Kachina Trail is one of Flagstaff's most popular. Especially in fall, hikers gravitate to the colors as bright gold lights the way through surrounding aspen groves. Skirting the south face of the Peaks, the trail runs almost entirely within Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
From end to end, the trail covers five miles (8 km) and descends 700 feet (200 m) from its upper end here at 9,500 feet (2,900 m) to its terminus in the mouth of Weatherford Canyon at 8,800 feet (2,700 m). The rolling course takes you through high forest and broad, sloping meadows affording panoramic views over Flagstaff.
The trail crosses several canyons and even descends a high lava cliff. A dramatic, cave-like recess in the lava marks where a bed of looser volcanic debris eroded away from denser flow layers above.
Although you can enjoy short forays onto the trail from here, many hikers leave a car at the end of Friedlein Prairie Road (FR 522) so they can begin here and do the entire trail one way.
Slanting across Agassiz Peak, KachinaTrail shows nature at its finest. Ancient limber Pine and massive Douglas-fir dominate the higher elevations. Waist-high meadows of bracken fern punctuate the slopes. As it descends toward Weatherford Canyon, the trail dips into scattered ponderosa groves.
You may encounter anything from black bears to bow hunters along KachinaTrail. Many hikers hear the squealing bugle of bull elk during fall mating season. You won't see them, but cougars range the steep slopes at twilight for their favored elk and mule deer. And don't be surprised to see a black bear or two ambling through the thickets after berries. If you're very still, you might even capture one's photo before it scampers off at the sight of you. While hunting is allowed in the wilderness, mechanized use is not. Hunters must pack out their bounty.
You can't miss the massive lava flow the trail crosses toward its upper end. Trees push their way through huge andesite boulders that came to rest 600,000 years ago. You can easily visualize them tumbling down a smoking moonscape of glowing lava. Views of Agassiz Peak high above-sometimes still wreathed in snow-constantly remind you of the fiery origin of San Francisco Mountain.
USGS Map: Humphreys Peak
Location: 17 miles north of Flagstaff on paved highways and graveled forest roads.
Access: Drive 7 miles northwest of Flagstaff on US 180 and turn north (right) on the Snowbowl Road (FR 516). Follow this paved road about 7 miles to the Snowbowl Ski Area. Drive into the first parking lot on the right (south). The Kachina trailhead is located at the south end of the parking lot.
Hiking time: 2.5 hours
Notes: No mechanized or motorized equipment or vehicles, including bicycles, in Wilderness.