting altitude (starting at 8500 ft and ending around 9500 feet), making it feel that much harder. This trail is more suited for regular hikers due to the long distance, high altitude, and steep incline. For those up for the challenge, you will be rewarded with incredible views and a peaceful few hours out in a secluded wilderness setting. For those extra motivated hikers, you can connect with the Abineau trail for a 7 mile loop. Bear Jaw is considered one of the best trails to see a black bear! I have yet to see any wildlife evidence, but who knows what you might see?!

Advantages of hiking Bear Jaw in the summer include nice cool temperatures and endless views of colorful wildflowers. A summer hike is fantastic, although fall is definitely the best time to plan your visit due to the attractive 50-60 degree hiking weather, as well as some of the best leaf peeping in the area. No matter when you plan your visit, an adventure along the Bear Jaw trail is one you will never forget!

Distance: 5 miles round-trip

Difficulty: Hard

Best season: Summer or fall

More information and pictures from the Bear Jaw Trail

6. The Kachina Trail

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The Kachina Trail is another beautiful hiking option at Snowbowl. It’s a bit harder than Aspen Nature Loop, although you do not have to complete the entire 10 miles to see the beauty of this trail. This relaxing hike takes you on a journey through the Southern slope of the San Francisco Peaks through the serene Kachina Peaks Wilderness. As you meander through pretty pines and aspen trees, you will get in a nice little workout, as well as get to enjoy the wonderful smells and sounds of nature.

As the entire trail would be quite challenging considering the distance, altitude (9800 feet!), and steepness, I recommend completing just the first mile or 2, which just happens to be the most scenic and well marked section of the trail. Serene views of the pines and aspens keep you company the entire way. This part of the trail is also home to the most aspen groves, so you will get to experience magnificent gold scenery in the fall without feeling the need to completely exhaust yourself hiking 10 miles at high altitude.

Surprisingly, the Kachina Trail is not nearly as popular as the other Snowbowl trails. This means that a walk along this beautiful trail is just as quiet as it is scenic. In fact, it is one of only 2 trails in the area where I have ever seen wildlife! It was just a deer, however, the occasional black bear sighting has been reported by early morning hikers!

Kachina Trail is one of several Flagstaff trails that is enticing year-round. In the summer, the dense forest provides plenty of shade for a cool hike. Spring is a beautiful time too as everything is so fresh. Fall is the best as the trail is loaded with the bright golden leaves on the trees as well as scattered along the trail, creating a picture perfect autumn setting. And winter is just perfect for snowshoeing as the trail is not as difficult as the hillier options. Snowshoeing along the Kachina will feel like your own private winter wonderland. When a storm drops a foot plus of snow, it tends to stick around much longer at this high of an altitude, meaning weeks and weeks of outdoor fun in the snow as opposed to the quick melting trails in town. As opposed to the super pricey Nordic Center, snowshoeing the Kachina Trail is not only cheaper, but also more scenic and less crowded!

Distance: 10 miles round-trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Best season: Fall

More information and pictures from the Kachina Trail