Sunset Crater Volcano north of Flagstaff, Arizona
900 years old, Sunset Crater is still the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau. The volcano's red rim and the dark lava flows seem to have cooled and hardened to a jagged surface only yesterday. As plants return, so do the animals that use them for food and shelter. And so do human visitors, intrigued by this opportunity to see nature’s response to a volcanic eruption.
Between A.D. 1064 and 1180, a series of eruptions—the only eruptions in the Southwest indisputably witnessed by local peoples — brought the dormant San Francisco Volcanic Field back to life. Earthquakes, thunderclaps, and fire bombs shook the ground. Billowing ash, falling cinders, and forest fires blackened both the landscape and the daytime sky, while at night, the horizon glowed fiery red. When the field again grew quiet, a classic example of a cinder cone, Sunset Crater Volcano, loomed over a dramatically altered land of lava flows and cinders.
Today Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument protects 3040 acres representing the Colorado Plateau’s most recent volcanic eruption. It is the youngest, least-eroded cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field, and it may be one of the longest-lived cinder cone volcanoes, with an eruptive cycle that may span more than 100 years. Much of the ground surface is covered by lava flows or deep volcanic cinder deposits; at first glance, the landscape still appears stark and inhospitable. But look again - within the dramatic geologic features are small islands of pine and aspen trees, desert shrubs, and wildflowers. These provide small but unique habitats for wildlife as well. Slowly but surely, life returns.
The significance of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument extends beyond the geological events themselves. The powerful geologic processes that formed the volcano profoundly affected the way of life of local inhabitants during the 11th and 12th centuries and forever changed both the landscape and the ecology of the area. This volcano and its relatively undeveloped landscape provide an unparalleled opportunity to study plant succession and ecological change in an arid volcanic landscape.
Operating Hours & Seasons
The park is open year round. The Visitor Center is open daily except December 25.
Visitor Center hours: 9 am to 5 pm MST (Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, Mountain Standard Time (MST) is year-round)
PETS: Pets must be kept on a leash at all times; they are not allowed in buildings or on park trails. Summer heat is intense; pets left in vehicles - even for a short time - can suffer heat stroke and die.
From Flagstaff, take U.S 89 north for 12 miles (19km), turn right on the Sunset Crater - Wupatki Loop road and continue 2 miles (3km) to the visitor center.
Lava Flow Trail is a 1-mile (1.6km) loop trail with a .25 mile (500m) accessible loop. It is a self-guided trail exploring a variety of volcanic formations.
Use extreme caution hiking on lava - it is sharp, brittle, and unstable.
The Lenox Crater Trail provides an opportunity to climb a cinder cone. This steep trail is 1 mile (1.6km) round trip and requires about 30 minutes up and 15 minutes down!
ca. $5.00 (valid 7 Days) per person, good for both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments.
Free entrance for children under 16 years old.
Major credit cards are accepted for all fees at Walnut Canyon and Sunset Crater Volcano, but not yet at Wupatki National Monument.
TIP: Buy an annual National Park Pass when planning on visiting multiple National Parks per year.