The single track along Mt. Elden’s north flank is classic Flagstaff quality and grants unique views of the mountains that you can’t see from town. While bobbing through turns and bouncing over rocks, you can glance up to the San Francisco Peaks’ southwestern summits. Parts of this trail traverses burned areas from a recent wildfire, where skeletal trees make for expansive views. Most of the trail is green and shady, however. The route parallels a forest road at comfortable distance, providing quick access but not detracting from the experience.
What Makes It Great
Little Elden Trail skirts the base of a small spur on Mt. Elden, Flagstaff’s backyard mountain. On this north side, however, the city seems far away and the forest vast. On this trail you are, in fact, near the boundary of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. Despite the relative solitude, it is only a short drive from Flagstaff. Little Elden Trail begins at Schultz Tank and goes 4.7 miles, ending at the junction of Heart Trail and Sandy Seep Trail.
Along the way you will pass Little Elden Spring, a hidden water source that seeps out of a rock grotto. This is an important resource for wildlife and was also used by the first humans to inhabit the area. Take time to stop here, enjoy cool shade beneath the pines, and refuel for the rest of your ride. Parts of the trail are exposed and rugged, left damaged by flames and subsequent floods from the Schultz Fire in 2012.
There is road access only at Schultz Tank, not at the other end of the trail, so it is best done as an out and back. An alternative trailhead is near Little Elden Horse Camp, along FR 556, where a spur trail connects with Little Elden near its halfway point. FR 556 parallels the trail for its entirety, though at some distance through the trees.
Who is Going to Love It
Mountain Bikers or trail runners looking for a trail a bit further from town should check out Little Elden. Getting here requires driving on bumpy gravel roads, but is worth it for the alternative scenery and exploring a new local trail. Most users will be satisfied with all or part of the 4.7 miles as an out and back, but there are plenty of options for longer rides as well. This trail is part of the large link-up loop that circumnavigates Mt. Elden and the Dry Lake Hills. Consider doing this if you want a challenging ride that takes most of the day.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Forest Service Roads round the north side of Mt Elden to connect highways 180 and 89, so you can get to Little Elden Trail from either highway. From downtown Flagstaff, the quickest way to the Schultz Tank trailhead is via US-180, and Schultz Pass Road. About 5 miles after this road turns to gravel is a signed parking area for Schultz Tank on the right. Follow trails to the left of the pond (east) to begin Little Elden.
To get to the midway trailhead, continue past Schultz Tank about 2.5 miles to the parking area near Little Elden Horse Camp. Follow trails across the road to meet with Little Elden Trail.
Because this trail passes the horse camp, you are likely to encounter equestrians. Remember that biker and hikers always yield to horses.