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Monday, May 12, 2014


San Francisco Peaks viewed from Saddle Mountain

In my book, trails like this one don't get enough respect. In the grand promised land of Flagstaff-area hiking, it's easy to understand why a perfectly decent destination like Saddle Mountain would fall off the radar. Visible from US 180 just north of the Kendrick wildlife viewing area, the extinct cinder cone volcano rises 700 feet above woodlands recovering from the 2000 Pumpkin and 1996 Hochderffer fires.  In fact, several hiking books and online sources focus so much on the wildfires when describing this trail that they have failed to acknowledge its headliner attraction: fabulous views. Certainly, this mountain's proximity to much more ambitious climbs (Kendrick Peak, Humphreys Peak) doesn’t help visitation either.  Get over it---I’m going out on a limb to highly recommend this trail. The hike itself is a moderate trudge up a service road which twists up the hill candy-cane-style, revealing sweeping, 360-degree landscape vistas that stretch all the way to the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert.  To the north, geological landmarks Red Mountain and Red Butte stand out on the flat plains of the Colorado Plateau while massive San Francisco Mountain commands the southern flank. On the summit, a visual spectacle of eroding cinder cones can be seen in northern Arizona’s volcanic field while communication transmitters hum in sync with alpine breezes. 
Kendrick Peak as seen from the trail

View from the summit of Saddle Mountain

LENGTH:  5.8 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8,100' - 8,800'
From Flagstaff, go 21 miles north on US 180 to FR 514 located at milepost 236.5.  SET YOUR ODOMETER---trust me. Turn right and travel 2.5 miles east on FR 514 (stay straight, ignore all side roads) to FR 550, turn left (north) and drive 1.9 miles to where there’s a small loop turnaround road on the left. This is FR 550A, but it’s not signed.  The road climbing the mountain on the left is the trail.  Park anywhere along the road, or, there’s also a small (one car) dirt turn out roughly 0.2 mile up FR550A if you want to shorten the hike.
Flagstaff Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, 928-526-0866

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