Craters and Cinder Cones Loop, Arizona

  • Distance

    185 Mi.

    (298 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    2%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    4

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    12,000'

    (3,658 M)
  • High Point

    9,381'

    (2,859 M)
This 185-mile loop follows quiet dirt roads and two-tracks through woodlands and grasslands among 800+ extinct volcanoes of all sizes, from small cinder cones to the towering San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. Optional side trips include fire lookouts, cinder cone summits, and Lava River Cave. This loop also acts as a northern extension to the Coconino Loop.
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Perfect for bikepackers looking to get off the beaten path while following dirt roads and two-tracks, the San Francisco Volcanic Field Loop meanders through northern Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field. 800+ volcanoes that erupted over the past few million years dot the landscape – some are a few hundred feet tall, and some tower many thousands of feet above the surrounding countryside. From Flagstaff, the route heads west toward Bill Williams Mountain on dirt roads and jeep tracks, passing through sprawling parks and ponderosa pine forests.

Bikepacking Roots LogoRoute Development: The Craters and Cinder Cones Loop was created by Kurt Refsnider to bring more riders into one of his favorite Arizona landscapes, as well as to create a northern extension to the popular 250-mile Coconino Loop (developed by Scott Morris and Chad Brown) to create a longer and even more diverse bikepacking experience.

Beyond Williams, the route enters deserted, dry pinon-juniper woodlands and then high grasslands of the Babbitt Ranches. You’ll pass eerily dark, yawning cinder cones before climbing into the young, cindery landscape of Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater is the youngest volcano in the area, having erupted just 1,000 years ago. The tallest peaks in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks, are the final feature you’ll experience, climbing high into aspen forests at over 9,000 feet and then descending a hugely scenic water pipeline service road that’s closed to motorized use back toward Flagstaff.

This is a stellar ~3-day route with numerous options for side exploration and minimal technical riding in countryside rarely visited. But water is scarce, so plan accordingly.

Difficulty: This route is rated 4 out of 10 with some physical difficulty due to regular rolling terrain with sustained climbing, possibly frequent and unrelenting at times. Technically speaking, the track has occasional obstacles and steep sections (e.g., maintained forest roads, mellow singletrack); suitable for beginner mountain bikers.


  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Resources

    link

  • Quiet, non-technical riding through pine forests and grasslands
  • 1,000-year-old cinder landscapes and lava flows in Sunset Crater National Monument
  • San Francisco Peaks’ Inner Basin and the Waterline Road traverse
  • Fire lookout side trip options on Red Mountain and O’Leary Peak
  • Hike into Lava River Cave, a 0.5-mile-long lava tube
  • Climb SP Crater, one of the most striking cinder cones in the area
  • Ideal time of year (and potentially weather conditions): Late spring, early fall. The
    route is rideable May-October, but the summer months will be warm and monsoon
    storms in July and August should be avoided.
  • DO NOT attempt this route when wet or when rain is in the weather forecast. The soil in this region is full of clay that becomes impassable when wet in many areas
  • You NEED an Arizona State Land Department Recreation Permit.
  • Bikepacking challenges: Limited water and resupply (see FOOD/H2O tab)
  • Recommended bike type: Mountain bike
  • Recommended printed topographic maps: Trails Illustrated maps 856 (Flagstaff/Sedona) and 854 (Sycamore Canyon/Verde Valley) provides nearly complete coverage.

Please visit BikepackingRoots.org to download the complete guide for this route and to check for any route alerts or updates.

This route and associated information is just a starting point for your preparation, and your safety is your responsibility. Although this route, its GPS track, and route data were prepared after extensive research, their accuracy and reliability are not guaranteed. Check for current conditions, route updates, use your common sense, obey local laws and rules, and travel with alternative means of navigation. Bikepacking Roots, its directors, employees, and volunteers will in no way be responsible for personal injury or damage to personal property arising in conjunction with using this route. If you do encounter changed conditions or inaccuracies.

  • Dispersed camping is permitted in most areas aside from the obvious areas of private land around miles 28-30 (Spring Valley), miles 40-50 (south of Interstate 40), and the first ~12 miles northeast of Williams.
  • The northern part of the route passes through land owned by Babbitt Ranches. Public access and camping is permitted – simply respect their land and stock and abide by Leave No Trace ethics.
  • Sunset Crater N.M. has a small campground near the Visitor’s Center, and there’s another campground in Lockett Meadow just before the high point on the route.
  • Longest stretch between resupply is 120 miles, or 2+ days
  • Longest stretch between water sources is 50 miles, or 1+ days
  • The most reliable water options are (1) around mile 31-35 (USFS cabin if vacant or stock tanks nearby and (2) Dogtown Lake Campground at mile 52, (3) a pipe-fed stock tank at mile 44, (4) several pipe-fed stock tanks between miles 51 and 53 (FILL UP HERE!), (5) Sunset Crater N.M. Visitor’s Center at mile 98, (6) a pond in Lockett Meadow at mile 105, and (7) a piped spring at the high point on the route at mile 98.
  • There are no resupply options until Williams. Williams offers restaurants, a grocery store, and motels. After Williams there are no resupply options until returning to Flagstaff aside from a gas station 7 miles northeast of Williams.

