Hiking the Kachina and Weatherford Trails

The Kachina Trail runs along the southern side of the San Francisco Peaks, shown here, at the 9800 foot line. The highest Peak is Humphrey's Peak at 12, 633 feet. (3851 m) This is the highest point in Arizona.

The Kachina Trail runs along the southern side of the San Francisco Peaks, shown here, at the 9800 foot line. The highest Peak is Humphreys Peak at 12, 643 feet. This is the highest point in Arizona. This photo was taken from Schultz Pass Road at about 7000 feet elevation. Flatlanders planning on hiking the area should allow time for acclimation.

Kachina Trail sign 1

The Kachina trail is named for the Kachina Peaks Wilderness through which it runs. The San Francisco Peaks, or Kachina Peaks are sacred to many tribes including the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo and Zuni. The trail head shown here is located just below the Snowbowl ski area outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Kachina Trail winds through the aspen groves

For much of the 6.8 miles, the Kachina Trail winds through massive groves of Aspen trees.

Kachina trail enters wilderness area

The Kachina Peaks Wilderness area covers over 18,000 acres. and only foot travel is allowed. The ecosystem is fragile, and hikers are encouraged to stay on the trail.

Quaking Aspens and big meadow

Quaking Aspen trees line the edges of the many grass and fern covered meadows.

Hanging garden on layered lava wall

Everywhere are reminders of the violent origin of this mountain, a stratovolcano, which last erupted 1.4 million years ago.The original 16,000 foot summit collapsed, maybe in a blast such as Mt. St. Helens, creating the caldera now named the Inner Basin. Ice ages have passed this way previously, and glaciers scarred the slopes. These peaks are the centerpiece for a huge volcanic field which was last active in AD 1100, when indigenous peoples inhabited the area. Here you can see various layers of lava flows now hung with delicate greenery.

 Long View from clear area

Looking south from the high elevation you can see far into the northern Arizona countryside, spotting some of the 500 cinder cones of the volcanic field.

Ferny slope leads up to peaks

Looking north you can see the tips of several of the San Francisco Peaks, which are above tree line.  Here are Agassiz, Fremont, and Doyle Peaks. The tallest, Humphreys, lies hidden behind the others. If you imagine drawing a line to connect the sides of these slopes up in the air, you can get a picture of how large this volcano once was.

Sunny start

Summer weather around the San Francisco Peaks can change rapidly. What starts out as a sunny day with a low chance of precipitation can change quickly. Do remember to bring plenty of drinking water on your hike. Elevation sickness can be eased by staying hydrated.

Kachina Trail, Rain coming!

The sunny sky can suddenly darken with rain-laden clouds.  Hail is a common occurrence. Come prepared for heavy summer monsoon storms with possible lighting and loud thunder.

Verbena macdougalii

Fields of wildflowers join the ferns in the meadows. These are Verbena macdougalii.

Forest of ferns

The ferns are huge and grow tall in the sunlight. Can you spot the trail? It’s there…

Hiker lost in ferns

Luckily, we hike with our dog, so staying on the trail was easier.

Here's the trail!

Can you see me now? Here’s the trail!

The slope

There are some long uphill slopes and some very rocky passages.

Narrow passage

Some of the trail leads over and through huge boulders.

Ridges and ravines

Eventually the Kachina Trail begins to lead downward towards Schultz Pass and the Weatherford Trail. The trail dips into several ravines carved long ago in the volcanic slopes.

Kachina rain drops on ponderosa

The Weatherford trailhead is located at Schultz Tank at 8800 feet elevation. As you descend toward it, the vegetation changes and you find dense stands of spruce, fir and Ponderosa Pines.

Fine tall ponderosa

Some of the tallest and healthiest Ponderosas along the trail are a good reminder of why these pine trees own that name. The tallest known pine on record is a Ponderosa. Arizona hosts the world’s largest contiguous stand of these trees. Mature trees have orange-brown bark, and some say they smell like vanilla.

After the rain, the insects are visible

After the rain, the insects come out of hiding, and go back to work. This fly is on a Lupine flower.

Weatherford Trail sign

The Kachina Trail intersects with the Weatherford Trail and the Freidlein Prairie Trail.

Weatherford trail is an old road

The Weatherford Trail is an old road that once was an enterprise to take Model T Fords to the mountain top. It has been closed to vehicular traffic. It must have been quite an adventurous ride in a car, back in the day.

A stand of aspen seen from Weatherford

Looking back toward the Peaks from the Weatherford Trail, you get another nice view of a dense grove of Aspen.

Approaching Schultz Tank

Since the Weatherford Trail itself leads uphill again, we take the lower section that leads down to Schultz Tank where it is possible to park a car. There are also bathrooms at Schultz Tank. We left a car at the Snowbowl, hiked one way, and used the second car at Schultz to retrieve the first one.

End of trail, or beginning, depending on your plans

The end of the trail, or perhaps the beginning, if you choose to hike up to the Snowbowl trailhead, or take the Weatherford trail to up Doyle Saddle.

2 comments on “Hiking the Kachina and Weatherford Trails

  1. Us low landers need to explore the San Francisco trails sometime! Great photos!

    • Maril says:

      Being a low lander myself for part of the year, I am always reminded that it makes a difference just how much oxygen I am accustomed to! Yes, visit the Peaks, lots of surprises even for long-time Arizonans.

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