Kachina Peaks Wilderness
The Kachina Peaks from Mount Elden
The Kachina Peaks Wilderness is an 18,960-acre roadless area that encircles and encloses the San Francisco Peaks, the remnant of a stratovolcano that last erupted about 2 million years ago in the Coconino National Forest just north of Flagstaff. 2 million years ago it must have been quite the mountain because it still reaches to 12,643', making Humphreys Peak (one of four major summits on the mountain) Arizona's highest point. Kachina Peaks Wilderness is named for the Kachinas, Hopi gods who live here for part of every year. In mid-summer the Kachinas fly from these peaks to the Hopi mesas as rainclouds, bringing nourishment for the tribe's crops during the monsoon season. The Navajo, Zuni and Havasupai also consider these peaks sacred and there are several religious shrines located in the wilderness, some of which are still used. Don't disturb any artifacts you may find in the area and respect any ongoing religious rites you might come across out here.
The mountain itself is a composite volcano showing signs of violent eruptions and large lava flows. The 4 summits all line the rim of the inner basin, a huge caldera left by the volcano's last great blast. That caldera is now filled with large stands of aspen and mixed conifers. This is also where you'll find abandoned streambeds and medial and lateral moraines, Arizona's best examples of Ice Age glaciation. The 2 square miles of mountain above 11,400' also contain the only arctic-alpine tundra in the state. Groups above treeline are limited to a maximum of 12 people.
Most folks who want to climb to the top follow the signs to the Arizona Snowbowl, but if you'd rather explore the interior of the inner basin, head up FR 522 to Lockett Meadow and the trailheads that lead into the old caldera. The Humphreys Peak Trail is a 5-mile, sometimes steep but non-technical walk from near the botton of the Snowbowl ski lifts to the highest point in Arizona. Up on the peaks there is no off-trail hiking allowed above 11,400' in order to protect the San Francisco Peaks Groundsel (which grows nowhere else on Earth). There is also no camping or campfires allowed above 11,400' and no camping or campfires are allowed in the inner basin. In the winter time you'll need a backcountry permit to access the wilderness.
Lockett Meadow, on the east side of Kachina Peaks Wilderness
On the west side of the Kachina Peaks
The San Francisco Volcanic Field
Kachina Peaks Wilderness map
Kachina Peaks Wilderness area map