AZT Passage 32: The long way around Flagstaff

Little Elden Mountain seen from the south. The beginning of passage 32 winds around the side of this small area.

If you choose the horseback bypass after finishing your journey past the San Francisco Peaks, you’ll end up behind Elden Mountain. While still very much in the Flagstaff area, it feels remote and – to some extent – unexplored. How much of this is due to the snow and winter cold remains to be seen. Even if better weather attracts crowds, this passage has enough geological and cultural beauty to make the trip worthwhile.

Basic information

Length: 13.7 miles, one way
Estimated completion time: 1 day (if hiking 20-30 miles / day), 2 or 3 days (if hiking 4-6 miles / day)
Place: Weatherford Trailhead just above Schultz Pass Rd south of the Cosnino Road exit off I-40. Flagstaff in general.
Trail type: Round trip
Landscape: Montaner coniferous forest with some grassland. The main feature is these mountains that introduce a variety of stones.
Terrain: Easy. There is a small slope to the north end, but otherwise the trail remains flat and smooth.
Navigation: The path in this section is a narrow dirt road and most of it is well signposted.

As you go around the page of Little Elden, it becomes more difficult to pick the path from all of the side paths on the network. I’m not sure how much of this difficulty was caused by things like snow or detours, but I found it particularly useful to have my phone’s GPS ready to use throughout the hike. The trail is still pretty well signposted and a lot of the wrong turns I made got me close to where I needed to be. Still made me a little nervous.

A detour through the Picture Canyon provides charming signage.

Get there

The north end of Passage 32 is on Schultz-Pass-Straße (also known as FR 420) in Flagstaff. Less than a mile after the turn off Fort Valley Road, the sidewalk ends and the road gradually begins to climb. Follow the road for approximately miles until you reach the Weatherford trailhead, then head southeast following signs for the equestrian bypass.

To get to the south end, head east on Interstate 40 just below Flagstaff and get off at Cosnino Road (Exit 207). Two immediate right turns lead to a front street with space to stop and park. The AZT crosses this street in about half a mile.

Maps are available on the website ATA’s website.


Any direction will work this trail, although I’d probably suggest heading south. (Unless you start in winter, when the Schultz Pass is closed.) So you start right in the middle of the action, so to speak. You’ll go around the mountains first and then head into the historic Picture Canyon pretty soon after. The southernmost parts, while pleasant, do not have the same density of sights.

The pedestrian tunnel under Highway 89. Not sure why, but I find even the smallest tunnels exciting. This passage has several.

Why hike this trail?

As much as I love Flagstaff, I think Passage 32 is the way to go, assuming you don’t need new supplies. I was both surprised at how easy the trail was and how remote it felt. For day hikers, the number of byways leading to landmarks like Mount Elden and Picture Canyon means plenty of opportunities to explore. While I’m clearly enjoying a longer foray (wouldn’t otherwise) I really thought I wanted to take my time in this section. It feels expansive like there’s a lot more to see.

Early evening in Elden Springs. Even in a milder winter, the path is still covered with snow.

Climate and Weather

The climate in this area is similar to what I have covered so far. Mostly dry with relatively mild seasons. I recently found this pageThis lists which roads in the Coconino National Forest are currently open. For example, if there was a major snow storm recently, you can check out how it could affect your plans without going all the way outside. This may be more helpful for distant sections of the trail, but it includes several along this passage, such as the Schultz Pass.

Equipment suggestions

This is one of the gentler stretches of the track I’ve come across so far. Hence, any gear you’ve used will likely work. When I visited, the trail was pretty muddy, with the occasional patch of ice. I was happy to have worn waterproof walkers, but even standard tennis shoes would have been fine.

A view of Mount Elden and the San Francisco Peaks from FR 791, just north of where it crosses the AZT.


Almost the entire area around this trail is expressly marked as not allowed to fight. As remote as it seems, this passage is still pretty close to Flagstaff. Little Elden Springs Horse Camp is closest to the hiking trail (0.3 miles away), but as the name suggests, it’s for equestrians only. Driving a few miles north on 89 takes you to the Cinder Hills OHV area and Sunset Crater National Monument, both of which have campgrounds. There is also a KOA nearby.

Although you can’t use it as a source of water, the Rio de Flag feels like a break from the AZT’s general dryness.


This section is shorter and is mainly occupied by two larger functions. They’re both pretty good so I’m not complaining. Before we talk about that, I’d like to briefly mention the variety of trail materials (I think that’s what it’s called) that can be found along this trail. There’s the usual red or brown dirt and that dark gravel that I’m pretty sure is of volcanic origin. There are also a few lighter, almost sandy spots that are always a delight, even when it’s cold and you need to put your shoes on. A geologist could tell you more, of course. I’m only here to say it’s exciting and buzzing and almost certainly says something interesting about the landscape that I can’t read.

Now let’s talk about these landmarks.

Mount Elden

The north end of this trail takes you around the Dry Lake Hills and the Elden Mountains. You will pass Little Elden Mountain the closest, but if you want to see more the AZT is part of a network of trails that cross both mountains. They are volcanic in nature, which explains the unique rock patterns especially in the south of Mount Elden. If you take almost all of the paths along this system, you can take a closer look at these formations. If you have a little more time, I’d recommend Fatman’s Loop, which was my introduction to the area.

Picture Canyon nature and culture reserve

Known for petroglyphs from northern Sinaguan and other archaeological finds, this natural and cultural reserve has a number of byways and educational exhibits. From the little research I was able to do, the Sinagua lived in the area between 1150 and 1250 AD and left a number of things in the Flagstaff area. Further north are the Sunset Crater and the Wupatki National Monuments. Passage 31 of the AZT takes its name from Walnut Canyon (I’ll almost certainly talk more about that next time). In the Picture Canyon, a short detour on connecting paths leads to views of petroglyphs and the remains of the northern Sinaguan structures.

Picture Canyon was recently restored to a natural and cultural site (the site was purchased in 2012). If you have the time I would suggest exploring some of the other trails in the nature reserve. While the AZT passes pretty straight through, it misses many of the Picture Canyon sights.

The reserve is website Links to a variety of interesting resources and guides to help you explore the site.

While there may be some water along the way depending on the weather, it is likely better if you bring your own.

Water sources

There are no reliable sources of water as the Rio de Flag is not potable. However, this section is still close enough to central Flagstaff that getting to a gas station or grocery store would be a reasonable detour.

Replenishment options

As mentioned above, this section is still near some Flagstaff stores. Driving south from the Sandy Seep Trailhead is probably the easiest access. I didn’t look, but there is likely a path that runs parallel to Highway 89.

The AZT spends several miles running on slopes along Little Elden Mountain.

Close thoughts

The rolling terrain and clear view of history make this trail a trail I will likely return to. As I mentioned earlier, I really feel like I could spend a lot more time here, both studying and exploring. If something I mentioned sounds interesting, please take the time to examine it yourself. There are so many little pieces that I couldn’t include. This may make the wandering seem like an afterthought, but it’s actually pretty good too.

Thank you for reading! I’ll be back with Passage 31: Walnut Canyon in two weeks.

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