Sunset Crater National Monument located on the north end of Flagstaff shares a road with Wupatki National Monument. Plan to drive through both when you visit Sunset Crater.
Sunset Crater is an ancient volcano that erupted around a thousand years ago. At the time many ancestral people were living in northern Arizona, and they were affected by the mountain that was created in their territory. To this day, Sunset Crater is considered sacred ground, so no hiking is allowed on the actual volcano.
Lava Flow Trail
Sunset Crater National Monument does have a really nice hike, though. The Lava Flow Trail is 1.0 mile round trip. The top 1/4 mile is paved, but the rest of the trail is over rough, rocky surfaces and even includes a few stairs. We hiked out across the lava flow, which took us to several interesting sights. The first thing we noticed was the dark, black rock all covered with holes. Though this may sound boring, the rock was actually very interesting, with much of it crushed into sand right along the trail.
There were also ponderosa pines growing in the area, and they are our favorite tree to smell. Farther on we found a small lava vent. This is an area were the molten rock bubbled up and vented gas, which looked like a mini-volcano made entirely of lava rock. There is also a small lava tube on this trail, which unfortunately, cannot be entered. There are a few other short trails (A’a trail is 0.2 mile and the Bonita Vista Trail is 0.3 and paved), but we ran out of time. The National Park website has more info on the trails in Sunset Crater National Monument.
Tips for Families
Sunset Crater National Monument is a short stop. There is a small Visitor Center, and our boys enjoyed the Junior Ranger program. We continued up the road to Wupatki National Monument as well.
- Make sure to stop at the Visitor Center to pick up the Junior Ranger booklet.
- The fee to enter Sunset Crater National Monument also covers Wupatki, so definitely plan on visiting both spots.
- Sunset Crater is about 8,000 feet in elevation, so it will be cool up there longer than down in the valley. Bring a jacket.
- Lava rocks are very painful to fall on, and can easily scrape or cut skin, so be careful with little ones on the trails. Wear jeans, if possible, to protect your legs.