Distance: 1.5 miles
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2016 February
The Lava Flow Trail can be accessed from two different locations. One is a parking area from the main road, another is from the Lenox Crater Trail just to the west.
Heading over from the Lenox Crater Trail, the walk brings you past a vast and impressive lava flow that seems to extend to the horizon along a treeline of thick ponderosa pine trees. Weaving in and out of cracks, fissures, and lava rock formations, the trail ultimately winds up at the parking area where most people will choose to access the partially paved trail.
It’s along the main loop of the trail that you can actually choose to stay on a paved trail or head off the pavement. The latter brings you around a more intimate view of the lava beds. For those short on time, or not wanting to explore more than a couple thousand feet, the main loop is all paved and well-maintained. This allows for an easy stroll past signs illustrating the unique vantage points and features found at the base of Sunset Crater.
If you’re interested in seeing and exploring more, another trail forks off from the main loop along the pavement. It begins to descend slightly before a metal staircase brings you down a lava cliff, offering fantastic views of the lava rock against Sunset Crater. The trail winds through this lava bed at the base of a small cinder cone and along a fence. Please help the park out and stay along the maintained trails, as you’ll see many signs asking you to do.
Closer to the base of Sunset Crater, the trail begins to ascend a bit as it winds around more gnarled and sharp-edged lava. Sunset Crater is now towering above you. The trail then curves back toward the parking area, where a hornito is featured along the walk. Please do not climb on it. It’s already been damaged enough by people doing just that.
You’re then led past more amazing viewpoints and features, such as a lava tube, before rejoining the main paved trail. From here it’s an easy walk back to the parking area, or the Lenox Crater Trailhead.
From the Sunset Crater National Monument Visitor Center, head east on the main loop road for 1.25 miles until you see a parking area on the left. Pull in there and look for trail across the street. The Lenox Trail will go right, and the Lava Flow Trail will go left. Alternatively, you can drive a short distance farther to a larger parking area and pick up the trail there.