Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Smashed Penny Machine: No
Sunset Crater Volcano is one of three parks that sit just outside of Flagstaff. If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon from the East like we were you can easily stop at all three of these parks on your way to Grand Canyon (you will end up entering Grand Canyon National Park at Desert View). Sunset Crater Volcano is a dormant volcano that last erupted about a thousand years ago leaving its mark clearly across this land. Sunset Crater is a medium sized park with several great trail options.
We started our time in this park at the Lava Flow Trail head. This part of the park has a few picnic tables and a primitive style toilet as well as being the main parking area for three trails. We enjoyed a short picnic before starting our hike.
We opted to hike the Lava Flow Trail which is a mile loop that takes you down through the ancient lava flow. The hike is a moderate hike with a few stairs to descend to the lava flow and some uneven ground to traverse. The Bonito Vista Trail is a paved accessible trail that allows you to overlook the Lava Flow. The Lava Flow trail takes you past huge boulders and other volcanic remains including caves. You cannot enter the caves but you can feel the cool air if you lean over the grates. The trail also takes you along the base of the volcano. You are able to get an up close view of the unique rock colors that give the volcano its name.
After our hike we had to back track back to the Visitor’s Center to complete the Jr Ranger books. The Visitor’s Center had a nice museum with lots of hands on activities for the kids. They were able see how pumice stone floats where other stones sink. We were able to jump on mat that registered our movements on a seismograph. My daughter loved the map that updates seismic activity around the world in real time. A ranger was also doing hands on demonstration displaying some of the areas wildlife.
Overall: Sunset Crater Volcano is a neat stop. The park feels very secluded even though it is really a fairly short drive to Flagstaff. We saw several other groups in this park but the park never felt crowded. It was a fun stop with lots to explore. We spent about two hours in the park including our picnic lunch. I felt like we got a good feel for the park and the history of the land, but there are plenty of other trails that you could hike. If you are in the general Flagstaff area, I would highly recommend stopping at Sunset Crater Volcano.