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Bikepacking: Craters and Cinder Cones Loop

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.3 (3) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A multi-day route with 800+ volcanoes, gravel roads and 2-tracks, pines, grasslands, and abundant solitude.


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Map Key

183.1

Miles

294.7

KM

5%

Singletrack

9,353' 2,851 m

High

5,933' 1,808 m

Low

8,329' 2,539 m

Up

8,334' 2,540 m

Down

2%

Avg Grade (1°)

19%

Max Grade (11°)

Dogs Unknown

E-Bikes Unknown

Features Commonly Bikepacked

● You NEED an Arizona State Land Department Recreation Permit.
● 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.
● Do not camp within ¼ mile of water sources.

Overview

This 185-mile loop follows quiet dirt roads and two-tracks through woodlands and grasslands among 800+ extinct volcanoes of all sizes, from small cinder cones to the towering San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. Optional side trips include fire lookouts, cinder cone summits, and Lava River Cave. This loop also acts as a northern extension to the popular Coconino Loop.

Bike Sections

Need to Know

● 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.
● Water sources on this route are limited and include many stock tanks that are most reliable in late Spring and late Summer. Waypoints for these are provided with labels like “poor” (unreliable, likely silty) and “good” (more reliable, cleaner water). DO NOT plan that every stock tank will have water, and carry more water than you expect to need. Water from some stock tanks is often silty and will clog water filters and is not amenable to UV water treatments. Carry a means of chemical water treatment like Aqua Mira or iodine.

Description

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.

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Please visit Bikepacking Roots 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.


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History & Background

The Craters and Cinder Cones Loop was developed by Kurt Refsnider for Bikepacking Roots to create a northern extension to the popular 250-mile Coconino Loop (developed by Scott Morris and Chad Brown) and to share with bikepackers one of Kurt’s favorite Arizona landscapes.

Contacts

Shared By:

Bikepacking Roots

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 3 votes

#5

in Flagstaff

#2048

Overall
  4.3 from 3 votes
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4 Star
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Recommended Route Rankings

#5

in Flagstaff

#81

in Arizona

#2,048

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Photos

Aspen Alley.
Oct 13, 2016 near Flagstaff, AZ
Easy spin through the aspens.
Oct 20, 2015 near Flagstaff, AZ
Fall colors on Waterline Road.
Oct 14, 2015 near Flagstaff, AZ
Everyone say "Cheese!"
Oct 14, 2015 near Flagstaff, AZ
Riding through the 2010 Shultz Fire burn area
Oct 20, 2015 near Flagstaff, AZ
Schultz Creek
Dec 16, 2019 near Flagstaff, AZ

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Check-Ins

Jul 18, 2017
burnindaylight Davis
~3.5 days. Cut off the loop east of Highway 89 (took the road, low on water). Got water at the monument. Most stock tanks were dry or very poor.