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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Inner Basin Cirque Hike, AZ

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Guide 15 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Flagstaff NE
Rated
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 9 miles
Trailhead Elevation 8,583 feet
Elevation Gain 2,900 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 23.5
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Seasonal Creek
Backpack No
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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15  2017-08-18 OdinWiski
8  2016-08-22 MountainMatt
32  2015-07-03 OdinWiski
14  2015-06-19 Oregon_Hiker
20  2014-10-04
Inner Basin Cirque Plus
The_Eagle
12  2014-10-04
Inner Basin Cirque Plus
joebartels
9  2014-07-08 hippiepunkpirate
10  2012-09-27 Oregon_Hiker
Page 1,  2
Author hippiepunkpirate
author avatar Guides 25
Routes 36
Photos 2,877
Trips 657 map ( 2,276 miles )
Age 33 Male Gender
Location Peoria, AZ
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Preferred   Jul, Jun, Aug, Sep → Early
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  6:11am - 6:29pm
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2 Alternative
 
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A Path Less Taken
by hippiepunkpirate

Likely In-Season!
Cirque: First of all, you are most likely thinking to yourself, "What the heck is a cirque?" A cirque is a geologic term for a depression formed during the process of alpine glaciation. A glacier begins to form when heavy snow builds up enough to compact into dense ice sheets. The top of the glacier attaches itself to the mountain, on what is called the headwall. Near the headwall, the ice is the densest, which causes the ground below it to depress, forming a cirque. From approximately 100,000 years to about 10,000 years, the San Francisco Peaks went through four periods of glaciation, leaving behind glacial landforms such as cirques, moraines and aretes. The top of the Inner Basin Trail approaching the Weatherford is actually in a cirque. However, the goal of this hike is to reach the top of the mountain's largest cirque, located just above Flagstaff Spring. In my opinion, it is one of the most spectacular areas on the mountain, with the offering of solitude.


Overview: This hike is described as being hiked from the Inner Basin Trailhead at Lockett Meadow, completed by my father and I on July 16, 2009. To reach the cirque, you must first reach Flagstaff Spring, which requires hiking roads built by the City of Flagstaff to maintain their water supply. Upon reaching Flagstaff Spring, off-trail route-finding through dense forest and steep terrain is required to reach the cirque. A Humphrey's Peak topographic map from USGS is helpful and recommended for navigating the roads and for off-trail hiking. The TrailDex Map using one of the topo overlays may suffice.

Warning: This hike is off the beaten path, so always be aware of your surroundings, especially the weather. The top of the cirque is at treeline, so exposure to lighting is a definite factor. If you get in to trouble, it is unlikely another hiker will stumble upon you, and help may not be able to reach you quickly. Also, I recommend bringing some sort of walking stick to aid in descending from the cirque back down to Flagstaff Spring.

Note: It looks as if the cirque may be accessible from the Humphrey's Summit Trail. Getting down into the cirque from the saddle would require descending the headwall, which is extremely steep. I'm guessing it's class 4+ and with all that loose scree, extremely dangerous.

Hike: From the trailhead, head up the Inner Basin Trail. At 1.5 miles, you will reach the intersection with the Waterline Road, the "cabin" and the trail register. It would be a good idea to sign it and list your desired destination. Continue up the Inner Basin Trail a short distance (100 yards?) and you will come to a junction. This is where the topo starts to come in handy. A sign will indicate that the official Inner Basin Trail is to the left, you will want to veer to the right. At this point, you are leaving the crowds behind and starting an adventure in solitude (unless you meet a City of Flagstaff Water truck).

As you continue through the dense forest, an opening here and there allows for quick glimpses of Doyle Peak. You soon reach another junction. Keep going straight (turning left takes you to the meadow). The map shows a couple more junctions before Flagstaff Spring, but those roads are no longer maintained so you won't really need to worry about them. Before Flagstaff Spring, you will come across Bear Paw Spring, which has a wooden sign indicating its location just to the left of the road. It isn't too exciting, it tends to be a seep. There's a nice meadow that opens up here, and you can see Fremont Peak looming over the Core Ridge.

