Hiking to the Hoodoos in Red Mountain Amphitheater, AZ
Red Mountain, Northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona
Located about 25 miles northwest of Flagstaff, Red Mountain Trail takes you into the interior of a cinder cone of an extinct volcano.
Off Highway 180 in the Coconino National Forest, this hike is a great side trip when traveling between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
Suitable for all ages, this easy to moderate hike should not be missed.
One of over 600 cinder cones in the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Red Mountain erupted 740,000 years ago. Rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, even from a distance, you notice that Red Mountain is not your typical symmetrical cinder cone.
Unlike most cinder cones, Red Mountain is "U" shaped with the opening facing west. In its northeast flank is a large natural amphitheater. You can't see the actual crater from the amphitheater. The vent from which molten lava flowed is on the backside of the amphitheater.
Red Mountain Trail is an easy to moderate hike, 1.5 miles long (3 miles round trip) with a gentile rise of 300 feet in elevation over the course of the trail.
This is a hike into the inside of the cinder cone, the mountain itself. It is not a hike into the crater. There is a separate, more difficult hike into the crater.
From the parking area, the trail follows an old road. This hard sand trail makes for easy walking through a piñon-juniper pine forest. After about 3/4 of a mile the trail turns left and enters the bed of a wash.
At 1.2 miles, cinder shoulders on each side of the wash guide you toward the interior of the mountain (see photo at right). Soon, you come upon large black lava formations on either side of a stone dam. A climb up a 6 to 7 foot ladder (with 2 sturdy handrails) and you are inside the beast.
Wind and water erosion have created an amphitheater with a sheer cliff back wall and a collection of out of this world shapes, ridges, cracks, and crevices. Ten to 20 foot pillars or "hoodoos" dot the amphitheater floor (See photos below). You can explore the "hoodoos" or just enjoy the view, colors, and the effects of sunlight on the rock formations. As my wife found out, a few trees provide a shady rest spot.
Photos from Inside the Amphitheater
Directions to Red Mountain
- Follow Highway 180 north from Flagstaff into the Coconino National Forest.
- At mile marker 247, turn left (west) onto FR 247 (there is a sign "Red Mountain Trail" just before the turn).
- The parking area is about 0.3 miles down this dirt road. There are no facilities at this trailhead.
GPS: N35° 32' 11.8314", W-111° 51' 23.328"
Final Thoughts and Tips
- This hike was our furthest from Flagstaff. In fact, we stopped on our way out of town as we headed to the Grand Canyon. It was a nice break in the drive.
- There are NO facilities at the trailhead or on this hike. It is a long way to the nearest gas station.
- Carry out what you carry in.
- Sturdy shoes, water, sun screen, and maybe a hat, and you should be well prepared for this hike.
- Don't forget your camera, the pictures inside the amphitheater are phenomenal.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Mark Shulkosky