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Robert Brannon Townsend

    Thanks for the write up! Looking forward to escaping the heat this summer and heading north from PHX. Definitely gonna plan a weekend for this!

  • Mike

    Arizona never disappoints in the route creation department, huh?

  • Endless.

  • mikeetheviking

    Schweet!

  • Idle Prentice

    Looks like a fantastic route. How would this country be in September/October? Much snow? How cold at night? I can’t get out there until the fall. Thanks.

  • MikeB

    As first timers, we did the first 110 miles in 2 days, and then bailed before going around the north side of Humphreys. Fantastic trip with lots of variety. We did not take chances with the water and did a drop near our 2nd night camping. There lots of tanks with water but certainly did not look appetizing (late Sept 2017). The elevation climbs were very challenging and our pace was only about 9 mph so we usually were just arriving at camp at sunset or later. GPS is essential, there are so many side roads in this area. Loved this trip though – excellent!

  • Great feedback… thanks!!

  • hey, sorry I missed this. Sept/Oct should be perfect… just watch for early snow around Doyle Peak.

  • Michael Bussmann

    Hey guys, long time reader, first time commenter. I am wondering if this route is doable on a cross bike? I know the cinder surface can get a bit soft, and are wide tire required (in your opinion)?

  • Given that Kurt recommends a mountain bike in the must know tab, I would say no. But, IMO, anything is doable on any bike with the proper skills and patience. If you normally ride a cross bike on single track (as many people do), then it’s certainly achievable… I am not familiar with the surface conditions of this one though. But based on photos and description, I would stick with 2″+ tires.

  • Michael Bussmann

    Thanks Logan.

  • Jim

    How early in the spring will this generally be rideable? March to early? I understand local weather conditions will dictate, but based on what an average winter season looks like, just wondering when the earliest someone should plan to ride this route.

  • Check out the Must know tab (or triangle ! icon on mobile)… as suggested, May-October. But, it really depends on the snowfall. You could divert around Doyle peak if the snow is limited to above 8,000 feet though…

  • Mike Mohaupt

    I want to cut this down into a single night trip and am planning on starting in Williams. I know they recommend doing the trip from May to October but I want to try this at the end of March next year. Provided there is limited snow fall an no rain that week do you think its do-able? Here is the route I have planned http://www.strava.com/routes/11357842 How reliable do you think the 5th water source will be after Williams? Thanks guys!

  • Oksana Kovalenko

    Interested in doing this route in 2018
    Would be willing to coordinate for a group meet if there are any takers :)

  • mat long

    June 19th? Yay or Nay?

  • Eric Whiting

    Hey, I’m thinking the same thing….Mid May?

  • Oksana Kovalenko

    Hey, I could pull off 18, 19, 20
    Have you done this course before? Two days maybe ?

  • Nope never done this….only ridden out west a few times years ago. Always wanted to bikepack out in big sky country. I will want to take more time to escape reality – perhaps 4 days total. Want to stretch out the exploration side.

  • Hi – thanks for posting your experience!
    Did you just use a phone GPS / Strava or something?

  • MikeB

    I had a Garmin 1000 loaded with topo maps and tracks. As we were improvising the 3rd day, it got a bit messy as the garmin topo maps are not all that accurate with regard the roads (plus there are so many in the area). I used the garmin since it was mounted on the handlebars and was always visible as we traveled.

  • If you’re still pondering this, let me know. I’d like to book flights, etc, and get this plan set in stone (i.e. pushing aside all other responsibilities to make happy a priority for a week)

  • Fatty or Full Susp? …Or do I need to buy another bike? Suggestions?
    Seems the bikepacking world is 27.5 plus hardtails mostly.

  • Sam Jaeckels

    May get hot, and on the verge of monsoon season. Monitor weather.

  • Jamie Shaffer

    I ride a steel Monē 29er hardtail. I say ride what you have!

  • Jamie Shaffer

    A friend and myself are thinking of doing this route May 19. Maybe we’ll see you out there.

  • Oksana Kovalenko

    I wish I could but not I plans for spring anymore, few doubles coming up May-June and
    SR series to finish to qualify for 2019 PBP.
    However late summer and all fall are open for these sort of adventures.
    New gravel bike too with 1X and upto 2.25S/650b
    Stay in touch
    If convenient find me on Facebook, Instagram or Strava
    Cheers

  • Thinking of doing that week as well. Bit concerned though after talking with folks from the Ranger District out there. Super dry conditions, since they’ve had no rain or snow. They may close the forest if the drought persists, due to wildfires. Crossing my fingers for some precipitation soon. The word was if the closed it wouldn’t be until June 1, but that’s not verifiable.

  • Doing this route May 16-19 if anyone else wants to meet up.

  • Thuan Vuong

    Eric, are are still going? If so, what about planning to meet up?

  • Hey Thuan,
    Yup, flying out Tuesday, starting Wednesday from Flagstaff. Planning on 4 days. Are you local?

  • Thuan Vuong

    From Los Angeles. Originally planning on Amtraking it to Flagstaff at end of May but can always move it up. Could always use company.

  • Cool. Your call – I have a 4 day window, and I need to leave Wednesday morning around 10ish.

    If you can swing it, let me know.