Distance: 1.5 miles
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2016 February
The Lenox Crater Trail starts off along the main road across from its parking area. From there, it immediately begins ascending about 300 feet through a ponderosa pine forest. These grand, majestic trees grow right out of the volcanic lava that the entire trail travels over. Fallen, dried pine needles are scattered across the dark grey lava floor, breaking up the monochrome nature of the young soil.
As the trail nears its high point, it wraps back around to the east where it subtly begins to smooth out. At this elevation, views beyond the forest to the south become visible, offering glimpses of the high desert far beyond the cool forests surrounding the trail. The San Francisco Peaks also come into much better view to the west, shooting out of the forest like the explosive eruption that formed them hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Finally, the trail reaches its apex with signage that illustrates the Lenox Crater and its historical story, citing its violent creation, to its gradual weathering, and finally to its being covered up by the more recent eruption from Sunset Crater only 900 years ago, directly east of Lenox Crater.
After the signage, you’re led down the crater’s eastern rim southward for a pleasant descent toward a thicker forest before cutting back toward the north again through lush ponderosa pine trees. Every now and then, the colorful summit of Sunset Crater peaks through the tops of these trees to offer a glimpse of its relative scale on your way down.
It’s an easy stroll down the mostly straight path before you wind back up at the Lava Flow Trail junction, where you can head back to your car, or proceed on the other trail to get more amazing lessons in the creation of a landscape.
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 the trail across the street.