10 of Northern Arizona’s Best Trail Runs

Discover Flagstaff by foot on one of these 10 must-do trail runs in Northern Arizona, including the iconic Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Traverse of the Grand Canyon.

Trail Running Moderate, Difficult, Severe

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Along the Kachina Trail
Along the Kachina Trail Photo: Alan Levine

Description

Nestled along Interstate 40 in Northern Arizona, Flagstaff is one of the top outdoor destinations in the Southwestern USA for hiking, mountain biking, or trail running. While the small city of 75,000 residents doubles as a welcome stop for travelers heading east or west across the country, it serves as a hub for those planning a trip to the Grand Canyon or the iconic red-rock landscape 45 minutes south in Sedona. With countless miles of trail spread across multiple National Forests, BLM, and Park Service lands, it’s no wonder Flagstaff has become a haven for trail runners of all backgrounds. It’s also within day trip distance from Phoenix, luring visitors from the Valley of the Sun that are seeking an adventure or escape from the summer heat. From epics like the Flagstaff Loop and the double-crossing of the Grand Canyon, to easy outings such as the Inner Basin Loop, here of 10 of the top trail runs to explore near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Often referred to as the "City of Seven Wonders," Flagstaff is home to a seemingly endless selection of wildlife, plant life, historical artifacts, and plenty of unique geological features. Located in the heart of the San Francisco Peaks, Mount Elden is the most prominent peak near town, towering nearly 2,300 feet above the city below. If you’re up for the challenge, the Mount Elden Circuit links the summits of Elden and Little Elden for an epic run loaded with impressive views, diverse flora and fauna, and an inactive fire tower atop the higher of the two peaks. If the run seems a bit too daunting, however, head a little further north to the Inner Basin Loop at the Lockett Meadow Campground. While there is still some climbing involved, the run showcases a shadowy forest and a unique ecosystem dominated by pine and aspen. Plan a visit in the fall to experience the aspen trees as they transition into a brilliant gold.

If you want to summit the high point of Arizona, then make your way over to Huphreys Peak at Arizona Snowbowl. Just shy of 10 miles as an out-and-back, local athletes can often be found training on the steep incline or trying to claim the Fastest Known Time on the climb to the summit. As of 2022, Jim Walmsley conquered the 4.8-mile ascent, climbing over 3,700’ and tagging the summit in just 51:17. While he holds a distinguished list of ultrarunning accomplishments and FKTs, most runners should plan for at least 2 hours to get to the top.

Similar in difficulty, though slightly shorter, Kendrick Peak offers a perfect alternative to Humphreys Peak to the northwest of town. An active fire lookout tower is open atop the summit, and the mountain is noted as the 11th or 12th highest peak in the state, depending on the source. While not as prominent, O’Leary Peak is another great 10-ish mile trail run that follows decommissioned forest roads and two-track to an impressive view overlooking the furthest reaches of Northern Arizona.

If you’re in search of an epic long run, then point your focus on the Kachina/Weatherford Loop, the Flagstaff Loop, or the highly-acclaimed Rim to Rim to Rim within the Grand Canyon. While the first of these routes is close to town and offers options to shuttle or lengthen the run to your choosing, the Flagstaff Loop circumnavigates the city on a mixture of forest roads, singletrack, and occasionally pavement. Though the loop is ever evolving, the countless access points in town and near the interstate make it easy to hop on wherever you’d like. Of course, there are few trail runners who haven’t dreamed of running across the Grand Canyon, though the logistics and planning needed to attempt the feat can be quite challenging. With an average completion time of 12 to 15 hours, this bucket-list double-crossing is one that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

Rounding out this trail running hitlist and just south of Interstate 40, the Arizona Trail passes through Walnut Canyon National Monument and offers impressive views from three defined overlooks along the trail. Plan to visit at least one or two of the views, or complete the entire 15-mile run to Fisher Point, a popular destination with locals that overlooks a large bend in the river. And, while this final route may not be in Flagstaff proper, the Hangover Loop in Sedona is an epic and other-worldly run with incredible red rock views and extremely technical singletrack. It’s the must-do trail run if you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, and contrary to its name, it’s a run you will want to save for another day if you had too many drinks the night before.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagstaff,Arizona https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KendrickPeak

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