A combination of crisp air, brilliant fall foliage, and smaller crowds makes October the perfect month to explore some of Flagstaff’s most popular destinations. Here’s a quick look at two of our favorites that can be paired in a single day trip via the scenic 34-mile loop road connecting Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments, just a half-hour drive north of Pine Canyon via US-89.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Nearly all of the 600 peaks in the area are volcanic—but the main attraction is the Sunset Crater Volcano itself. It’s the youngest of the group, having blown its top around 1040 A.D. and continuing to erupt for about two centuries afterward to create the current cinder cone, which stands 1000 feet high. (Don’t worry—it’s dormant now.)
Among the most popular ways to experience the volcano are the Lava Flow Trail, an easy/moderate trail that offers beautiful scenery and an up-close look at the lava formations; the Lenox Crater Trail, just under 2 miles out-and-back to the volcano rim; and the Lava’s Edge Trail, a slightly more strenuous 3.4 miles roundtrip over loose cinders and rough basalt along the jagged edge of the Bonito Lava Flow.
Wupatki National Monument
After exploring Sunset Crater Volcano, it’s time to hop back in the car and head northeast on the loop road to Wupatki National Monument. In addition to the richly colored natural landscape and geology, this monument offers a walk back in history and archeology. Humans first inhabited the area at least 10,000 years ago—and as of 1100 A.D., farming and trade made it what the National Park Service describes as “the tallest, largest, and perhaps the richest and most influential pueblo around.”
The most notable prehistoric villages are accessible by short, easy trails off the loop road. With about 100 rooms Wupatki Pueblo is the monument’s largest, while Lomaki and Box Canyon Pueblos overlook a pair of small canyons that were used for agriculture. A walk up the hill to the Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos rewards hikers with stunning vistas, and Wukoki Pueblo—just up a short spur road—offers a glimpse of meticulous ancient craftsmanship.
If You Go
The scenic drive is open year-round, day and night, while the trails at both monuments are open from sunrise to sunset. Although the entry fee is usually $25 per vehicle to visit both, you can visit for free on Veterans Day, November 11. You’ll also want to check the National Park Service website for their schedule of Winter Discovery Hikes.