Exploring nature: 10 great hikes in northern Arizona

A scenic view from the Cathedral Rock trail, May 13, 2019.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic intensified throughout the United States in mid-March, most Americans have practiced social distancing, adjusted to working from home and even decided to self-quarantine. Subsequently, these adaptations left millions with less social interactions and fewer daily activities, often leaving people trapped inside.

In Flagstaff specifically, one method for improving lifestyles is getting outside and experiencing nature. Northern Arizona is filled with spectacular hikes — in Flagstaff, Sedona and surrounding areas — that provide the chance to safely and thoughtfully explore nature. While urban centers around the world face challenges of high population densities, the outdoors are a suitable alternative. Here are 10 of the best hikes in the northern Arizona region.

Fatman's Loop

Located on the east side of Flagstaff, Fatman's Loop is both a convenient and captivating way to enjoy panoramic views of the city. A separate trail — splitting from the initial hike — even allows ambitious hikers to summit Mount Elden. This trek is filled with steep climbs, gorgeous vistas and cool breezes, all making for a fulfilling experience.

Sandy Seep Trailhead

Sandy Seep is based a few miles east of Fatman's Loop, also nestled along Highway 89 and the slopes of Mount Elden. The trail weaves through the woods, maintains a gradual incline and works its way toward the mountains. It also offers less traffic than Fatman's Loop, subsequently providing further separation from humanity and more connection with nature.

Buffalo Park

Although Buffalo Park is often crowded, the area’s trails are impressively beautiful and undeniably diverse. Portions of the park snake through dense trees, while others wander around open meadows. Twilight is an excellent time to embrace this scenery, admire the changing conditions and savor the lasting light. The park’s central location on McMillan Mesa also makes it accessible for anyone in the Flagstaff area.

Fisher Point

Despite Lake Elaine’s empty shores, the Fisher Point trailhead still makes this east-side neighborhood a popular destination. The path moves through miles of dense Ponderosa Pines, zigzags toward Walnut Canyon and flaunts diverse wildlife. Hikers, runners and bikers alike can eventually reach a scenic overlook, which awards a great place to picnic and relax.

Campbell Mesa Loop System

Another popular destination in east Flagstaff, the Campbell Mesa Loop System, is composed of five different trails: the Anasazi, Continental, Walnut Meadows, Sinagua and Campbell Mesa loops. This system is positioned on East Walnut Canyon Road, which is also near the duck ponds located in the east end of Continental Country Club. While utilizing this variety, hikers can observe distinct wildlife, expansive forests and picturesque views.

Red Mountain

For those who want to explore outside city limits, Red Mountain Trail provides an appealing start. This cinder cone is located approximately 25 miles outside Flagstaff, past Arizona Snowbowl on Highway 180. While working toward the volcano, hikers move through sparse forests, gentle inclines and unique views. In the distance, the San Francisco Peaks provide encouragement before adventurers reach the amphitheater of Red Mountain. This hike is truly unforgettable.

Shoshone Point

Although the Grand Canyon closed following the COVID-19 pandemic, the south rim recently reopened for limited weekend availability. This adjustment started May 15 through 18, and according to the National Park Service website, it will also occur from May 22 to 25. For anyone looking to explore the canyon’s breathtaking sights, Shoshone Point offers spectacular views of the south rim with less tourist traffic. The one-mile hike is one of Arizona’s best, and it should certainly be enjoyed as summer approaches.

Cathedral Rock

Similar to the Grand Canyon, many of Sedona’s famous and frequented trails faced shutdowns during the pandemic. However, according to Visit Sedona, many of these restrictions were lifted after the conclusion of Gov. Ducey’s stay-at-home order. Cathedral Rock is officially open, and the path's unmistakable cairns guide hikers through difficult ascents and unbelievable views. At the top, visitors should relish sweeping panoramas of the distant trail, welcoming city and surrounding red rocks. Even though the hike is challenging, the result is well worthwhile.

Devil’s Bridge

Despite the popularity and publicity associated with Devil’s Bridge, the trek is still excellent. According to the Forest Service — an agent within the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the trail officially reopened following an extended closure. For those looking to capitalize on this availability, the moderate climb leads to magnificent views, along with a “bridge” of natural sandstone. Sedona attracts visitors from around the world, and hikes such as Devil’s Bridge allow travelers, locals and anyone else to admire nature’s offerings.

SP Crater:

Although Sunset Crater formally started phase one of reopening, the National Park Service stated that non-commercial visitor access is still limited. Alternatively, SP Crater is another volcanic feature with extensive hiking. While summiting the cinder cone, visitors’ shoes will likely fill with dust and rocks — but this inconvenience is a small compromise. Hikers can examine ancient volcanic activity or survey the surrounding landscape, all while appreciating this less traveled trek.