|Painted Desert view|
Nothing says; “summer hiking in Arizona” quite like scrambling up the slopes of a dormant volcano. Among the eroding remains of the more than 600 volcanoes that dot the highlands north of Flagstaff, sits a particularly beautiful cinder cone called Strawberry Crater. Just a pup in geological time, this volcano began erupting around the year 1066. Since those explosive medieval times, the series of lava flows that built Strawberry Crater have cooled into a sea of gray-and-crimson-colored cinders framed by a crescent of jagged volcanic walls. Frozen in time, the contorted layers of solidified molten rock look so fresh it’s difficult to imagine that the final blobs of magma sputtered from this natural wonder nearly a thousand years ago. Because of the wild and raw nature of the route, it’s smart to wear sturdy boots with good traction when hiking the Strawberry Crater trail. The path, which is just a shoveled-out ledge on the slopes of the volcano, is sketchy (look for strategically-placed pinion pine branches as your guide) and tantamount to walking on marbles. In order to get the hardest part of the hike done first, head right at the loop junction sign located a few yards from the trailhead. From there, it’s a slow uphill slog on pesky, pea-sized cinders. However, the struggle ends at a saddle within the crater where views of the Vermillion Cliffs and the Little Colorado River gorge are visible in the distance. From the saddle, it’s possible to augment the hike by picking your way along unmarked paths (go left and uphill) to the volcano’s rim where a series of low-profile ruins of mysterious origin tease the imagination. Yet, because of the steep ascent and bushwhacking involved, most hikers prefer to skip visiting the ruins and stay on the main trail which heads down into the crater and around a collapsed ridge. Along the last leg of the trail, panoramic views of a barren landscape, dotted with wind-worn junipers stretch to the horizon.
LENGTH: 1.5-mile loop
RATING : moderate
ELEVATION: 6100' -6500'
GETTING THERE:From Flagstaff, connect to I40 east and then connect to US89 north. Continue north on US 89 to just past milepost 434 and turn right onto an unmarked dirt road (Forest Road 546). Continue east on FR546 for roughly 3.6 miles to FR 779 (continue straight at the fork). Follow FR779 for another 2 miles to the signed trailhead. There’s an interpretive sign but no facilities. The roads are dirt and passable by sedan but may be impassable when wet.
INFO: Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest