Craters and Cinder Cones Loop, Arizona
185 Mi.(298 KM)
% Rideable (time)
with Bikepacking Roots
Perfect for bikepackers looking to get off the beaten path while following dirt roads and two-tracks, the San Francisco Volcanic Field Loop meanders through northern Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field. 800+ volcanoes that erupted over the past few million years dot the landscape – some are a few hundred feet tall, and some tower many thousands of feet above the surrounding countryside. From Flagstaff, the route heads west toward Bill Williams Mountain on dirt roads and jeep tracks, passing through sprawling parks and ponderosa pine forests.
Beyond Williams, the route enters deserted, dry pinon-juniper woodlands and then high grasslands of the Babbitt Ranches. You’ll pass eerily dark, yawning cinder cones before climbing into the young, cindery landscape of Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater is the youngest volcano in the area, having erupted just 1,000 years ago. The tallest peaks in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks, are the final feature you’ll experience, climbing high into aspen forests at over 9,000 feet and then descending a hugely scenic water pipeline service road that’s closed to motorized use back toward Flagstaff.
This is a stellar ~3-day route with numerous options for side exploration and minimal technical riding in countryside rarely visited. But water is scarce, so plan accordingly.
Difficulty: This route is rated 4 out of 10 with some physical difficulty due to regular rolling terrain with sustained climbing, possibly frequent and unrelenting at times. Technically speaking, the track has occasional obstacles and steep sections (e.g., maintained forest roads, mellow singletrack); suitable for beginner mountain bikers.
- Quiet, non-technical riding through pine forests and grasslands
- 1,000-year-old cinder landscapes and lava flows in Sunset Crater National Monument
- San Francisco Peaks’ Inner Basin and the Waterline Road traverse
- Fire lookout side trip options on Red Mountain and O’Leary Peak
- Hike into Lava River Cave, a 0.5-mile-long lava tube
- Climb SP Crater, one of the most striking cinder cones in the area
- Ideal time of year (and potentially weather conditions): Late spring, early fall. The
route is rideable May-October, but the summer months will be warm and monsoon
storms in July and August should be avoided.
- DO NOT attempt this route when wet or when rain is in the weather forecast. The soil in this region is full of clay that becomes impassable when wet in many areas
- You NEED an Arizona State Land Department Recreation Permit.
- Bikepacking challenges: Limited water and resupply (see FOOD/H2O tab)
- Recommended bike type: Mountain bike
- Recommended printed topographic maps: Trails Illustrated maps 856 (Flagstaff/Sedona) and 854 (Sycamore Canyon/Verde Valley) provides nearly complete coverage.
Please visit BikepackingRoots.org to download the complete guide for this route and to check for any route alerts or updates.
This route and associated information is just a starting point for your preparation, and your safety is your responsibility. Although this route, its GPS track, and route data were prepared after extensive research, their accuracy and reliability are not guaranteed. Check for current conditions, route updates, use your common sense, obey local laws and rules, and travel with alternative means of navigation. Bikepacking Roots, its directors, employees, and volunteers will in no way be responsible for personal injury or damage to personal property arising in conjunction with using this route. If you do encounter changed conditions or inaccuracies.
- Dispersed camping is permitted in most areas aside from the obvious areas of private land around miles 28-30 (Spring Valley), miles 40-50 (south of Interstate 40), and the first ~12 miles northeast of Williams.
- The northern part of the route passes through land owned by Babbitt Ranches. Public access and camping is permitted – simply respect their land and stock and abide by Leave No Trace ethics.
- Sunset Crater N.M. has a small campground near the Visitor’s Center, and there’s another campground in Lockett Meadow just before the high point on the route.
- Longest stretch between resupply is 120 miles, or 2+ days
- Longest stretch between water sources is 50 miles, or 1+ days
- The most reliable water options are (1) around mile 31-35 (USFS cabin if vacant or stock tanks nearby and (2) Dogtown Lake Campground at mile 52, (3) a pipe-fed stock tank at mile 44, (4) several pipe-fed stock tanks between miles 51 and 53 (FILL UP HERE!), (5) Sunset Crater N.M. Visitor’s Center at mile 98, (6) a pond in Lockett Meadow at mile 105, and (7) a piped spring at the high point on the route at mile 98.
- There are no resupply options until Williams. Williams offers restaurants, a grocery store, and motels. After Williams there are no resupply options until returning to Flagstaff aside from a gas station 7 miles northeast of Williams.
- Visit BikepackingRoots.org to download the complete guide for this route and to check for any route alerts or updates.
- Roadside Geology of Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments
- Coconino Loop Route Guide