Situated just north of Flagstaff, Arizona is the little-known Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This beautiful monument with rugged landscape is dwarfed by its more popular neighbor to the northwest, Grand Canyon National Park. In fact, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument receives less than 2% of the visitors that make their way to Grand Canyon each year.
What people miss, though, is an amazing landscape created nearly 1,000 years ago. The park showcases what’s left behind from the volcanic eruption and destruction from the subsequent lava flow. The volcano is dormant now, but when the volcano erupted, it created the Sunset Crater from the largest vent.
In the aftermath of the eruption, what’s left behind at Sunset Crater is a landscape that has been altered slightly further, with a few hiking and interpretive trails. While you can’t hike up to the top of Sunset Crater any longer (due to trail erosion that occurred from overuse), stopping at this park for a few hours is definitely something that you’ll want to do while visiting Flagstaff and the surrounding area.
If you have a full day, then Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is great to couple with a visit to Wupatki National Monument, just a short 50-minute drive along the Loop Road. These parks are separated by Coconino National Forest land, making it a beautiful drive.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument map, courtesy of the National Park Service
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT
At just over 3,000 acres, Sunset Crater National Volcano Monument is quite small. The monument is limited to the small amount of land that includes and surrounds the Sunset Crater. The Loop Road provides access to the entire monument and continues to Wupatki National Monument. If you are in a hurry, you could traverse through the entire park by car in under 20 minutes. Even though the park is small, there is still plenty to see and we definitely recommend getting out and exploring a bit!
When visiting Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, we recommend checking out the following:
- Sunset Crater Volcano Visitor Center. The small visitor center is at the entrance to the park. It is open year-round, and when we visited we were more than impressed with the information that was provided by the park rangers. It was not crowded at all, as we went right before closing time (which is typically at 5 pm, aside from Christmas Dan and New Year, when the visitor center is closed). There is also a small park store at this location.
- Hiking. There are several trails to choose from at Sunset Crater. While we don’t believe that you need to go on all of them to see what the monument is all about, you should pick at least one or two in order to get a feel for the landscape:
- The Lava Flow Trail is one of the more popular trails in the park. This 0.8-mile loop that winds through the lava flows. It is at the base of the Sunset Crater, and is the closest that visitors are allowed to get to the large crater. If you want to spend a few more minutes on this interpretive trail, you’ll be able to follow a path that bisects the loop. 71 ft. elevation gain. The Lava Flow Trail is 1.7 miles east of the Sunset Crater Visitor Center. There is a small road that leads to the large parking area.
- If you are up for a bit more of a challenge, the Lenox Trail is a great option. This 1.4-mile loop trail is still easy, but the increased elevation gain will cause you to work a bit more than the Lava Flow Trail. The trail starts to head up immediately, but you are protected from the sun by the surrounding pine trees. The view from the top of the crater is incredible, so make sure you check this one out! 280 ft. elevation gain. The Lenox Trail is 1.3 miles east of the Sunset Crater Visitor Center on the right side.
- The Lava’s Edge Trail is the longest of the trails at Sunset Crater. This 3.6-mile round trip hike is also rated as easy, but just make sure you are prepared to be out for a little longer than the other trails and bring plenty of water. The trail (which connects the earlier trailhead of the Lenox Trail to the Visitor Center along the north side of the Loop Road) follows alongside the Bonito Lava Flow and goes in and out of the ponderosa forest. We recommend wearing closed-toes shoes on this hike, as the trail is uneven in spots and you will have dirty feet if you are wearing sandals, as some of the trail has ash. 172 ft. elevation gain. The Lava’s Edge Trail can be accessed right across from the Visitor Center, or 1.3-miles east of the visitor center.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument hiking map, courtesy of the National Park Service
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING NEWBERRY NATIONAL VOLCANIC MONUMENT
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument Lodging: There is no lodging inside of the monument. If you are looking to stay nearby, then the best bet is to stay in nearby Flagstaff.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument Camping: Camping is not allowed in the monument, but right across from the visitor center is the Bonito Campground. There are 44 sites at the campground, and all are first-come, first-served (no reservations). You can also find other camping options in the Coconino National Forest.
DIRECTIONS TO SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
From Flagstaff, head north on Highway 89 for about 12 miles (depending on where you start in the city). Take a right onto Highway 395. After 4 miles, you will reach the entrance to Sunset Crater.
- Flagstaff to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument: ~30 minutes; 20 miles
- Grand Canyon Village to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument: ~1 hour 45 minutes; 92 miles
BEST TIME TO VISIT SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT
The monument is open year-round, but the area does see snow. We recommend heading here in the spring, summer or fall to be able experience the hiking trails with minimal snow cover. Of course, if you are here in the winter, you can always call ahead to see what type of snow cover the trails have.
RELATED INFORMATION ON SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- We have a wide selection of WPA Style National Park posters, including a Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument poster to check out.
- After your trip, send us a photo and we’ll work with you to create a custom, vintage travel poster. We’ve made thousands and would love to work with you!