On the broad north slopes of the San Francisco Peaks is a route traversing alpine forest, bouldery avalanche paths, and stunning Fall aspen leaves. Abineau-Bear Jaw loop seems to suddenly transport you to the Rocky Mountains with only a short drive from Flagstaff. Huffing up steep terrain, stomping through lingering snow, and breathing crisp mountain air will make you wonder what world you’ve climbed into. The only reminder that you are actually in Arizona is a vista of the Grand Canyon on the distant horizon.
What Makes It Great
Abineau and Bear Jaw are the two trails on the northern side of the San Francisco Peaks. Facing away from sunlight for most of the day, these are the chilliest slopes and the first to get golden aspen leaves in Fall, usually turning in September. They are also the longest to hold snow into the spring. Though the trails do not break into true alpine terrain above treeline, they still offer almost all of what the San Francisco Peaks have to offer, including some of the most gorgeous aspen stands anywhere.
The trails start at the same place and are most commonly done as a 6.8-mile loop. Highlights include grassy meadows, stands of dark timber, pure aspen groves, wildlife such as deer and elk, scrambles over avalanche-swept boulders, views of Humphreys Peak (highest point in Arizona), and glimpses into the Grand Canyon. The trail, though never crowded, is well-maintained and easy to follow. It is strenuous, but well worth the workout.
Who is Going to Love It
The loop is a favorite hike for many Flagstaffians, but relatively unknown to anyone but locals. If you want a more uncommon experience of the San Francisco Peaks, don’t miss out on Abineau/Bear Jaw. The trail is a true classic in the Fall, when it is most visited by people coming for the aspen trees. Still, it is much less crowded than Inner Basin, the other aspen hot spot, and parking here is rarely scarce.
The trail is steep for most of the way, especially Abineau, which climbs more elevation than Bear Jaw in an equivalent distance. It is possible to just hike one trail or the other and get similar scenery but cut out some mileage. The trail connecting the two at their upper reaches is about 2 miles.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Take US-89 N to the turn for Lockett Meadow on FR 420 (directly across from signed turn for Sunset Crater) then continue to FR 552 and turn right. Turn right again on FR 418 and go 7 miles to FR 9123J. Take a left here and go 1.2 miles to the Abineau/Bear Jaw trailhead.
The trails follow the same route for ½ mile before diverging, where Bear Jaw goes left and Abineau goes right. Route finding is easy, as the junctions higher up are signed and the trail fairly obvious. The full loop is 6.8 miles. Hiking out and back on one trail or the other, and not the connecting trail between, is about 5 miles.