Explore a strenuous alternate route to the summit of Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s highest mountain.
Weatherford Trail Guide
MAP: Flagstaff Trails
PERMITS: only required in winter above treeline
DESIGNATION: Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
BEST SEASONS: June, September, October
DISTANCE: (one way) 8.7 miles to Humphreys Saddle, additional 1.0 to Humphreys Peak
ELEVATION: trailhead 8,850 – summit 12,633 – (difference 3,783)
ACCESS: gravel road to the trailhead, passenger vehicles are generally okay
DIRECTIONS: From Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north for 3.5 miles (180 begins in downtown from Route 66 as Humphreys Street – turn left on W Columbus Avenue from Humphreys Street to follow 180). Turn right at the light for Shultz Pass Road. Follow the road as it changes into gravel and dirt for 5 miles to the Shultz Pass Trailhead. The phrase “Shultz Pass Trailhead” registers in Google Maps.
ROUTE: well maintained trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: 50 Favorite Hikes
Here’s a map that shows the Weatherford Trail, courtesy of the US Forest Service. It’s frankly quite terrible for navigational purposes, but gives you a good idea of where the trail’s course lies in proximity to other features of the San Francisco Peaks, like the Humphreys Trail.
If you’d like to have a look at something with more detail, as always, check out CalTopo.com
The Weatherford Trail meanders through the heart of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, and is generally less crowded than other trails up the mountain like the Humphreys Trail and Inner Basin.
The route reportedly follows an old road bed that was intended to give vehicle access to Arizona’s highest mountains. Flagstaff’s John Weatherford commissioned its construction, and one can’t help but imagine old Model T Fords bumping up and down this “San Francisco Mountain Boulevard.”
The toll road was abandoned during the Great Depression, and completely closed to motor vehicles in the 1980s, when the area was added to Coconino National Forest. Those looking for more information on the history of the Weatherford Trail’s original toll road can find documents through the Arizona Historical Society.
As you walk the trail, it’s still clear in many areas that this was once a road.
Beginning at Shultz Tanks, you’ll immediately reach a junction with the Arizona Trail (Moto Trail) on the left. If you were to veer off in this direction, you’d join a network of looping trails that are popular with Flagstaff locals and mountain bikers, especially on the weekends. In fact, the Weatherford itself is a popular training run on summer weekends for Flagstaff’s hardiest ultra-marathon runners.
A gentle ascent begins through a wonderful Aspen grove, which can be simply spectacular in early October
After 1.7 miles you’ll reach a junction with the Kachina Trail – probably the only designated trail in the San Francisco Peaks that can be less crowded than the Weatherford. This intersection marks the east end of Kachina Trail.
Doyle and Fremont
After some serious climbing you’ll reach Doyle Saddle, located between Fremont Peak and Doyle Peaks. These are two lesser but significant summits in the range. Both summits are wonderful destinations for peak-baggers, and for those seeking a more solitary, less-traveled experience.
If attempting either of these summits, be sure that you’re comfortable with off-trail navigation!
Doyle Peak is accessed off the trail from this first saddle.
Some scenic contouring brings you from Doyle Saddle to the junction with the Inner Basin Trail. The distance from the bottom of the Weatherford Trail to this junction with The Inner Basin Trail is 7.8 miles.
This is where the Weatherford Trail really starts to play its cards, with wonderful views into the Inner Basin. Fremont Peak can also be approached from this first saddle, trending to the south side of the ridge when in doubt. There are several different ways to approach Fremont.
More climbing from the junction with the Inner Basin Trail leads you to the Fremont Saddle. This upper section of the Weatherford Trail is its most spectacular, as it flanks Agassiz Peak. Climbing Agassiz is strictly off limits, unless there’s full snow cover. See more about this under “regulations,” below.
Soon you’ll reach the junction with the Humphreys Trail. Weatherford officially ends here, but it’s possible to continue an additional mile to the highest point in all of Arizona!
A note about place names:
This description attributes the name “Doyle Saddle” to the saddle between Doyle and Fremont Peak, and the name “Fremont Saddle” to the saddle between Fremont and Agassiz Peaks.
This seems to make sense, but a majority of the maps and signage seems to have swapped the names of the aforementioned saddles, placing “Doyle Saddle” all the way over between Agassiz and Fremont, and “Fremont Saddle” over by Doyle Peak. This 2016 Forest Service Topo Map puts the names in their logical places in relation to the peaks, as I describe them.
Here’s an interesting Wikipedia article that discusses the reasons behind these nonsensical original place names, and more history of the area.
Camping permits are not required in the summer. As the sign above clearly states, camping is prohibited above treeline, or above 11,400 ft.
Camping permits are required in winter. The term “winter,” in this case, seems to apply to the season of the Arizona Snowbowl’s operation. More about the winter mountaineering and camping permits can be found here.
Off-trail hiking is prohibited above 11,400ft to protect endangered vegetation. This makes climbing Agassiz Peak clearly off-limits.
There is, however, some confusion over the technical legality of climbing Fremont and Doyle. A blanket restriction over 11,400 would puts these peaks off limits, but the official closure from the 1990s leaves these summits as fair game. I agree with the greater hiking community, viewing that it’s still legal to climb Doyle and Fremont until the USFS decides to publish more specific restrictions.
The Weatherford Trail enters the Kachina Peaks Wilderness – mountain bikes are prohibited within its borders.
Horses are prohibited beyond Doyle Saddle. The saddle marks the boundary of the watershed for the Inner Basin, which provides the majority of municipal water for Flagstaff.
There’s likewise no camping in the Inner Basin.
Black bears have been known to inhabit the San Francisco Peaks. Be aware of their presence and store food properly.
An endangered species of wildflower, commonly called the San Francisco Peaks Groundsel (or Ragwort), grows above treeline here… thus the prohibition of hiking off-trail above 11,400. These peaks are the only place in the world that this plant exits.
A handful of Bristlecone Pines can be found along the Weatherford Trail, too.
My Trip Notes and Photos
All of the photos on this page were shot on a day hike on October 3, 2012.
The Weatherford Trail had caught my eye the previous summer, as I’d signed up for the Leadville 100 Trail Run and was looking for some good high-elevation training grounds. I visited the trail a handful of times that summer (before getting injured), discovering that the local Flagstaff ultra-running community liked Weatherford for the same reason.
My favorite section of the Weatherford (and perhaps my favorite stretch of any trail in the Flagstaff region) is its upper reaches, as it flanks the side of Agassiz Peak. The exposure of the trail makes one feel like a real mountaineer. I have a fond memory of being here for the first time one afternoon with no visibility – in the midst of a cloud.
Come foliage season, I remembered the wonderful little aspen groves found along this trail, and thought it would make for a nice hike on this day with great photo opportunities. I wasn’t disappointed.
As of 2019 I have yet to do any backpacking in the peaks. A one-way trip with a car shuttle sounds especially nice – up Weatherford and down the Humphreys Trail or Inner Basin.
We turned around on this day before reaching the junction with the Humphreys Trail.