When you reach Flagstaff Spring, a lush alpine riparian zone awaits. A rusted metal pipe sticks out of the ground, and the maintenance road disappears suddenly. This is where the off-trail fun starts. The metal pipe is what the map indicates as the spring. Water actually comes out from above. On the map, you will notice that the canyon forks above. It seems easiest to climb the slope between these two forks.

When I came through in July 2009, Flagstaff Spring was not really flowing, although the damp ground indicated that the water level was very close to the surface. My dad reports that in June 2009, Flagstaff Spring was flowing nicely.

Make sure to keep left when you ascend the riparian zone. There is avalanche damage to the right, and isn't very fun to navigate. After a few hundred feet the canyon begins to fork, and you will need to look for a faint path heading up into the trees. If you miss it, just get out of the riparian area and head up the slope. In June 2009, my dad had to turn back at this point due to snow (lacking proper gear). In July 2009, we followed the faint trail from the riparian zone (it disappeared within a few hundred feet) and soon began finding our own way amongst the trees. Maybe two-thirds of the way to the lip of the cirque, as the hill continued to steepen, we caught a game trail in a south-westerly direction until we reached the lip. As before, if you miss the game trail, just keep heading up.

Once on the cirque, it's more of an area to explore than a specific destination. I found that the coolest areas were in the south and west areas of the cirque, which are more open and provide breathtaking views of the Core Ridge and the Humphrey's Ridgeline. The Core Ridge is likely the main volcanic vent that provided lava and whatnot to this beastly mountain back in it's heyday. The Core Ridge is also a glacier-carved feature called an arete, which is a ridgeline steepened by cirques carving into it on two sides. During our July 2009 trip, a couple patches of snow remained, with great-tasting water flowing down into the cirque and the bitter-sweet smell of alpine wildflowers lofting into the air. Make sure to spend some time up here and experience all the magic of this sweet, sweet area!

A map showing the cirque is provided here.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Note
This is a moderately difficult hike.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2009-07-22 hippiepunkpirate
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    FR22 Car Camping
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
The first time I saw photos of "The Cirque" I was downright captivated by the powerful and jagged lines of "The Core Ridge" and since then was obsessed with the idea of visiting a place of such magnitude.

My friend and I started our hike at the Interior Valley in the middle of the night with the intention of catching sunrise at the cirque so with that being said it certainly was a memorable hike from the start. It was quite surreal to walk through the inner basin at night especially the way the moonlight shimmered through the thick groves of aspen. We were in the midst of a great conversation and took a wrong turn on the Bear Jaw Abineau Trail and luckily noticed before going too far!
Other than that everything was working out nicely and even with temperatures dipping below 40° I was still sweating like a fat guy in a sauna due to the decent amount of elevation gain, especially the section above Flagstaff Spring.
I was surprised how nice of game trails there were leading up to cirque and also by the abundance of deer and possibly elk scat which was cool to see at that elevation.
Upon reaching the cirque I was completely amazed by where I was, pictures just don't do justice, you really need to be here to feel and see the immaculate beauty of this area.
Just after we entered the cirque I spotted a lone deer prancing around the area below the Core Ridge, it was awesome to physically see wildlife up there!
Soon after the sun rise broke a red glow from the heavens gleamed across the entire cirque lighting up the rough edges of the Core Ridge almost as if it were painted that color, this is something I will honestly never forget. The sunrise came and went in a matter of minutes but boy was it quite the spectacular show!
After taking photos I put my stuff down and wandered around the cirque looking for wildflowers and anything of interest. I found the nice field of Parrys Primrose up there but unfortunately we were a little late, the majority of the flowers were gone and the plants themselves are starting to wilt but nonetheless still great to see so much life at that elavation.
After exploring and getting my fix of the cirque we began our descent which was such a relief compared to the trek up and the fact that it was daylight out it was nice to see all the portions of the hike that I missed in the darkness. There are a couple areas of interest I found during the descent and found myself already begining to think of future unique trips up there.
I have done a lot of night hiking but never anything to that extent so it was quite the momentous feeling finishing up a hike like that in the early morning hours and it was well worth the effort and careful planning to make this trip happen!
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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After Humphrey yesterday I wanted to pay a visit to Philomena Springs and see how that was flowing this wet summer, but with the annual cancer road closure event, that was obviously out of the question. I just wasn't feeling Elden as a day hike, so I thought it would be fun to hike this since I haven't been up here since the day of the Schultz. I probably should have done Elden and then headed to Sedona to round things out. I got to about 10,800', and turned back due to the hail and cold storm, as several others HAZ members did today on Humphrey. I could have done the Cirque after the storm passed, but it wouldn't have been fun with the cold moist air and everything being wet. The steep slope up was covered in hail and very slippery, and I kept setting loose rocks off downhill, so I turned back. The sun only came out briefly while in the aspen section of real trail, and it was pretty cold while leaving, so I'm not upset with my decision. From what I saw yesterday, the peak of the flowers is past for the season, anyway.
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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Inner Basin Cirque Plus
I needed a color fix and had not been to Flag in awhile. The Aspens in the Inner Basin (I always want to call it the Inter Basin) should be at their peak and the Inner Basin Trail is a favorite.

