Day hike a simple trail at Red Mountain into a scenic and interesting volcanic cinder cone, or go off-trail to the summit for great views of northern Arizona.
Red Mountain Trail Guide
MAP: Coconino National Forest
DESIGNATION: Coconino National Forest
BEST SEASONS: spring, summer, fall, (winter for solitude and icicles)
DISTANCE: 1.5 miles one-way to the amphitheater (Maybe one extra mile to the top)
ELEVATION: trailhead 6,850ft – cone 7,000ft – summit 7,965ft
ACCESS: 0.3 miles well-graded dirt road
DIRECTIONS: From Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north for 31 miles. Look for the well-signed trailhead on the left. It’s possible to continue up the dirt road for 0.3 miles to the true trailhead.
Or from Valle, AZ, follow Highway 180 for 18 miles to the signed trailhead on the right.
ROUTE: Well maintained trail gently ascends to an amphitheater of bright red, volcanic-cinder-hoodoos, accessible via a ladder.
Or climb to the summit by leaving the trail from outside the amphitheater. Both sides of the ridge when facing the outside ladder can reach the south end summit. I found the south ridge to be a little simpler, or you can do a loop. 2nd class and maybe 3rd class, off-trail terrain.
Cool Geology on Display
Red Mountain is a cinder cone that they say erupted about 740,000 years ago. It’s thought to be one of the older cinder cones in Northern Arizona.
What’s really cool here is that the inside of the mountain is exposed into an amphitheater, so it’s easy to see and explore.
Geologists aren’t quite sure how the amphitheater was created. Most hikers think that this amphitheater is the volcanic “crater,” but the true crater lies on a different flank of the mountain.
Dig deeper into the geology on the USGS website.
My Trip Notes and Photos
For those familiar with the drive on Highway 180 between Flagstaff and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Red Mountain is always an interesting temptation. A conspicuous sign with an arrow pointing down a dirt road reads “Red Mountain Trailhead.”
I drove by it several times, and couldn’t help but wonder, “What is Red Mountain?” Finally I stopped there one afternoon on May 16, 2009. Unfortunately it was late in the day so I quickly ran out of time, but soon returned on May 28th.
After photographing the hoodoos in the amphitheater, I entertained myself by trying to climb directly out to the summit. Failing to find a good route from there, I climbed out over the ladder and took a more sensible route to the top.
I walked the north ridge, walked south along the summit ridge, and descended the south ridge.
Check out the photos:
There’s sort of a slot canyon, wouldn’t you agree?
Next I return over the ladder and start making my way up to the top.
Climbing to the Summit of Red Mountain
The image above shows Red Butte, located near the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Sometimes the names Red Butte and Red Mountain get swapped and confused with one another. I wonder why? Hmmmmm.
The faint, farthest horizon is Grand Canyon’s North Rim (Also in the image above).
I was trying to set up a timed photo, but the shutter went off before I could get into the sitting position I had in mind… I think this worked out better!
You can camp here without a permit, by the way. Gotta love the National Forests. Looks like someone had a nice time.
When I reached the true summit, I was surprised to find a register! Since there was no trail, I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that something would be placed for this simple, obscure walk-up.
Another outstanding hike is Humphreys Peak, the snow-covered mountain seen in many of these photos. It’s the highest summit in Arizona!