The Inner Basin hike has been my favorite thing since moving to Phoenix, so much that it has inspired me to dust off my Word Press control panel to write a personal blog post about it. I first discovered Inner Basin on a “Top Ten Hikes Near Flagstaff” listing and it definitely deserves to be on that list.
Length: 3.4 Miles (out and back)
Difficulty: Moderate-to-Difficult, especially if you’re new to high altitude hiking (the hike starts at around 9,000 feet and has a total elevation gain of 600 feet)
This is actually one of the most beautiful parts of the hike itself – If you’re using Google just set the directions to the Lockett Meadow Campground (which is someplace I need to spend a night or two in the future). You will turn off of US-Highway 89 onto Forest Road 552 and eventually start a three mile climb up Sugarloaf Mountain. The road is barely two cars wide and drops precipitously down but provides awe-inspiring views of the Forest and endless desert of Navajo Country out to the horizon.
The Hike itself starts in the Lockett Medow Campground which is a primitive camping location run by the Forest Service. Closer to the Inner Basin the sites require a fee (not sure where/how it is paid as the sites are first-come-first-serve). I also saw people camping outside of the Lockett Medow area however I’m not sure if that is allowed or not. There are toilets in the free parking area but no running water.
The hike starts off in the thick Pine groves, full of the scent from the trees and the sounds of birds. Soon however the trail enters an Aspen Forest (something this life long New Englander has never seen). During the right weeks in the autumn the forest must be a sea of gold, I also imagine that if you visit on the right weekend in spring the meadows are full of wild flowers. The trail soon begins to switchback up the side of the mountain. While you can see where the trail goes it is illegal to cut across the forest and with good reason – Keeping other hikers safe and protecting the mountain side from erosion! KEEP TO THE PATH!
After 1.2 miles the path will level out again and you’ll reach the closed “Waterline Road”. As I understood it this road provides access to several underground springs and tunnels that provide drinking water to the City of Flagstaff. If you turn right on the road you’ll continue for half a mile on the Inner Basin trail which will lead you to the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks. The basin itself is the long dormant crater of a volcano which is what formed the mountains in the time before time. At the entrance to the Basin (at the end of the trail) is an old spring house that used to have a spigot to provide drinking water to hikers – however do to concerns about water quality it has been shut off while a solution is worked out.
The ‘end’ of the Inner Basin Trail is a gateway to the rest of the Basin and there are several trails which you can continue along to fully explore this beautiful part of the Coconino National Forest. I’m already looking at the rest of the trail system for my next visit.