Jake's Cirque hike had always held my curiosity and well as checking out some of the spring areas.
A cirque
1) a semicircular or crescent-shaped basin with steep sides and a gently sloping floor formed in mountainous regions by the erosive action of a glacier
2) (from a French word for "arena") is an amphitheatre-like valley head, formed at the head of a valley glacier by erosion. Alternative names for this landform are corrie (from Scottish Gaelic coire meaning a pot or cauldron) and cwm (Welsh for "valley", pronounced coom).

A 6:00 meet at Happy Valley Park and Ride had us to the TH by a bit after 8am and a glorious 44 degrees! Temps never got over 75 on the day... Perfect.

There were some campers and a only handful of day hikers on the trail already.. Good. We were worried that parking may be a problem.

The Inner Basin Trail to the Waterline Trail/Road #146, is just laid out perfect in my eyes. It switchbacks gently affording some spectacular views of the golden goodness. It was slow going on the way in, both in full Tibbermode.

The first side trip was up Beard Canyon, looking for Bear Paw Spring. There is a sign indicating the Spring about a 1/2 mile shy of it's location on the map, complete with a sealed metal container with the City of Flagstaff Logos. I followed the steep rocky canyon up, to try and find the map indicated source. There were remnants of old ceramic pipes going close to the spring area, but I could find no spring.

Next, it was time for the Cirque, so back down to find the old road leading towards the Cirque. Not much of a road but defines the path to the Flagstaff Spring area. After this area, the trail climbs steeply to the Cirque. You top out and breakout of the pines to views of Agassiz and Humphrey! Your reward for the steep climb up.

Another couple of side trips on the way back, and we hit the "Corridor" trails.

There was so many people, I didn't have a clue where they had all found parking spots. I was having fun watching the many different types of people out hiking. Jeans vs brand new straight out of the Columbia Catalogs outfits; Huge backpacks vs no backpacks (or water), dozens of dogs, Cellphone Cameras vs expensive setups; 70 year olds vs crying 2 year olds (thought it was Joe at first). Some hate this type of hiking, I was glad to see so many people enjoying the day. If you get tired of the masses, just walk 100 yds off trail.

There is least a week or so left to view the colors up here... Get out and enjoy

37,000 Steps aprox = 13.4 miles

Video at the Cirque :next: http://youtu.be/LxWPUah7sts

Foliage
70-80% of the aspens are in prime color. 5% are past prime, and the rest are a week away from prime.
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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Wet, stormy day on the peaks. Unfortunately that meant the Cirque was completely socked in by clouds, so I'll have to return sometime. From the upper Cirque its an easy scramble up to the saddle where the Snowbowl/summit trail intersects Weatherford. Continued climbing until howling winds and near-zero visibility convinced me I didn't need to summit that day. Returned via Weatherford and Inner Basin trails.

Lots of golden aspen, with lots more still yet to change.
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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Coming back to this one was 5 years in the making. My dad showed me this one back in 2009, and it immediately became my favorite hike. The Cirque is just a ridiculously awesome destination, like no other place in Arizona. 2010 brought the Schultz fire and the road in was closed for a few years, and even got thwarted last year when they once more closed the road during the peak of the monsoon season. I had the opportunity to go up today and I took it.

Got up at 4:00, got to Lockett Meadow around 5:00 and shot sunrise there. Hit the trail around 5:40, hoping to make the Cirque by 8:30. Left the Inner Basin Trail around 7:00 and ventured onto the unmarked maze of old roadbeds. Just above Bearpaw Spring, I made an error and missed a turn (one that was not at all obvious due to erosion gullies). The road bed I chose quickly turned into a mess of route finding and rock hopping, and I had feeling I was one drainage too far north. Came around a bend and got a view with the drainage leading right into Humphreys' guts. Then I knew I was in the wrong drainage, but fortunately the ridge I needed to climb wasn't but a 100 or so feet of relief. Popped over it and I was pretty much at Flagstaff Spring, right where I needed to be.

Flagstaff Spring was pretty much how I left it 5 years ago, chock full of beautiful Columbia Monkshood. I headed up the steep final push into the Cirque, and was greeted by one of my favorite smells, the bittersweet scent of Parry's Primrose. Saw tons and tons of them from there on up. I knew there were game trails somewhere to make the final slog easier, but I didn't run across any so it was a hard push straight up. Popped up right into my favorite views in Crique, the high meadows looking up at the glacially carved arete of the Core Ridge. 8:45, close enough to my time goal. Enjoyed the views and got some photos, and then pushed toward the back of the Cirque. Took a nice half hour breather amongst the Primrose with views of Humphreys and such at the upper end of the Cirque. Started heading back about 9:30, made sure to take in plenty of views on my way back through the Cirque, of course.

Set a good pace, and had time to swing by the classic Inner Basin meadow on the way down, but of course took another wrong turn and ended up dead-ending at a pumphouse. Probably could've backtracked but just headed downhill off-trail and soon picked another road that got me back to the Inner Basin Trail to head to the car. Once again, got my socks knocked off by the killer aspen groves on the way down. Got back to the car about 11:40, still with enough time to shower, eat, and nap a bit before going up the Canyon to give a talk. Only wish I had more time up there! This hike remains #1 on my favorites list.

Wildflowers
Columbine, lupine, ect still doing well around 9000'. Solid showing of alpine flowers around 10500' and up.
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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I swapped this hike from Saturday to today so I could do some other things yesterday. It worked out that I got to watch the Hardy Fire yesterday. See those photos. Never in a million years would I have thought that less than 24 hours after the Hardy Fire an even larger fire would break out.

I left my home later than I wanted to, around 11:15 or so. As I passed Mt Elden on US HWY 89 I spotted a few puffs of light smoke in Schultz Pass. As soon as I saw that I knew there was going to be a massive fire today, but nothing even approaching what has since occurred. I stopped and took some photos in the Black Bart Park area and continued up to Lockett.

I parked at Lockett Meadow and started hiking at 12:10 PM. I went as fast as I could and reached the Inner Basin entrance at 12:40. I talked briefly with some folks from the Country Club area of east Flagstaff that told me they had come up to escape the smoke from the Hardy Fire. I told them what I had seen earlier on my drive up. The woman's response was, " I hate to see those lovely aspen on the Weatherford Trail burn", or something very similar to that. I told her the aspen would regenerate, and to enjoy the clean air while they could. Still, at this point no visible smoke from the fire. Several parties of hikers were descending. I started back up at a much faster than normal pace.

Around 1PM I stopped and looked back towards Lockett. The smoke coming over the ridges was now visible, and growing more impressive by the second. I kept on hiking up. I stopped and started uncountable times turning back and taking over 150 photos of this event. I also took video as well.

I started to not pay a lot of attention to the route I was on and was just going up to take photos and video. Eventually I was scrambling on one of the ridges that leads to the Summit of Humphrey. Boy, those Humphrey hikers must have some impressive photos. I really didn't like what I was getting into, so I crossed an unstable scree slope that was prone to sliding and descending some more stable talus. I came down to the bottom of the last grade before the cirque and climbed up it into the cirque. It was only 3:30 and I was here, so why not? I entered the cirque, stopped, took some pics, and then turned back towards Lockett. I left the cirque at 3:45.

I rushed back to Lockett and got there at 5:10PM. When I was almost back to my car I ran into 2 FS guys in a truck driving up into the Basin to look for another party that was still out there. I told them I hadn't seen them because I had been in the cirque. I had to explain to them what the cirque was. I got back to my car and found a note on my windshield. It read "USFS, Fire in area. Evacuate Immediately. Drive Safely." I realize I didn't make the smartest choice overall to continue with my hike, but if anyone could actually miss that smoke plume, they shouldn't be driving at all. I then drove much faster than ideal on the road out. The smoke was incredible. I could see the spot fire burning east of 89 on Sunset Crater property. This spot fire was a 1/2 mile in front of the main head of the fire. I attached myself to a convoy of vehicles being evacuated from Wupatki/ Sunset crater and drove back to town. Going through the smoke on 89 meant periods of zero visibility and lots of fire fighters burning out the fuels adjacent to the west side of 89. The 89 Mesa Fire in May was in this area, but that was moot now.

I stopped numerous times and got pics of the fire from Doney Park, and of the Schultz Pass area from Buffalo Park. This was exactly like the photos I remember of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone, except ponderosa isn't supposed to burn like lodgepole.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMMvF4XZi2g
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc4Jz06Ufbo
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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I'd say the winter season is over. It feels that way at least. Hopefully, we will still get another good sized snow storm, but the sun is strong, the air is warm, and the snow in the sun is turning to slop. The peaks had a good amount of powder last week and in the shade it is still deep, but when it's in the sun it's a real pain to walk in as it sticks to your shoe and adds a lot of weight to each step. The powder is a pain too, but only because it's so deep and soft in the shady places.

I was really naive when I started out today as I foolishly thought I was going to make a summit of Humphrey from the cirque. I knew by lunch that it wasn't going to happen. By the time I made the cirque I was exhausted and I never would have enjoyed any summit if I pressed on. It would have come well after dark so it would never have been worth it anyway. What took me 6 hours to go up took 2:45 to come down. The snow felt like it fought you at every step going up, but that makes it easier to go down.

I'm glad I did this hike under these conditions. It was really beautiful and it's really nice to see the Inner Basin and the cirque in late winter. I think I was actually a few weeks too late to have optimal snow conditions, but I got there anyway. Really, the hike would be a lot more enjoyable, even under the spring conditions, if the road was open to Lockett. I hate the road up.
Inner Basin Cirque Hike
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Today felt like spring was in the air. No, not because it was warm and balmy, but rather due to the high winds that were affecting town and especially the Peaks. Somehow, winter in Flagstaff can be blue skies (not always) and calm, and spring can be windy with clouds. Oh, well. I had this trip planned for the day and I wasn't about to let a little clouds and wind get in my way. Besides, on day like this I usually work with the idea that I can turn around when ever I want.

At the trailhead it was particularly miserable, but I think that is just a function of being on the east side of the Peaks, which seem to be the windiest side. I parked my car and started hiking in, from 7,662' (according to the DEX) and at 11am, up Lockett Meadow Road to the Inner Basin. If it weren't for this section of the hike being so boring, I think I would do this more often. I guess that is what summer is for. Either way, I got to Lockett Meadow and took a picture. I kept on going up the valley to the first pumps. I got a picture of them and I did not molest them. I flew past the next few pumps and then the wind really opened up on me. I was way off about the basin being protected by winds from the ridges. I'm sure it was nothing like it was on the western slope, but it was still windy.

I ate an apple at the 9700' pump and shelter and then went on Jake's Cirque Route. Mostly, I followed ski tracks. For the next few miles I felt really tired and couldn't understand why I was so out of shape. Only on the way down would I realize that it was actually a pretty steep grade and that I was tired because I was really exerting myself. It was probably made worse by the uphill fog which made it impossible for me to tell where I was in relation to the peaks.

Eventually, I made my way up a steep powder slope and into the cirque. I was socked in and while I was happy to have made it, I wish it could have been sunny. I was tired, but I wanted to find the slide run out that I saw last week from the rim of the volcano. The snow in the cirque really stabilized this week and the sunny warm conditions turned it to an ice crust with dense layers underneath. My ice axe went in fine, but there were times it was hard to penetrate. I almost didn't recognize the slide when I crossed it because it has melted so much. For some reason, I kept going up. I fought my way up the fairly steep, but still gently sloped slope and made my way to somewhere on the rim. The last 50 feet were the hardest as they got steeper and steeper and may have approached 60 degrees for the last 20 feet and it was close to vertical for the last 5 feet due to the cornice (that shouldn't impress you). I had to kick steps into the snow and made a ladder for the last part. The cornice is very dense, and I jammed my axe into the top and used it to pull my weight up. Odds are, it wasn't as steep as it felt, but judgment tends to be off when it's getting dark. I "peaked" out at 6pm.

At the time I was there, I had absolutely no idea where I was on the rim. I knew I was on the rim (that was obvious) and I knew I was north of the Saddle where the Humphrey Summit Trail and Weatherford Trail meet, but I didn't know much else. Sometime in the autumn someone put little flags along the Summit trail about treeline. I don't care for them, but I was able to see that I was right on the trail based on seeing a few of them. I know I wasn't in the saddle because I could not find the wood signs, and because I looked at pictures of the saddle and the Inner Basin side is very gentle. I did not come up a gentle slope. Based on my memory, some pics I took, and looking at other photos of the area (including a September set by HAZer, "hikingsunshine"), I am now certain I was just past the first false summit. Basically, I was at 12,065' in the first low spot on the trail where it rides right along the rim's edge after leaving the saddle and gaining some switchbacks through bristlecone pines.

The wind was moist with fog and moving around 50 to 60 MPH, and possibly more in gusts. I don't know for sure, but it felt like that with my experience. I didn't linger and I started down back into the basin at 6:10pm. It wasn't bad going down, though I did see just how steep my ascent route was. It took me half the time it did to go up, and I was back at my car by 9:15. I was tired, it was a long day, but I enjoyed it. I want to do this again, either just to the Cirque, but maybe to the rim and possibly with a summit. It might also be fun to do as an overnight trip.


My elevation uses a max of 12,064' on the rim and a starting elevation of 7,662'. I threw in 40 extra feet since I gained a little on the way out. I also added 6 extra miles for the rim ascent and the approach road. I guess that road is about 2 miles one way.

Permit $$
None


Directions
Map Drive
or
Road
FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

To Inner Basin Trailhead
From Flagstaff take US 89 north to Sunset Crater Rd. Do not turn on Sunset Crater Rd. Turn left instead of Right. Turning left will take you on the forest service roads. There will be a sign on your left telling you different destinations and an arrow. Go straight until you reach a 'T'. Turn right (north). This road will turn west. Turn north when you come to a road with a sign that points to Locket Meadow. Follow this road all the way down, 6 miles I think into Locket Meadow. Once in Locket Meadow turn right and keep driving until you see a parking place for hikers. It is by the outhouse. Parking is on the left, the trail is on the right. A gate blocks the entrance for vehicles.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 173 mi - about 2 hours 59 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 278 mi - about 4 hours 27 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 26.9 mi - about 52 mins
page created by hippiepunkpirate on Jul 22 2009 10:09 am
2+ mi range whistle
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