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A Scenic Mountain Journey to the Top of Arizona: The Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Flagstaff, AZ

With sweltering heat and high triple digit temperatures in Phoenix, it’s the perfect time to head to up north to get outdoors and experience Arizona’s beautiful and lush high mountain forests and wilderness areas. For a wonderful and scenic day trip and easy hike, take a journey to the top of Arizona by hiking the Kachina Trail, in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Flagstaff, Arizona.

Located high up in the San Francisco peaks, sits Arizona’s tallest peak, Mt. Humphreys which rises to an elevation of 12, 643 feet which you can climb to the top of on the Mt. Humphrey’s Trail, one of the most challenging hikes in all of Arizona. However, if you’re up for more of an easier day hike instead, then I highly recommend checking out the beautiful Kachina Trail, which is also located in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness and like the Mt. Humphrey’s Trail, is also located at Arizona’s Snow Bowl Ski Resort and if you’re up for the added adventure, you can take a very scenic sky ride right up to the top of Arizona at elevation, 11,500 feet, for a spectacular and amazing panoramic view of all the surrounding Flagstaff and Kachina Peaks Wilderness area, without having to climb it yourself too!

To get to the Kachina Trail from Phoenix you’ll want to head out of town on I-17 north to Flagstaff. We left Phoenix at 9am on a Saturday morning and arrived in Flagstaff at around 11:30am. The drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff is roughly about 2.5 hours and 148 miles. Once you arrive in Flagstaff, the freeway ends and you will exit onto 89A north. Follow 89A through town till you come to route 180 north Snow Bowl Ski Resort, then make a left. You’ll take route 180 for about another 30 minutes till you reach FR 516 and the turn off for Snow Bowl Ski Resort and turn right. The drive along FR 516 is really beautiful and heavily forested as you quickly wind up in elevation from 7000 feet up to 9000 feet. Be aware though that there is little bit of road construction going but it’s not too bad. You’ll want to just take it slow and be on the lookout for wildlife because we saw a couple of deer off to the right in an open meadow area about midway.

Once you reach the lodge, on your right you will see the sign for the Kachina Trail where you’ll park in the Snow Bowl parking lot. At about 9,200 feet, the trail begins a somewhat level but rocky decent, traversing across the San Francisco Peaks through beautiful Aspens forests, winding through open meadows and offering break throughs here and there for gorgeous vistas of the surrounding Flagstaff area that are absolutely magnificent. We journeyed along on this gorgeous trail, noticing only a slight drop in elevation, about 600 feet. Although the trail is rated “easy” but due to the rocky conditions and the high level of elevation, I would actually rate it as slightly “moderate” and a good fitness hike as well.

We hiked for about 1.5 hours until we reached another grassy open meadow and forest clearing that had spectacular views. By this point, we noticed the ferns and foliage along the trail to be much higher and the trail becoming less defined so we decided to take a short break then turn around and head back to the lodge. We made the trip back and returned to our car by 3:30pm, then drove back up to the lodge and purchased tickets for $12 for the scenic sky ride trip, just making it in time too for the last lift of the day, 4pm.

The sky ride to the top was absolutely breathtaking and very relaxing too after our hike. We slowly ascended up the mountain and got off at the top, at elevation 11, 500 feet to take a few minutes to walk around. Wow, what an incredible view literally from the top of Arizona! Absolutely breathtaking! After a few minutes of taking pictures, we got back on the chair lift again and found the ride down to be a bit more nerve wracking especially if you are scared of heights! However, after only a few hair raising minutes, we calmed down again and could not help but feel so amazed and inspired by all the gorgeous scenery all around as you slowly make your way back down the mountain again. After a slow and chilly descent, we arrived back at the lodge again by 5pm and the total time for the sky ride about 1.0 hour.

That day the temperatures in Flagstaff were in the low 80’s. The weather at Snow Bowl had started out with a little bit of rain but slowly cleared up as we continued on our hike. On the trail and at elevation 9,200 feet, I’d estimate the temperatures to be in the 60’s to 70’s, and perfect for hiking too. However, from the top at 11, 500 elevation, it was considerably much cooler, with an estimated temperature I’d say in the 50’s. We were actually cold especially with the chilly breezes all the way back down. We left Snow Bowl at around 5pm and after a brief stop at the Rock Springs CafĂ© at Black Canyon City for a delicious blueberry pie and a peanut butter brownie to go, we arrived back to Phoenix by 8pm.

In all I’d say it really was a fun and very enjoyable day getting out the heat and enjoying nature and the outdoors up in the beautiful northern high country of Arizona. I would highly recommend it. For a quick, easy day trip & hike and a gorgeous mountain journey right up to the top of Arizona, you’ll want be sure to check this one out!

Laura K. Halik is a writer and published author with over 20 years experience of outdoors travel throughout the state of Arizona and the western region. She is passionate for nature, the outdoors, travel and adventure. Laura enjoys hiking, canyoneering, white water rafting, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, writing, and photography. She is also a co-hiking leader and organizer in a hiking and outdoors adventure club for advanced and experienced hikers.