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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.

Colton Crater, AZ

no permit
26 6 0
Guide 6 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Flagstaff NE
4.3 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 3.25 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,450 feet
Elevation Gain 918 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2-3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 7.84
Backpack No
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
9  2016-09-29 kingsnake
7  2013-06-21 blueberry1222
5  2006-03-21 kiluam
5  2005-08-25 Turkish
Author Turkish
author avatar Guides 1
Routes 0
Photos 62
Trips 11 map ( 62 miles )
Age 48 Male Gender
Location Chandler, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Sep, Oct, Apr → 8 AM
Seasons   Early Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:11am - 6:29pm
0 Alternative
Geology Nearby
by Turkish

Likely In-Season!
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.

Check out the Triplogs.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

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2005-08-25 Turkish
    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 Review
    Colton Crater
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I noticed Colton Crater when I was out here last year, hiking SP Crater. Whereas SP Crater is tall, steep and slippery with volcanic rock all the way around, the side of Colton Crater visible from SP Crater Road is lower than the rest of the caldera, and grassy. Further research seemed to indicate Colton Crater’s lava dome would be easily hikeable, whereas the floor of SP Crater is only accessible with climbing equipment.

    I’d forgotten my windbreaker, so I started hiking in my wife’s jacket. By the time I reached the top of the caldera, I was sweating buckets. I didn’t feel like lugging the jacket in my pack, so I tied it to a bush, waymarking the location just in case. (A safeguard only if I actually remembered to pick up the jacket on my way out of the crater.)

    I had picked out two possible routes down, into the caldera: Each a saddle, the first on the north rim, at the jeep trail, the other on the northeast rim, just south of Hill 6791. As I stood on the north rim, that route did not look bad at all. Any other route is very steep, and protected by cliffs, though probably doable by a more skilled hiker.

    I turned west, following the ever fading jeep trail up this hike’s only real ascent, 800 ft. in a mile. (When the dirt track disappears, follow the crushed / bent grass.) Even if you lose the jeep trail, moving cross country is not difficult, as the ground is covered with low growth rather than slippery cinders. I was surprised at the variety and quantity of flowers.

    By the time I reached an open, flat, area that would make a good camp site, the clouds had closed in so tight that I could no longer see into the caldera, let alone the San Francisco Peaks. Visibility was 150 yards, at best.

    Just past the camping area, I picked up a barbwire fence that runs southeast, just over the outside of the rim, for a quarter mile to the rim’s high point, Hill 7368, which is just outside the fence. Despite the fog-shrouded lack of views, being gluteus port I had to cross the fence to “summit”.

    From the summit, the fence turns northeast for a half mile, before downhill, east along the Coconino National Forest boundary.

    As I followed the fence northeast, the grass & flowers grew scarcer, and the ground more cindery. But it was still easy travel, until I reached the east rim, and began a steep 400 ft., .40 miles descent to the saddle at the foot of Hill 6791. I was so concentrating on my footing that I almost stepped on a rattler. It took me a few moments to figure out why the slithering thing was making noises at me, but thankfully the rattler preferred to go on about his own business, finding shelter under a nearby bush. I’m not sure what species it was, but it definitely was not a western diamondback. (The tail was not black & white.) I had no idea rattlers lived at 7000 ft., or would be active in such chilly weather!

    At the saddle, I took a look at my alternate descent. It was mild the first hundred yards, but got steeper after that, so I skipped it, heading instead up Hill 6791.

    On the summit of Hill 6791, I found a wireless fence — nothing but old posts, in a line — which took me back to the northern saddle.

    Despite being 350 ft. in .30 miles, the northern saddle is the easiest descent. About a third of the way down, I picked up an obvious use trail, that had not been visible from the saddle. The use trail angles to the right, rather than heading straight down. By heading right, I was heading for the shortest floor-to-top-of-lava-dome difference. (A worthwhile consideration when climbing cinders.)

    There was an interesting boulder on the west edge of the lava dome. Given its location, it did not fall off the rim, but must have been ejected from the volcano landing, against odds, in a vertical position. From the boulder, I headed to the top of the lava dome, where I took a break.

    I followed the use trail all the way back up to the rim, where I remembered to retrieve my wife’s jacket. ;-)

    After reuniting with my always patient wife at the trailhead, we headed to our usual haunt in Flagstaff, the always excellent B&B, The Inn at 410, on Leroux, followed by yet another delicious Korean dinner at Na-D-Li, on San Francisco St. Post-hike meals don’t always need to be burgers or pizza! :mrgreen:

    Hike Video: [ youtube video ]

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    North of Flagstaff, near Wupatki National Monument, on unmarked dirt roads.

    Use the GPS Route for best results.
    3 pack - loud whistle
    safety first
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