This is one of the longer routes to reach Elden Lookout, albeit one of the mellower. It starts as a rolling trail through the Dry Lake Hills before climbing the north side of Elden and traversing the famed "Catwalk". As an out and back, it's 9.8 miles long, with about 1500 feet of accumulated elevation gain. As with all Elden ascents, a variety of loop options are available.
Drive north from downtown Flagstaff on Fort Valley Road (Highway 180). Turn right a Schultz Pass Road (FS 420). Make sure to veer left at the junction with Elden Lookout Road. The road turns to a washboard dirt variety, which is easily passable for passenger cars. After 6 miles, a sign indicates the Sunset Trailhead to your right. Note:
Schultz Pass Road is closed during the winter, so only plan this one late spring, summer or fall.
The trail leaves the parking lot heading east past Schultz Tank. All major junctions will be signed, so there should be no confusion. After about a quarter mile, the trail turns southeast, and you will make a gradual climb along a small ravine. Enjoy the old growth ponderosa pine forest (some aspen will make an appearance every now and then) as later on you will enter the Radio Fire Burn. After the intersection with the Brookbank Trail, Sunset drops into the valley between Elden and the Dry Lake Hills. At the bottom is the intersection with the Little Bear Trail. From here, Sunset climbs the backside of the Elden. The vegetation is normally quite lush during summer. At the top of this climb is the intersection with the Heart Trail, and a big view of the nearby cinder cones two thousand feet below you. Now you're on the Catwalk, and the Radio Fire Burn allows for unobscured views most of the way to the Lookout. The last leg of the climb is .2 miles on the Elden Lookout Trail to the summit! Head back to the car the way you came, or figure out an alternate route for a nice loop.
Good footwear, a lunch, and some water. The usual stuff. July, August and September are monsoon months. I've been caught in nasty thunderstorms up there so at least bring a poncho...and some common sense! A Flagstaff Trails Map from Emmitt Barks Cartography is also handy.
External LinksCoconino National Forest: Sunset Trail information