season is in full bloom in Flagstaff’s Dry Lake Hills area.

San Francisco Peaks dominate the northern vistas.
Yellow Columbine bloom in moist areas on Little Elden Trl.

forest logging and clearing operations that had closed many of the trails that
meander through the diverse terrains of the Coconino National Forest north of
9299-foot Mount Elden are gradually finishing up and several paths are now

Stormy San Francisco Peaks reflected in Schultz Tank.

One particularly productive wildflower trail that’s outside of the
closure area is the Little Elden Trail to Schultz Tank. This multi-faceted gem traces the north
flanks of 9018-foot Little Elden Mountain through a mix of deep, mixed-conifer
woodlands, aspen glens, sunny meadows and a variety of blooming plant

Western blue flax grows in sunny meadows along the route.

From the
trailhead, follow the 0.3-mile access path to the Little Elden Trail which doubles
as part of the Arizona Trail Passage 32. The route heads right (west) at the
sign and begins with a shady walk among pines and firs with a smattering of
aspens tucked into clearings. Where the trail crosses drainages, plots of rich-green
ferns swaying over the narrow footpath gently brush the shoulders of passing
hikers. Roughly 0.8-miles in, reminders of the 2010 Schultz Fire begin to
appear in the form of charred logs and gangly snags.

The spur path to Schultz Tank.
Ripe berries on a Fendler's ceanothus shrub.
A woodsy corridor near the beginning of the hike.

Soon, the
devastating effects of the human-caused blaze that burned 15,075 acres over 10
days and also caused massive, monsoon-driven erosion come into full view. Although only a short section of the trail
passes directly through the fire scar, evidence of its havoc on the landscape are clearly seen in the surrounding hills. The
formerly dense pine-oak forests that defined the trail’s mid-section were
toasted down to ash. Nine-years removed from the fire, this section is now a
sprawling meadow flush with wildflowers and brambles that have taken root among
blackened, matchstick-like stumps. The loss of the tree cover has revealed previously
obscured views of O’Leary Peak and Sunset Crater to the northeast and the scorched
edge of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness to the northwest. The recovering meadows of hip-high grasses foster
a botanical garden of blooming plants and shrubs.

Thorny fruits on a gooseberry shrub.

Look for fruity raspberry
shrubs and the frothy cream-colored blooms and dark fruits of blueberry elder
tree that grow sporadically in bright fields.
Delicate Western blue flax twines around Fendler’s ceanothus bushes and
acres of paintbrush, butter and eggs, thistle, mountain parsley, common mullien,
lupines, purple locoweed, gooseberry shrubs and other sun-loving varieties
splatter vivid colors on the forest floor.

O'Leary Peak and Sunset Crater on the northeast horizon.
Richardson's geranium pokes through a bramble.
New Mexican vervain thrive in exposed meadows.
Dense coniferous forests near Schultz Tank.
Pollinators are attracted to Fendler's ceanothus shrubs.
Silver lupine add splashes of color to alpine meadows.

about a mile of exposed grassland hiking, the trail heads uphill and ducks into
moist, canyon-bound woodlands in the drainage areas near Schultz Tank. This
beautiful segment features slopes with sprouting aspen saplings as well as
ravines cluttered with old-growth conifers draped in moss. The wetter micro
climate here supports a whole other type of wildflower habitat.

Purple locoweed is a common plant along the trail.

An understory
of spreading dogbane, yellow columbine, Richardson’s geranium, curly dock, wild
roses and fragrant wild geranium grow profusely in damp slivers of space among roots,
boulders and gigantic trees.

Little Elden Trail is part of the 800+-mile Arizona Trail.
Immature blueberry elder fruits follow frothy white flowers.

The Little
Elden Trail ends at a signed junction where several classic Dry Lake Hills
routes take off in all directions.

Ferns grow shoulder-high along the Little Elden Trail.

If you want to create a longer loop hike,
check with the forest service before heading out to be sure your selected
trails are open for use.

Fire damage visible on the edge of Kachina Peaks Wilderness
Schultz Tank is the turn around point for the hike.

Otherwise, follow the signs 0.2-mile to Schultz Tank,
meander around the peak-reflecting pool and popular recreation hub then return
the way you came.

Wild bergamot grows in moist pine woodlands.
Pale lavender aspen fleabane attract insects.
The 2019 Schultz Fire burned over 15,000 acres of forest.
Aspen saplings take root in the burn scar of the Schultz Fire.
Juicy wild raspberries grown in drainage areas.

LENGTH: 5.6 miles out-and-back

7180 – 8000 feet

ELEVATION: 7320 – 8000 feet


In Flagstaff, go north on U.S. 89 to Forest Road 556 (Elden
Spring Road, just past mile post 429) turn left and continue 2.4 miles to the Little
Elden trailhead on the right. The hike begins at the trailhead kiosk.

Coconino National Forest