The full loop is 60 miles, though cyclists could do less.
Destination Distance From Downtown
5 of 5 diamonds
The entire 60-mile loop is 5-star difficulty, but doing only part of the loop is easier, especially if doing only the downhill with a car shuttle.
Time To Complete
Spring, Summer, and Fall
$10 fee for cyclists or $20 for a passenger vehicle covers both Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments for 7 days; however, both of these parks honor the America the Beautiful interagency pass.
The Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road (County Road 395) is a well-paved route that coasts through the Cinder Hills, out into the plains, then across the edge of the Painted Desert before charging back up into the hills to complete a loop. The most popular option is to an abbreviated version, a breezy 14-mile downhill cruise with car shuttle. A Flagstaff tradition is to do this at night under a full moon. A grueling workout can be had by doing the full 60-mile loop between Sunset Crater National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and US-89. This requires pedalling back up the 3000-foot elevation gradient between the two national monuments.
What Makes It Great
Yet another great road ride near Flagstaff, Loop Road winds down out of the volcanic moonscape of the Sunset Crater National Monument. This cinder cone is what’s left of the most recent eruption in Northern Arizona, which occurred a mere 1,000 years ago, while people were living and farming in the area. The downhill ride ends at some impressive ruins left by these people, now preserved as Wupatki National Monument.
The pueblos here are not the walled-in cliff dwellings that are common elsewhere in Arizona. Instead, these are free-standing buildings that rise to 2 or 3 stories and are set atop isolated rock outcrops. Their height makes them the most prominent thing on the landscape, visible for miles around. They look especially mysterious by moonlight, and make a perfect culmination for the thrilling bike ride. Short trails lead from the road right up to the ruins.
The long extension for this bike ride is to continue along the road as it loops out into the Painted Desert, north of the Cinder Hills. The journey uphill opens up views of more volcanoes, endless plains, and the Little Colorado River Gorge. Take Highway 89 to reconnect with the Loop Road and climb the rest of the way back to Sunset Crater.
Who is Going to Love It
Hardcore cyclists can push themselves on the long loop, but riders of all abilities and any type of bike can enjoy the downhill joy ride from Sunset Crater to Wupatki. By taking some side roads and exploring the trails, you can still get the full experience of both national monuments, and traveling by bicycle makes it all the more rewarding. Come on a summer night’s full moon to join a slew of jolly Flagstaffians on a midnight cruise. All riders should have road cycling experience and proper safety gear because this is a high-speed road with automobile traffic, though usually not heavy.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Take US-89 N from Flagstaff and turn at the sign for Sunset Crater National Monument. Stay on this road, passing through the fee station at the entrance to the park. There is a $20 fee per passenger vehicle or $10 for each person if entering on bicycles. If you have an America the Beautiful or other interagency pass, you won’t have to pay any fee.
The downhill ride starts at Cinder Hills Overlook, 3.5 miles beyond the fee station and on the right. You can leave a car parked along the side of this spur road. To car shuttle from the bottom of the hill, you will need to have another car set at Wupatki, 14 miles down the road. Park in any of the lots, depending on how far you want to ride and what ruins you want to see.