Hiking the Sunset Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
About the Sunset Trail
Distance: 4.9 miles, one-way, to the summit of Mt. Elden, with options for loop hikes of varying distances.
Location of the Trailhead: Drive 7 miles north of Flagstaff on US 180 to Schultz Pass Rd. (FR 420) on the right. About 6 miles from the west end of Schultz Pass Road, look for the turn-off to the trailhead parking area on the right, or drive just beyond that turn-off and park at Schultz Tank. Schultz Pass Road does not require a high-clearance vehicle, but it does close in the winter--or at least when it snows. Call the Coconino County National Forest at (928)527-3600 for information.
Finding the Trailhead for Sunset Trail and Other Hikes
About the Hike and Alternate Loops
The Sunset Trail is another of my favorites around Flagstaff, in part because it affords multiple options for longer out-and-back and loop hikes. While a walk on just the Sunset Trail up to the catwalk on Mount Elden, where you can continue 1.8 miles further to the summit, is a great dayhike, the following are some other choices that don't require retracing your steps. While not all loops in this area need include the Sunset Trail, these routes begin and end from the same parking area, where several trails converge.
- Sunset Trail (moderate ascent) to the Heart Trail (downhill) to Little Elden Trail, which takes you around the base of Mt. Elden, back to the starting point: 10 miles
- Little Elden Trail to Little Bear Trail (moderate, well-graded uphill) to Sunset Trail (north/right, a short up then downhill) back to the starting point: 8 miles
- Little Elden Trail to Little Bear Trail to Sunset Trail (south/left, uphill) to Upper Oldham Trail (downhill, sometimes steep) to Brookbank Trail (uphill) to Schultz Loop Trail (Brookbank Trail continues to the right, but go straight for this particular loop) to Dry Lake Hills and back down to the starting point: 11.8 miles
- Schultz Loop Trail (uphill) to the Brookbank Trail (downhill) to Rocky Ridge Trail to Schultz Creek Trail back to the starting point: 9.7 miles
As you walk these trails, keep an eye out for old carvings on the aspen trees, made by Basque sheepherders who once frequented the area.
The above-mentioned trails are generally well-graded and rarely very steep, making them popular destinations for trail runners and mountain bikers -- especially the Schultz Creek Trail for bikers. When we hiked that one recently, we started very early on a chilly morning, which is probably why we didn't have any company on that 3.1-mile section of our loop. But expect to make way for quite a few bikes, and you won't be surprised.
Another treat in this area are the Dry Lake Hills, a short, .8-mile round-trip walk on an old dirt road off the Brookbank Trail. (You can also incorporate the former road, which, according to the signs but not our map, seems to be referred to as the Schultz Loop trail, into a loop hike.) The Dry Lake Hills, where there is often some water in the tank, is a gorgeous meadow surrounded by ... well, hills. Creative nouns and adjectives are failing me at the moment, but take my word for it: if you're hiking, biking or trail running in the area, take the time to visit the Dry Lake Hills. From there, you can do an additional 1.8-mile out-and-back hike to another treat. Just follow the worn path across the meadow the long way. You'll re-enter the trees and soon see a significant rock formation ahead. Sit up on the rocks and enjoy the view.
And for you climbers out there, the Brookbank and Upper Oldham Trails can take you to the Mt. Elden climbing area, also accessible by car on the (unpaved) Elden Lookout Road. There's fun to be had there for both beginning and more advanced climbers.
Recommended: Flagstaff Trails Map
This is the (weatherproof) map I always carry with me when hiking in the area, even when I know a trail well. There are so many loops and intersecting trails in the Mount Elden area, including Sunset Trail and many others, that it's a good idea to carry the map and not rely just on memory and sometimes signs.