Hiking the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
About the Kachina Trail
Location: San Francisco Peaks, Kachina Peaks WIlderness Area, in the Coconino National Forest
Take Route 80 (Fort Valley Road) north of Flagstaff to Snowbowl Road. Drive 7 miles up to the top of Snowbowl Road at the ski area and turn right into the trailhead parking area.
Hiking Distance: 4.5 miles, one way
Approximate Hiking Time (not including stopping to smell things): 4 hours
We'd intended to hike for only a couple of hours--an hour out, an hour back--but we just kept on goin'. It was as perfect as a day can get--blue skies, comfortably warm and the trail quiet on this Saturday morning. Our dog, Sassy, was happily trotting along (on a leash, because she'd be off after a jackrabbit, lickety-split, if she were loose), and Steve and I were enjoying the scenery and conversation. So why not continue walking? Besides, I have this thing about completing trails. I always want to see what the other end looks like.
The Kachina Trail makes for great day-hiking if you don't mind returning the way you came. A loop-hike is possible if you connect with other trails or do some dirt-road-walking, but that would be a long day, or even an overnighter. If you've got two vehicles, though, and can spare about forty minutes for some additional driving, a car-shuttle is another option. But anyhow....
Steve and I started out at 9:15. As time and only a few other hikers passed, I commented on how uncrowded the trail was. I'd never been on the Kachina Trail before, but given the easy access from the Snowbowl (ski area) parking lot, and the easy-to-just-moderately-strenuous hiking, I'd expected to see many more weekend walkers. Instead, we had most of the trail to ourselves.
The Kachina Trail offers a nice balance between aspen and evergreen forest and mountain meadow, with some beautiful views and plenty of spots that beckon you to come and sit for a while. The largest meadow along the way is what Steve calls Hourglass Meadow, although we're not sure what it's official name is. That's just the way we refer to it because of its shape, you see.
The Kachina Trail passes through Hourglass Meadow at the lower end, so you can look up and see where the meadow narrows before widening again at the top. We took a short break there, then continued maybe three-quarters of a mile further to the eastern end of the Kachina Trail, where it meets the Weatherford Trail. At the junction, we plunked ourselves in the grass for a snack and a good rest before turning around and seeing the Kachina Trail from the other direction. Those four-plus miles had taken us about two hours at a comfortable, leisurely pace.
The way back, however, seemed longer and the uphills more tiring, as our energy dwindled. We hadn't brought along much of a lunch, so our fuel reserves were low. Sassy, though, had eaten her fill (a pouch of dog food in gravy) and was still trotting with a bounce in each step, enjoying every moment, which made me happy. When I hike with my dog, most of my attention is focused on her. I smile as I watch her wag her way along, periodically stopping to sniff some foreign pee or watch a small critter. Walking is her favorite thing to do.
As we approached the other end of the trail at two-thirty, we began seeing many more hikers, all within a mile of the parking area. I assumed that most folks had come out for just a short, mid-afternoon walk. After all, there are some cool rock formations and small meadows not far from the western terminus, so I didn't think much about the fact that those hikers were so bunched up.
The next day, however, when I picked up the local paper, a front-page story explained why there hadn't been more people further along the trail earlier in the day. Apparently, soon after Steve and I had begun hiking, forest rangers had closed the Kachina Trail after a hiker reported hearing and then catching a glimpse of two mountain lions within a short distance of the trailhead. Since that's very unusual, rangers were concerned for public safety. The trail was closed for several hours while they searched the area. Eventually, the rangers located the source of the sound, which turned out to be two bobcats rather than their much larger feline cousins, as the hiker had thought. The Kachina Trail was reopened not long before Steve and I returned to where we'd started.
I highly recommend the Kachina Trail for a day or partial day of hiking, or as part of a loop hike in the San Francisco peaks. There are no water sources along the way, so if you're planning to do the whole trail--8.5 miles out and back--I'd bring along at least two liters of water, a good lunch and some snacks. Even if the weather is warm and sunny, stash a jacket in your daypack just in case, since you'll be hiking at round about 9,000 feet.