The pine-covered San Francisco Peaks provide a scenic backdrop to Flagstaff and a four-season playground for hikers, skiers, campers, hunters, and anglers. The mountains, which are remnants of extinct volcanoes, tower over the Colorado Plateau at elevations topping 12,000 feet and have the largest contiguous stand of ponderosa pine in the world. They include the state’s three highest peaks, with Humphreys Peak the tallest at 12,633 feet, and they are the home of the state’s top ski area, the Snowbowl, which is located on Humphreys’ western slopes.
The peaks have religious significance for Arizona’s Native Americans – particularly the Navajos, who regard them as one of four sacred mountains that circle the Navajo Nation. They call the San Francisco Peaks the “Doko’oosliid” or “Abalone Shell Mountain” and believe that the peaks contain abalone. The San Francisco Peaks were named by Franciscan monks serving the nearby Hopi tribe in the 1600s to honor St. Francis of Assisi, their order’s founder. The peaks have four campgrounds, two dozen hiking trails, and four wilderness areas – Kachina Peaks, Kendrick Mountain and Strawberry Crater.
The easiest access to the peaks is on the paved Snowbowl Road, a 15-mile drive that ascends from Flagstaff at 6,903 feet through forests and meadows with elk, deer and wild turkey to reach 9,200 feet in elevation at the ski area’s lodge. From scenic overlooks near the top of the drive, you can see the volcano field that created Humphreys and a panorama toward Kendrick Mountain.
Another popular entry point is the Lockett Meadow Campground, and the Inner Basin Trail that begins there and takes visitors into aspen-filled meadows and pine forests in the heart of San Francisco Peaks. The Lockett Meadow is reached through a combination of paved and dirt roads, though the route is not recommended for RVs or trailers because of the rough, narrow road and is closed in the winter. The campground is open from late May to mid-October.