Have you been to Sunset Crater? We recently stopped there on a road trip en route to get back home and did a quick little hike to stretch our legs out and see some new sights.
If you haven’t been, April is the time to visit (this or any other National Park!) From April 16th to April 24th, National Parks in America have no entry fee! So, as REI says, #OptOutside and go visit one!
Definitely consider visiting Sunset Crater whether it’s during National Park Week or any time of the year (and don’t forget your Park Passport to collect the stamps and keep track of where you’ve been! It’s a fun and inexpensive souvenir, in my opinion).
Sunset Crater erupted in Arizona approximately 900 years ago and is the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau. According to the National Park Service the eruption created new mountains, including the 1,000-foot-high cinder cone now known as Sunset Crater, that now stand where open meadows and forests previously were and a plethora of black cinders blanketed the region. You can still see a lot of the black blanket and lava rocks.
While surface water and vegetation are sparse, some wildlife can still be seen at Sunset Crater, most notably birds such as Steller’s jays, pinyon jays, black-chinned hummingbirds, white-breasted nuthatches, ravens, and crows.
Even though the lava flow covers more than 25% of the monument, it is surrounded by pine forests that mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bobcat, and coyote among others, wander–sometimes even into the cinders.
Of course we saw no wildlife while on our hike. It was the middle of the afternoon so I suppose I wasn’t expecting to, either. We did enjoy the different views and scenery as we hiked the short Lava Flow Trail, which is a one-mile loop. The hike is rated as easy to moderate and I would agree. A portion of the trail is even paved but the rest of it is smooth with only a couple of slight inclines/descents.
You also get to take in breathtaking views of the San Francisco Peaks (which is home to Snowbowl, one of the ski resorts in AZ). There is great hiking there as well…but, that’s another day…
The Lava Flow trail took us about 30 minutes to do but that included stopping to take like a million pictures for you to enjoy. Sorry we’re only sharing a handful of this beautiful spot! There are plenty more trails to hike as well and we’ll probably go back and do some more of them when we’re not antsy to get home from a long road trip and have a little more time.
There are also a few awesome lookout spots to stop at and take in the scenery and even have a picnic. We definitely saw picnic tables at some of the lookouts.
And, this is good to know: If you pay to get into Sunset Crater, you also get into Wupatki for the same fee! If you have the time, visit both while there. Here’s my post on Wupatki if you missed it.
Happy Upcoming National Park Week! I hope you get to enjoy a park near you soon.