Colton Crater near Flagstaff is a brief but oh so very strenuous hike. After a few wrong turns the hiking group which I am a member of made it to Colton Crater. It was a perfect day to hike with the temperature in the mid 70`s and a slight breeze blowing. Flagstaff in August is wonderful and we couldn`t have picked a better day to hit the slopes. We did our climb from the east side of the crater which is the steepest.
HAZ Note: Trail data given is for a northern approach and looping the rim back to your starting point. Access is on State Trust Land in which you may or may not be able to attain a permit. The starting point you choose doesn't alter the distance gain very much but a northern approach would have more sublte grades throughout the hike. The lower half is on Coconino Forest land, no permits required.
Note #2: Dogs are allowed but the terrain is likely too rough.
Colton Crater is exactly that, a crater. No not from a celestial impact; but a crater of volcanic origins. Standing at the bottom and looking up I thought to myself "This isn`t going to be too bad". Note to self: SHUT UP AND KEEP MOVING!!! Allow me to be blunt; climbing to the top of Colton Crater is difficult. The terrain is uncooperative, the climb up is steep & unforgiving, and the high elevation can affect you if your not acclimated to it.
My biggest complaint (next to the elevation gain) was the ground itself. The first third of the hike/climb was littered with small to medium sized rocks which made foot placement very important. Placing your foot on a rock improperly and twisting your ankle in the process is a concern that you need to keep in the forefront of your mind while your hiking up the first third of the crater. Your in big trouble if you twist/break your ankle out here. The second third of the climb consisted of semi-packed dirt. In this area the ground becomes more cooperative which is important because this is where you start to tire. Unfortunately once you start climbing to the top there is no level ground to stop and catch your breath. When you stop (and yes you will have to stop) the ground is at a steep incline so remember not to lean too far back. Old man gravity will let you know if you lean back too far. The final third of the climb is the trickiest because the ground is best described as being covered with knee deep black aquarium gravel. Actually it is tiny pieces of pulverized basalt lava which has eroded away over the years. Be prepared for LOTS of gravel in your boots. At some points on the way down I actually sank down into the gravel well over the top of my boots!!!!
Once you reach the top the views are fantastic. You can see Humphreys in the distance; however the most foreboding sight is SP Crater which lies about 2 miles to the north. Its beautiful black and red slopes beckon to scaled. If you look down into Colton`s Crater you can make out what looks to be an extinct lava dome. We wanted to climb down into the crater (which you can do) but the weather turned nasty and a hasty departure was in order.
All in all Colton Crater is well worth the effort. I want to go back and hike the rim all the around the crater and take my GPS with me so that I can get some exact coordinates to post online.
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.