★★★★★ Moderate / Flagstaff
Epic views of the San Francisco Mountains and Sunset Crater earn this hike a rare favorite status. Located 20 miles north of Flagstaff, the O’Leary Hiking Trail follows a primitive service road to the top of a towering lava dome. With each step the views get increasing long and ridiculously good.
TRAILHEADs: Forest Road 545A, flagstaff • DIFFICULTY: moderate • DISTANCE: 4.85 MILEs (9.7 miles RT) • APPROX. TIME: 4.5-6 HOURS • ELEVATION GAIN: 1995 FEET (143 STORIES) • APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 1455-1650 RT • BEST TIME OF YEAR: april – November • PETS: YES • KID FRIENDLY: no • FACILITIES: none at trailhead, but yes at nearby O’Leary campground (no water) • FEES: none
Located alongside famous Sunset Crater National Park, O’Leary mountain features many of the area’s crazy volcanic formations. For starters, the hike’s first mile skims the edge of a 15′-high, pitch black, once flowing, lava field.
This jagged black pumice wall sits in stark contrast to shimmering white aspens, slowly pushing their way through the stone. The landscape is beautifully surreal.
After the first easy mile the O’Leary Hiking Trail begins to climb. Little by little the vastness of the now frozen Bonito Lava Flow and immense mounds of ancient volcanic cinder come into view.
As the trail switchbacks up O’Leary Mountain, views back towards Humphreys Peak and the San Francisco Mountains are phenomenal.
At various intervals, the volcanic debris lining the trail morphs from deep black to bright red and then back again. And tall Ponderosas offer intermittent shade.
A manned watchtower sits at the top of the road and trail. Pass underneath to reach a couple of small lookout areas, each with insanely long views of the Painted Desert, San Francisco Mountains and beyond.
Awesome views both over and into Sunset Crater can be had from this vantage point. Truly the best available from land!
8,916′ high O’Leary Peak is a volcanic lava cone, while 8,029′ Sunset Crater was formed by volcanic cinders.
Click here to download a trail map
Directions From the intersection of 40A and US 89 (in Flagstaff) drive north on US 89 for 11.7 miles to Route 395 and the entrance for Sunset Crater National Park. Turn right onto 395 and continue 1.75 miles to Forest Road 545A, just before the entrance into Sunset Park. Drive 1/4 mile to a small parking lot for the trailhead to O’Leary Peak Hiking Trail.
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