The Sunset Crater Volcano, on historic Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, roughly 160 miles due north of Phoenix, erupted in 1085, forcing a population of indigenous tribes to relocate and covering the landscape with a thick layer of lava. Today, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument draws about 165,000 annual visitors and is among the top Arizona parks worth visiting besides the Grand Canyon.
The volcano gets its name, according to the U.S. Geological Service, from the outermost layer of oxidized red lava that makes the site appear bathed in the light of a sunset. The monument site sits on the traditional lands of many Native American tribes and is home to the Wupatki Pueblo, a 100-room four-story apartment house built about 900 years ago from chunks of sandstone, limestone, and basalt. Indigenous people lived in the pueblo until about 700 years ago.
10/10 Travelers Can Get Their Bearings At The Visitor Center
The Sunset Crater Volcano Visitor Center is open Friday to Tuesday all year from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. To enter the monument site there’s a $25 per vehicle fee that’s valid for seven days. There is an additional fee of $5 per person aged 15 and older to enter the Wupatki Pueblo and to climb the Sunset Crater. At the visitor center, tourists can meet park rangers, see a film about the site, and take advantage of picnic tables and restrooms. The address of the monument is 6082 Sunset Crater Road, Flagstaff.
9/10 Watch For Trail Closures Ahead Of A Visit
The Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is operated by the National Park Service, which will close certain roads and trails based on current conditions. Travelers bound for the monument should stay informed about closures to avoid disappointment. At present, two trails remain closed following damage from the June 2022 Tunnel Fire, the Lava’s Edge and Lenox Crater trails.
8/10 Know The Rules About Hiking At The Monument
Hiking is permitted only on designated trails, and the park service cautions that lava is brittle, unstable, and sharp. Two of the most-used trails are the Lava Flow Trail, a one-mile loop that is considered easy. It’s on a paved path and should take roughly an hour to complete. Another easy trail is the Bonito Vista Trail, which is about a third of a mile and features great views of the Bonito lava flow and other surrounding volcanos.
7/10 Pets Are Welcome But Must Remain Leashed
The park service welcomes leashed pets on the paved portion of the Lava Flow Trail, provided the leashes are six feet long or shorter. Pets also can access the U.S. Forest Service lands surrounding the monument. They are not permitted on the A’a Trail, Bonito Vista Trail, Lenox Crater Trail, the unpaved outer loop of the Lava Flow Trail, or the Lava’s Edge Trail portion inside the monument. Water is available at the visitor center 24/7 during summer and during open hours in winter.
6/10 Visitors Can View Native Plant Life
The lava surface of the Sunset Crater Volcano is slowly allowing plant life to rebuild itself, and tourists exploring the crater can see some vegetation. The National Park Service says that 166 documented species are known to be living within the crater’s so-called cinder fields, including Utah juniper, apache plume, and cliffrose. As more soil formation happens, plant growth will become more obvious. It’s a process known as ecological succession.
5/10 Environment Is Ideal For Night Sky Viewing
In the summer months, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument offers programs for visitors who want to take full advantage of Arizona’s dark skies and starscapes. Park rangers and volunteer astronomers are on hand to assist stargazers, with help from the group Astronomers of the Verde Valley. The monument’s isolated location makes it one of the most amazing places for stargazing. Travelers can check the monument website for details about the programs, which are weather dependent and offered on certain dates.
4/10 The Monument Has Specific Safety Rules In Place
Visitors should be aware that all plants, animals, and archeological objects within the monument are protected by federal law, and there are substantial fines for disturbance, damage, or removal. Among other important regulations, officials require that hikers stay on designated trails, and they caution that storms can form without much warning. Visitors who see lightning should take cover immediately, they say. Hiking safety tips also point out that fire is a significant danger in the monument area at any time of year, and visitors should stay informed about local conditions and any possible fire restrictions.
3/10 Two Hiking Trails Are Fully Accessible
The visitor center and two of the trails at Sunset Crater Volcano Monument, the Bonito Vista Trail, and the upper section of the Lava Flow Trail, are fully accessible for wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers. There are accessible restrooms at the visitor center and at the Lava Flow Trail parking area.
Visitors also are allowed to bring service animals into all buildings and onto all trails at Sunset Crater, and anyone who plans to attend a park event and requires a sign language interpreter can contact the at least two weeks ahead of the event to make those arrangements.
2/10 Sunset Crater Is Home To Varied Wildlife
According to the National Park Service, the lava tubes and cracks in the lava flows at Sunset Crater are home to insects, spiders, lizards, and rodents. Bats also inhabit some of these spaces, flying out to feed at night. Visitors can see a wide variety of birds, including Steller’s jays, pinyon jays, black-chinned hummingbirds, white-breasted nuthatches, ravens and crows, hawks, and golden eagles. Other animals inhabit the pine forests around the crater, such as mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bobcats, coyotes, and porcupines.
1/10 Visitors Might Find Ancient Pottery Pieces
Archeologists who conduct research in and around the Sunset Crater area have located pottery fragments left by early indigenous people who lived in the region, so visitors should be on the lookout for such historic treasures. However, any tourist lucky enough to find any ancient item is asked to leave it undisturbed.
The National Park Service said fragments already found seem to indicate that the monument region used to be a big trading area for the population that lived around Sunset Crater before the 11th-century volcanic eruption.