WALNUT
CANYON RIM

Vista point on Passage 31 of the Arizona Trail

Arizona
Trail Passage 31 runs for 17.9 miles between Marshall Lake and Interstate 40
southeast of Flagstaff. Because it’s one
of the shorter of the 43 passages that make up the 800-mile, state-traversing
route, strong hikers can complete it in a day. Blasting through the entire
section in a day makes for an epic trek, but numerous access points along the
route provide ways to create abbreviated hikes that sample some of the most gorgeous
slices of this high-country path.

Arizona valerian grow on moist slopes
The hike traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff

One to try
begins at dirt parking apron along Old Walnut Canyon Road.

The
moderate trek in Coconino National Forest links wildflower meadows, pine-oak
woodlands, a dip into a tapered canyon and amazing vista points overlooking
Walnut Canyon National Monument– a 3600-acre site that protects archeological
and natural resources–for a varied, moderate hike.

The trek begins
on a wide, flat path that weaves among pine groves and meadows with glimpses of
antenna-cluttered Mount Elden (9298’) to the north.
The rich soil and sun exposure foster acres
of colorful wildflowers like stemless daisies, lupine and paintbrush.

At the
0.4-mile point, turn right at the Campbell Mesa Trails sign and continue on a
mild uphill path. Just beyond a wildlife water hole, the trail meets a set of
switchbacks carved from limestone escarpments that mitigate a descent along the
canyon walls. Hanging close to the edge,
the slim trail passes among rock overhangs and clusters of yucca that cling
precariously to cracks in the stony substrate. As the trail dives deeper into
the canyon, enormous “yellow bellies” (mature Ponderosa pines that have developed
a scaly, yellowish-brown bark) filter sunlight while rangy snags (dead,
standing trees) attract insect-seeking birds and nesting critters. While
passing through this enchanted forest, be sure to stop and smell the yellow
bellies.

A lupine about to bloom on the Arizona Trail

Their sap has an aroma that’s
been described as butterscotch, vanilla and cherry. (My personal take on this
fragrance is a top note of sugared cedar, a heart of moss and a base note of
patchouli.) In moist areas under the trees, look for tiny
pink Arizona valerian flowers. The
tubular clusters can be seen poking out from blankets of pine needles through
early summer.

Brilliant paintbrush are common bloomers along the AZT
Several spur paths lead to scenic points above Walnut Cny.

The short
canyon section ends with a climb back up to the rim where the first vista point
junction appears at 2.2-miles. To visit the scenic ledge, head left and hike
the 0.2-mile spur to a promontory at the western edge of the national monument.
Here, a fringe of conifers frame views of a heavily-forested bend in the
meandering canyon. It’s a 300-foot drop from the breezy rim to the canyon floor
with no guardrails to stymie a stumble.

Stemless daisies bloom in sunny meadows

So, explore carefully before retracing
your steps back to the junction and continuing 1.1 mile on to the next vista
detour where a 0.6-mile spur leads to more big sky panoramas and impressive
canyon views.

A pine shaded meadow along the route.

If you’re up for more, there
are two more vista points before the trail moves off the rim.

Switchbacks mitigate a descent into the canyon
A wildlife water hole on the Arizona Trail

One is located
another 1.1 miles down the trail while Fisher Point, the most famous of them all,
marks the end of the tour 6.4 miles from the trailhead.

Stop and smell the yellow bellies
Yucca sprout from the craggy canyon walls
Limestone slabs and overhangs line the route
The trail hugs the canyon edge

LENGTH:

To the
first vista point and back: 4.8 miles

To the
second vista point and back: 7.8 miles

To Fisher
Point and back: 12.8 miles

RATING:
moderate

ELEVATION: 6613 – 6920 feet to second vista point, (7033' to Fisher Point)
GETTING
THERE:

From the
Interstate 17/40 junction in Flagstaff, go 5.4
miles east on I 40 to exit 201 (Country Club Road). Turn right and go 0.9-mile south to Old Walnut Canyon Road
(Forest Road 303, turn left and continue 2.7 miles to the parking area on the
right.

Snags (dead, standing trees) attract wildlife

The hike begins at the small Arizona Trail sign on the south side of the
road. The last 0.3-mile is on rough dirt best suited for high-clearance
vehicles.

INFO:
Arizona Trail Association

https://aztrail.org/explore/passages/passage-31-walnut-canyon/