Many of the hills in and around Flagstaff- even reaching as far as the Grand Canyon- are considered part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a 1,800 square mile area that holds more than 600 volcanoes. Red Mountain Trail leads you to a cinder cone volcano which reaches 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and has an exposed side full of volcanic hoodoos to explore.
The exposed portion we’re able to hike to is technically an amphitheater, for if you viewed it from above you’d notice the U shape impeding into the side of the large cinder cone. Erosion has worked at this side of the volcano over the years, exposing what we see today.
Red Mountain is very unique for the fact that most cinder cones around the world are not exposed. We’re extremely lucky to be able to visit and learn from the volcanic rock it is showing us.
In this guide we’ll cover how to get to Red Mountain Trail, trail conditions, best time to hike, and some tips for the safest adventure.
This trail is one of many easy hikes in Flagstaff. Visit 9 Short And Easy Hikes In Flagstaff, AZ for more.
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Red Mountain Trail Stats
- Hiking Distance | 2.91 miles
- Difficulty | Easy
- Elevation Gain | 306 feet
- Total Time | 1-1.5 hours
- Permits/Fees | None
- Trailhead | Red Mountain Trailhead
- Road Conditions | 2WD, well graded dirt
- Dog Friendly | Yes
Below is a map of the route to Red Mountain and the ancient volcanic hoodoos.
Overall Red Mountain Trail is easy to follow. It is very well maintained, relatively flat, and isn’t considered ‘rocky’ until you get into the hoodoos where you can scramble and explore. There is one ladder section which may pose a difficulty if you have a dog that doesn’t know how to climb a ladder. We’ll get into this further in the guide, but don’t let this scare you away!
Getting To Red Mountain Trail
While still considered Flagstaff, Red Mountain Trail is pretty far out. It is a 40 minute drive from downtown and 30 minutes from the Snowbowl area. Still, I think it is definitely worth the miles especially because it will put some distance between you and the hiking crowds.
You can input ‘Red Mountain Trai’ to Google Maps and it’ll take you there, or follow the directions below.
From Flagstaff you’ll take N Humphrey’s Street to Fort Valley Road (HWY 180). Turn left and head towards the Snowbowl area. This road will take you all the way to the Grand Canyon Junction if you let it, but several miles before you reach the junction you’ll see a sign for Red Mountain Trail and turn left onto the dirt drive, FSR 9023V.
This forest service road is well maintained and can be driven with a sedan with careful driving. Of course an SUV is always better but as long as you don’t have an extremely low clearance vehicle you’ll make it.
If it has recently rained I’d be cautious for the road can become muddy in areas and impassable to some vehicles. Always proceed with caution after a rainstorm and turn back if you don’t think you can make it through.
The forest service road will loop around to the parking lot for Red Mountain Trail. Park and begin your hike here!
When To Hike Red Mountain Trail
I believe hiking Red Mountain Trail can be done year round with a few stipulations, of course. Before visiting always check the weather for the daily high and expected rainfall. July-September can be extremely stormy and rainy months for the Flagstaff area and you do not want to be on this trail during one. Flash floods are a huge risk and do happen here!
Summer temperatures can still reach scorching highs so if you’re hiking during this season definitely begin early in the morning or later in the evening and skip the hottest part of the day.
Winter I’m sure will be just fine as long as there wasn’t a huge dumping of snow thus causing the access road to be impassible.
During spring and fall the temperatures are more comfortable for hiking and would be my suggested months for visiting Red Mountain!
Leaving No Trace
In order to continue to have access to places like Red Mountain and preserve it for future generations, we must take care of them. If we don’t tread lighting we surely will begin to see access revoked in attempt to end the littering and vandalism that takes place.
Please, join me and help keep these beautiful destinations open by learning and practicing the Leave No Trace Principles.
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
These seven principles have been created in hopes to minimize the impact our outdoor spaces endure. Thank you for being a good outdoor steward and following them!
Hiking Red Mountain Trail
The hike to Red Mountain begins from the parking lot and through two obvious wooden posts. You can see the red rock off in the distance which makes for a beautiful sight to hike towards. To me this scene closely resembles hiking experiences in Sedona.
Between the red dirt trail and greenery on either side of the trail, one could see the image below and think of Sedona. But, as unlikely as it may seem, this is in Flagstaff! It is unusual for the area which is part of why it is so unique.
The beginning of the trail is flat and doesn’t have any obstructions along the way. Eventually it dips down into a natural wash and you’ll turn left to continue on to Red Mountain.
What is a cinder cone?
A cinder cone is a type of volcano which happens to be the most common around the world. They look just like an upside down cone with very steep hills on all sides and usually host a crater on top. In Red Mountain’s case the vent is on the other side of the exposed amphitheater which cannot be accessed. It also isn’t as symmetrical as most other cinder cones, so to the untrained eye it may not even seem volcanic but more so resemble any other mountain.
Following the wash is simple but does become a bit more rocky. I can only imagine that flash floods have come through here and moved rocks about. This is why you don’t want to be on this trail when it is raining in the area!
You’ll begin to notice that the walls on either side of the wash steepen and become almost black. I mean so steep that you won’t even want to attempt climbing out. It makes for an interesting trail experience and is an indicator that you’re getting close to the volcanic rocks.
The fun really begins once you find the wooden ladder. It is very sturdy and angled enough that I think an adventure dog who is fearless and experienced would have no problem climbing. They may need a boost from behind and some encouragement but I’d think they’d make it up just fine.
Once you climb the ladder the volcanic rocks begin. First they are dark, almost black, and covered in lichen. Then as you continue to hike along the trail it will lead you to the amphitheater of red rock and hoodoos. In my opinion the rock is more orange than red, but who am I to say? The rocks are still really neat to explore.
While I’m referring to them as hoodoos they aren’t exactly like others you find scattered throughout the Southwest. When you think of a hoodoo you think of a tall and skinny rock spire that juts out of the ground, but these ones are not quite like that.
You may be wondering how old these rocks are! According to the US Geological Survey the San Francisco Volcanic Field is said to have been active for 6 million years but Red Mountain is likely 740,000 years old.
There are some tight areas that resemble a slot canyon and require some sketchy climbing to get into. I didn’t explore too deep because we heard a storm off in the distance. If you do decide to explore deeper please be mindful of Leave No Trace and try to only travel where others have already been.
It won’t take long to explore the amphitheater and you don’t have to go very deep to appreciate it. Once you’ve gotten your fill of volcanic rock just retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Final Thoughts On Red Mountain Trail
I’m not going to lie- Red Mountain Trail took me by surprise. I’m a huge nerd for geology and history so being able to visit an exposed cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field is now high on my list. The volcanic rocks had such varying textures and colors it was exciting to hike through.
My husband and I hiked this short trail while we were staying in Flagstaff near Snowbowl. It was a beautiful 30 minute drive to the trailhead and hardly anyone else was there. We had the place to ourselves until a thunder storm off in the distance hurried us back to our truck.
I’m glad it was overcast when we visited because the sun would have been brutal for both hiking and photos. I’m curious to see what sunrise would do to the lighting and rock colors here. Maybe next time I’ll time it just right!
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