Coconino National Forest Overview
|Coronado National Forest (James Randklev/Photograher's Choice/Getty)|
The Coconino National Forest is a landscape of stark contrastsdesert suddenly gives way to ponderosa pine; flatlands and mesa coexist with alpine tundra and ancient volcanic peaks. The terrain is visceral and alive with colorred rocks, sandstone buttes, crimson cliffs, stone spires, and river-sliced gorges overwhelm the eyes. City dwellers in Phoenix often make the two-hour pilgrimage north to escape the furnace blast of the Sonoran Desert. The forest's oasis of green mountains, situated several thousand feet higher than the Valley of the Sun, functions like a central air conditioner: San Francisco peaks blow cooler air down through the Oak Creek Canyon onto the southern expanse of the Colorado Plateau. Sedona's energy vortexes lure New Agers from all over the world.
Hike the Apache Maid Trail
Allow yourself seven hours to hike this strenuous 13-mile trail that snakes its way through Desert Canyon Country. The trail starts at the mouth of Wet Beaver Creek Canyon and skirts the rim of the awe-inspiring red rock gorge before it escalates the canyon's north wall. After you surmount a series of ancient lava flows, you will have awesome views of Casner Butte and the San Francisco Peaks. The trail ends near a lookout tower on Apache Maid Mountain.
Hiking trails are so diverse in Coconino that it is helpful to break them down into the various habitat regions: Volcanic Highlands, Plateau Country, Mogollon Rim, Desert Canyon Country, and Red Rocks Country. Each area offers a unique hiking experience through distinct and striking terrain.
Climb an Arizona Volcano
Ascend Humphrey's Peak and you'll find yourself on top of a composite volcano. As you make your way up to a summit elevation of 12,643 ft., bear witness to the volcano's turbulent and palpable past—observe historical traces of violent eruptions, lava flows, erosion, and glaciation. The trailhead elevation for Humphrey's Trail is 9,930 feet and winds its way up through bristlecone pine until it reaches Humphrey's Peak—at 12,643 feet it is the highest point in Arizona. The San Francisco Mountain volcanic field contains some 600 craters and cinder cones—fields of pinyon-juniper often surround these sleeping giants.
Explore Arizona Wilderness
Tired of civilization? The Coconino National Forest is home to all or parts of ten wilderness areas, including the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, which covers the summit of the San Francisco Peaks. Views from the summit reach the Grand Canyon's North Rim—80 miles away. The peaks are sacred to several western Indian tribes including the Zuni, Havasupai, Hopi, and Navajo. The other nine wilderness areas are: Fossil Springs, Kendrick Mountain, Mazatzal, Munds Mountain, Red Rock-Secret Mountain, Strawberry Crater, Sycamore Canyon, West Clear Creek, and Wet Beaver.
Trout Fish the Verde Valley
Just 90 miles north of Phoenix, you'll find fly-fishing at its best on the Upper Verde River, Oak Creek, the West Fork of Oak, and Wet Beaver Creek. The Verde River is Arizona's only designated Wild and Scenic River. The Sedona-Cottonwood area offers great trout fishing amidst a stunning backdrop of red rocks. The canyon stream in Oak Creek amidst red cliffs is so clear that you can actually look trout straight in the eye.
Camp in Red Rocks Country
Pine Flat and Cave Springs are two campgrounds idyllically located in Oak Creek Canyon. Their proximity to Slide Rock State Park makes them particularly popular with families—Slide Rock was listed in Life magazine as one of the nation's ten best swimming holes.
Ski Arizona's Highest Mountain
The Snowbowl Ski Resort, 14 miles north of Flagstaff, challenges alpine skiers with Arizona's highest mountain. Ski at elevations of between 9,200 and 11,500 and a maximum vertical drop of 2,300 feet. You can choose from 32 trails—8 novice, 14 intermediate, and 10 advanced runs. Cross-country skiing is available at Wing Mountain Cross-Country Ski Trails, Mormon Lake Ski Touring Center, and the Flagstaff Nordic Center.
View Arizona's Diverse Wildlife
The Coconino National Forest is home to over a dozen species of bats including the Yuma, cave, Arizona, small-footed, silver-haired, Townsend's big-eared, and big brown bat. If bats aren't your thing—there's always the cliff chipmunk, Botta's pocket gopher, black-tailed jackrabbit, porcupine, coyote, black bear, elk, mule deer, and the ubiquitous white-tailed deer.
Birds in the forest include the great blue heron, bald eagle, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, northern pygmy owl, olive-sided flycatcher, purple martin, cliff swallow, canyon wren, bridled titmouse, and, of course, the roadrunner.
Explore the Lava River Cave
Spelunkers can explore the mile-long lava tube cave that was created more than 700,000 years ago by molten rock that erupted from a volcanic vent. Temperatures in the cave remain constant throughout the year—35 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors should bring two or three sources of light. The cave is 14 miles north of Flagstaff.
Drive along the Mogollon Rim
Forest Road 300 winds its way along the Mogollon Rim—a spectacular 1,000-foot cliff that runs across central Arizona on the southern edge of the forest. The rugged escarpment forms the southern limit of the Colorado Plateau.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication