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SP Crater Hike, AZ

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Guide 17 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Flagstaff NE
3.8 of 5 by 10
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,350 feet
Elevation Gain 800 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.6
Backpack No
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14  2016-02-04 Jim_H
28  2015-10-01 kingsnake
14  2013-06-21 blueberry1222
14  2011-09-26 Stoic
11  2010-07-31 nobert15
13  2009-03-13 Randal_Schulhaus
10  2007-03-16 Hansenaz
6  2005-09-17 kiluam
Page 1,  2
Author Misubri
author avatar Guides 2
Routes 0
Photos 193
Trips 4 map ( 20 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
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Preferred   Mar, Apr, May → Any
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:11am - 6:31pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Perfect Volcano
by Misubri

SP Crater is located in the San Francisco Volcanic Field. "SP" literally stands for "Sh$t Pot" because with its almost perfect conical shape the lava flow seems to have spilled out on one side and the cowboys thought it looked just like... well you get the idea.

The top of the crater is at 7027'. To the west of the crater is a lower volcanic rise... a small saddle. Basically you "summit" this first then head up the SP Crater. You can do this from either the north or the south side. But keep this in mind; even though it is only about an 800' ascent, if you've ever climbed a volcano you know that it is two-to-one ratio. For every two steps up, you slide one step back. Furthermore, when you start to loose your footing you can't help but try and scurry up. So considering the altitude and the amount of physical exertion, my advice is to first ascend the southern side to get to the saddle. It is longer, but the grade is less, which will leave you with more energy to climb the crater.

Once you are on the saddle you can see a couple of trails the lead to the top. But it's real simple, just head up, all paths lead to the top. Please try to keep trail erosion to a minimum. This is the reason National Park department closed the trail that leads up to the top of nearby Sunset Crater.

The summit provides a great view of the San Francisco Peaks from the north side, the lava flow coming from the crater and the surrounding area. The volcanic field is very barren, but that just adds to the surreal look of the place and makes it all the more interesting. You are able to walk around the complete crater at the top and there is full visibility into the bottom of the crater. But I would only advise going down in the center of the crater to a certain point. After a bit it gets steep and the soil is very loose.

Descending the crater takes about fifteen minutes and is great fun. You basically take a few steps, jump, then hit the ground to a cushioned landing and do it again. But once again, do this sparingly so that erosion is kept to a minimum.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2003-03-29 Misubri
    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
    SP Crater Hike
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Easiest way to log this, as I did not actually summit SP, but was literally next to it, and the views are similar. With a -4 morning and a cold start, I had no intentions of Elden, so off on a scenic drive I went, and by late morning I was out in the grass north of the Peaks. I wound up headed right for SP, finding it easier to get to than expected. I parked about where the hike starts, but slightly up road, and went towards it, but didn't feel like fighting sliding cinders, so went up the adjacent grassy knoll. Nice views.

    Really nice and quiet out here. Stopping for a moment while hiking down, I heard the sound of rolling rocks, and looked over to see about 10 mule deer running on the side of SP. Cold, only 32, but sunny with no wind, so not bad. Nice to explore in June, perhaps, which is the earliest I see myself coming back to northern AZ.
    SP Crater Hike
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Drove up to Flagstaff today, in preparation for tomorrow's hike to Cedar Mountain. Figured we would get there early, so lined this up as a relatively quick hike to fill late morning, plus train a bit for a similar elevation profile at Cedar Mountain.

    The last time we drove up US 89 was September, 2013. While I normally have very good visual memory, I had forgotten how beautiful the plains north of Flagstaff are. :o

    SP Crater Rd. is currently car drivable, but it isn't graded, so you can't go as fast as on, say, Klondyke Rd. Also, watch out for cattle, particularly around the full Eightynine Tank, just west of the highway. The official hike route starts on SP Crater Rd. at Black Tank, but it is no problem driving a half mile down the jeep trail. There is a small clearing in the grass, by a juniper (?) that is a good place to park. (See my route: [ gps route ] ). Going any further, up the ridge, on the jeep trail, is 4wd, high clearance, and skill. The cinders on the jeep trail are as slippery as those on the hill, with the added difficulty of resting above a hard surface. :stop:

    The jeep trail is also quite steep. :sweat: I tried to follow use trails up the side of the crater, but found that the best footing was affording by using the little scrub plants as ladder rungs. Being that the scrub has to live in such desolate ground, they are firmly planted, and thus provide solid footing. Still, it was slow going.

    I climbed through a crack to gain the summit, then hiked counter-clockwise around the rim. The inner crater slopes off slightly, for about 100 feet down, then gets very steep, before reaching a vertical cliff, then steep shale to the middle. I had considered the possibility of a downclimb, but on viewing the difficulties, said no fricking way. [-( It could be done, but I wouldn't do it without ropes and climbing gear. The west, southwest, and south rim is fairly easy travelling, but the remainder of the rim is slow, rocky going. I did find a small area on the south rim that looked like it had been cleared for camping. It would be an awesome spot. Unfortunately, I forgot to mark it. :|

    I had thought to take off with a bottle of water, but was glad I brought my full water load. I didn't use it all, or nearly all, but was glad I had it as there is no shade, other than the few slope bushes I used for ad hoc waypoints.

    The wind was very heavy, especially on the northeast rim, above the lava flow. I almost got knocked off my feet -- which is not good when the footing has so much ankle break potential. But as heavy as the wind was, it was nothing compared to what I would experience the next day on Cedar Mountain. :o

    I started down the way I had up, using the scrub for sure footing, but soon determined that it was both easier and faster to side-slide, kind of like skiing.


    Returned to Flagstaff, we checked in at The Inn at 410 (nice B&B), on Leroux, then went for a wander around downtown. I had a few beers at a "Irish" bar, where the wind was so heavy it blew my glasses off the table. We ended up eating at Na-D-Li, an excellent Korean place on San Francisco St. Kimchi Jjigae (spicy pork stew) is not typical hiking fodder, but I love it. :D


    Drive Video: ... er6c
    SP Crater Video: ... ILGE

    Some mallows, purple flowers with yellow middles, and a few other species.
    SP Crater Hike
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    25 years of living and hiking in first time on this popular crater. Nice hike, started around 2pm with my 7 year old son. We quickly summited (see below), walked around the perimeter of the cone, had a snack then descended around 4pm. It was a Saturday, saw 3 other vehicles and a few other hikers.

    I actually parked on the western side of SP on the saddle of the next cone west (followed a double track road from the north actually circumferences SP). My Toyota 4WD needed "low" to creep up the steep, slippery slope but it probably saved us half the climb.

    Nothing much to note..several cairns around the top crater. One LARGE one on the north end, thought it might be grave-site for someone's pet...or someone just got ambitious and stacked a bunch of rocks. Also (like Strawberry Crator) saw a windbreak, but I'll bet it was recently made as well.

    Beautiful views from every direction, the lava flow is very impressive.
    SP Crater Hike
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Stunning perfect volcano with inner crater and an unreal jet-black lava flow stretching miles to the north! Only thing missing were the dinosaurs...

    We initially missed the Ranch Road turn-off from Hwy 89 because we were looking for Mile Marker 446. No problem - just pulled into Hank's Trading Post on the west side of the highway and made the "U-eeee"...

    The drive along the washboard road was uneventful - reminded me a bit of the roads to Grand Falls. Plenty of cows with their new calves along the way...

    Parked the truck near the double-track turn-off from the ranch road and began the hike from there. Not because it wasn't drivable, only because we wanted the dogs to be able to stretch their legs. Out of the truck poured Lynn, Hannah, and the dogs - Pauli and Skippy, as we started the lung-opening trek up the double-track to the saddle.

    Took multiple switch backs up the cinder cone. There's an obvious path at the saddle but it disappears near the cedar trees. From there I continued a switch back path up to the lava boulders and onto the rim.

    Views from the rim provide a spectacular vantage. Circled around the rim and surfed down the cinders in record time to the saddle and back to the truck as our shadows started to grow long..

    Yes - the only thing missing were the dinosaurs. Great set location for Jurassic Park IV - SP Crater Adventures...
    SP Crater Hike
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Fantastic views of the Coconino Plateau and SP Crater lava Field.
    Very interesting rocks and geographic features to see.
    Had a blast!

    May 18th 2005
    SP Crater is a fabulous example of a volcanic cone (technically a basaltic andesite cone) in the San Francisco Volcanic Field north of Flagstaff.
    The drive is easy and you don't need a 4-wheel drive vehicle unless you want to do some further exploring in this very interesting region.

    The directions given by Misubri are perfect. If you have a 4-wheel drive you can drive right up to the starting point. If not, park at the left side base and walk up the tracked road to the ideal starting location on the west side.

    The climb is somewhat difficult in that the shingly cinder rocks slide your feet backwards as you climb, but if you walk diagonally you can purchase your grip on the larger rocks and vegetation.

    The view from the top is incredible, especially the lava field spanning for 5 miles to the north. The attached aerial photograph was not taken by me but by Wendell Duffield, of the U.S. Geological Survey, and best shows the cone and the whole of the lava field which spans for 5 miles.

    There are so many things to see and do whilst hiking around the rim.
    There is another crater off to the East, I could not find its name. The Colton crater to the south can be clearly seen and the snow-capped San Francisco peaks at this time of the year are beautiful.

    We initially wanted to go to Sunset Crater but they have stopped people climbing to the top now. This crater more than made up for what we didn't see at Sunset.

    Coming down was a blast as you can foot ski in the areas on the south side that have very shingly lava rocks, but try and keep in somebody else's tracks so as not to spoil the natural look of the cone.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    To get to the crater you take 89, north of Flagstaff till you come to a dirt road either at milepost 446 or about 6/10 of a mile past 447. Both are maintained dirt roads but at some spots on the southern route a high clearance vehicle would make the passage easier. Milepost 446 will bring you to the south side of the crater and you simply stay to the left at the forks. You can clearly see the crater at the beginning, soon as you turn off of route 89.
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