Standing in a grove of bright aspens on the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, AZ

Bear Jaw is one of the most jaw dropping trails in Flagstaff, Arizona, an area known for its’ abundance of picturesque year-round recreational opportunities. As stunning as the scenery is, a hike along Bear Jaw is no easy feat. Starting at an elevation of 8550 feet, you will climb over 1000 feet to an ending altitude of 10,350 feet at Waterline Road, where you will be treated to some pretty incredible fall foliage for all your effort.

Being located on the north slope of the San Francisco Peaks, the trail offers some pretty incredible mountain scenery. From Waterline Rd, you can hike 2 miles to the Abineau trail to make it a long 7 mile loop hike, or simply begin your 2.5 mile return trek downhill for a total hike of about 5 miles. If you are in great shape and used to the high altitude, then hiking the loop is an absolute must, both for the stunning vistas, incredible leaf peeping, and for the peaceful nature experience.

Beautiful aspens and pines along the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, Arizona

Scenery along the Bear Jaw trail includes a mixed forest of both aspens and pines, making it beautiful in any season. A summer hike takes you past a lush green forest with wildflowers of every hue sprouting up all over the place. As an added benefit, the high altitude means that temps stay really cool all summer long. Not that Flagstaff gets that hot (daytime temps rarely climb past the mid 80’s), however, the intense sun plus 80 degree weather can create quite unbearable conditions for hiking. Bear Jaw is the perfect summer escape for anyone seeking cool weather, a dense forest which blocks most of the sun, and tremendous mountain scenery.

A mix of green and golden aspens covering the mountains near the end of the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, AZ

A leaf peeping hotspot

A summer hike is fantastic, although a fall hike is even more fantastic. Like most of the other high altitude aspen loaded trails in Flagstaff, the Bear Jaw trail really shines during the stunning fall season. As soon as autumn arrives, all the high altitude trails are loaded with the brightest aspens you will ever see. As soon as this happens, Phoenix locals start coming in droves to see the spectacular fall foliage that they will never find at home.

Fortunately, Bear Jaw remains a bit quieter than the more popular trails at Inner Basin and Snowbowl. So you get the advantage of being totally immersed in shimmering golden autumn leaves, while also enjoying a peaceful nature experience far away from the tourist crowds.

Check out this handy Leaf O Meter to time your hike at peak!

Hiking the Bear Jaw Trail in Flagstaff during peak fall season

Check out some of the gorgeous fall foliage!

The Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
Blue skies and golden aspens along the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
Amazing fall foliage along the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, AZ
A row of bright gold aspens lining the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, AZ
Pine trees and golden aspens along the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
Blue skies and golden aspens along the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
Beautiful golden aspens along the Bear Jaw Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
Golden aspen trees along the Bear Jaw trail in Flagstaff, Arizona

A rough, yet scenic drive to the trailhead

Part of the reason the crowds stay away from the Bear Jaw trail is likely due to the very rough and rocky journey along FR 418 required to get to the trailhead. A high clearance vehicle is highly recommended if coming from Hart Prairie Road and required if coming from FR 550 (Lockett Meadow). While my Prius made it coming from Hart Prairie, it was a very difficult and slow drive which took at least 40 minutes. On the bright side, the drive itself is as stunningly beautiful as the hike and you will no doubt be reaching for your camera the entire time.

Brilliant yellow foliage in Flagstaff, Arizona
Bright fall foliage on the mountains surrounding Flagstaff, AZ
Fall foliage along FR 151 in Flagstaff, Arizona
Amazing fall color on Hart Prairie Road in Flagstaff, AZ

One of Flagstaff’s best hikes

If you have the extra time to spare and the fitness ability, the Bear Jaw hike is definitely a great addition to any Flagstaff vacation. Whether your Flagstaff visit falls in the spring, summer, or fall, Bear Jaw is a hike worth looking into. Bear Jaw is a wonderful experience for nature lovers, hikers, photographers, and leaf peepers alike.

Northern Arizona is a beautiful region of the country with lots to offer in terms of natural beauty. Unfortunately, many visitors fail to leave the over commercialized downtown and never see anything but the inside of a shop or restaurant! To see the real beauty of the area, you will need to hit the trails. On your trip to the Flagstaff/Grand Canyon area, be sure to take some time to check out a fantastic trail like Bear Jaw which highlights the most magnificent natural scenery in the area.

Tips for a great hike

Bring plenty of water. Stay hydrated in a dry, high altitude climate like Flagstaff. I always use a backpack with a built in hydration bladder. This way I am set on water and also have plenty of extra space for storing essentials like an extra jacket, sunblock, sunglasses, car keys, snacks, etc.

Prepare for random weather changes. Summer monsoons are always a possibility. In the fall, a freak snowstorm is very possible.

Keep in mind this is a very hard high elevation hike with a gain of over 1000 feet. Even if you hike just the Bear Jaw portion (5 miles total) and not the full Abineau loop, it will be difficult and time consuming. Plan on at least a half day including driving time.

Check the forecast. Avoid hiking during the stormy months. Lighting related accidents are not that uncommon. In fact, Northern Arizona has some of the highest number of lighting related deaths in the US.

Start this hike early in the morning. This hike is lengthy and you do not want to get stuck in the forest after dark. Plus, the earlier you arrive, the easier it will be to find parking in the tiny lot.

If looking for spectacular fall foliage, keep in mind that you will need to complete almost the entire 2.5 mile journey to see the colors. The trail starts off through the ponderosa pines and eventually winds through more and more aspens. If you do not feel up to a long, strenuous hike, then you should check out a shorter, easier trail like the Aspen Nature Loop or Veit Springs at Snowbowl. Both these trails are gorgeous and easily accessible, so do not feel like you need to complete a strenuous hike to enjoy the amazing fall colors!

Eat before you hike

Eat a quality breakfast prior to your hike. It helps with altitude sickness to eat more carbs. Also pack plenty of snacks in your backpack for the hike itself. If you are looking for a quick, budget friendly snack pre-hike, I recommend Late for the Train. They serve the best espresso drinks in town and have the tastiest burritos for just 5 bucks. Other decent choices include The Toasted Owl and Brandy’s.


Bear Jaw is located about 25 miles outside of Flagstaff. If coming from the West (US 180), you will want to drive NW out of Flagstaff on 180 for 19.5 miles and then turn right on Hart Prairie Rd (FR 151). Drive 1.5 miles until reaching FR 418 where you will turn let. Next, drive 3 miles until reaching FR 9123J and turn right. Drive another mile or so until reaching the trailhead (high clearance vehicle highly recommended).

If coming from the East (89), you will want to drive NE of Flagstaff onto 89 for 12 miles and turn left on FR 552 (directly across from the turn off for Sunset Crater). Turn right at FR 418 and drive about 7 miles to FR 9123J. Make a left onto FR 9123J and drive about a mile or so to the trailhead.

There is no fee to park at the trailhead. No bathrooms or water at the start of the trail. Dog friendly (leashed).