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You can explore Arizona's alpine tundra in the San Francisco Peaks, part of the Coconino National Forest, where more than 80 species of plants grow on the upper elevations. The habitat is fragile, so hikers are asked to stay on established trails (there are lots of them). Flatlanders should give themselves a day or two to adjust to the altitude before lengthy or strenuous hiking. The altitude here will make even the hardiest hikers breathe a little harder, so anyone with cardiac or respiratory problems should be cautious about overexertion. Note that most of the forest trails aren't accessible for hiking or biking from December through March due to snow.
Coconino National Forest–Flagstaff Ranger District. The rangers of the Coconino National Forest maintain many of the region's trails, and can provide you with details on hiking in the area; both the forest's main office in North Flagstaff and the ranger station in East Flagstaff (5075 N. U.S 89) are open weekdays 8–4:30. 1824 S. Thompson St., North Flagstaff, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. 928/527–3600 main office, North Flagstaff; 928/526–0866 East Flagstaff office. www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.
Mount Elden Trail System. Most trails in the Coconino National Forest's 35-mile-long Mount Elden Trail System lead to stunning views from the dormant volcanic field, across the vast ponderosa pine forest, all the way to Sedona. Keep in mind that most of the forest trails are not accessible for hiking from December through March due to snow.
Elden Lookout Trail. The most challenging trail in the Mount Elden system, which happens to be the route with the most rewarding views, is along the steep switchbacks of the Elden Lookout Trail. If you traverse the full 3 miles to the top, keep your focus on the landscape rather than the tangle of antennae and satellite dishes that greets you at the end. Difficult. Off U.S. 89, 3 miles east of downtown Flagstaff, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001.
Sunset Trail. The 4-mile-long Sunset Trail proceeds with a gradual pitch through the pine forest, emerging onto a narrow ridge nicknamed the Catwalk. By all means take pictures of the stunning valley views, but make sure your feet are well placed. The access road to this trail is closed in winter. Moderate. Off U.S. 180, 3 miles north of downtown Flagstaff, then 6 miles east on FR 420/Schultz Pass Rd., Flagstaff, AZ.
Humphreys Peak Trail. This trail is 9 miles round-trip, with a vertical climb of 3,843 feet to the 12,643-foot summit of Arizona's highest mountain. Difficult. Trailhead: Snowbowl Rd., 7 miles north of U.S. 180, Flagstaff, AZ.
Kachina Trail. Those who don't want a long hike can do just the first mile of the 5-mile-long Kachina Trail; gently rolling, this route is surrounded by huge stands of aspen and offers fantastic vistas. In fall, changing leaves paint the landscape shades of yellow, russet, and amber. Moderate. Trailhead: Snowbowl Rd., 7 miles north of U.S. 180, Flagstaff, AZ.
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