Sunset Trail is a thrilling 4-mile single track that leads from Schultz Pass to the top of Mount Elden, between Schultz Creek Trail and Elden Lookout Trail. The initial climb over the Dry Creek Hills is steep and windy before giving way to a brief downhill, then punching up the north side of Elden for a technical and physical challenge. The reward is a fast, smooth ride along the top of Elden’s summit plateau with sweeping views to either side. And then of course, the screaming plunge back down Elden.
What Makes It Great
Sunset is a well-maintained trail, but is far from the most popular route up Elden. You are unlikely to see too many other people for much of the way. This 8-mile round trip can be biked or hiked for an immersive tour of Northern Arizona’s mountainous terrain.
Begin the journey near Schultz Tank, an artificial pond for livestock that is shared by migrating waterfowl. Travel up and over the Dry Lake Hills, gaining awesome views of the nearby San Francisco Peaks. Drop back down through pine forest and meadows as Mt. Elden looms ahead. The trail gets steeper, rockier, but also shadier as you ascend Elden’s forested slopes. Wind among aspen, spruce, and fir trees in this high-elevation realm as the top comes within reach. The grade lessens as you gain the summit plateau and huge views to the east. Stick with it through a few more steep parts before you are cruising across the ridgeline to Elden’s summit, with fantastic exposure the whole way.
Enjoy the panorama across Elden’s eastern cliffs, Sunset Crater, Cinder Hills, and the Painted Desert. You can follow the trail to the junction with Elden Lookout or follow the road toward the signal towers. From the towers you can see all of East Flagstaff and beyond to the Mogollon Rim and Oak Creek Canyon.
Who is Going to Love It
Expert mountain bikers will relish the challenge of climbing Elden, but beginners can still accomplish it by walking bikes where necessary. Families with small children can access the upper reaches of the trail by driving Elden Lookout Road (see Directions below). All will appreciate the expansive views from the top, but keep in mind that this visibility is due to a catastrophic wildfire that was started by a careless campfire many years ago, and the vegetation is still struggling to recover on this rugged terrain. Thus, Sunset Trail provides a good lesson in the importance of fire safety and prevention.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to Schultz Tank, take Highway 180 N out of town then turn right at the traffic light intersection with Schultz Pass Road. Follow this as it forks to the left and turns to gravel. Continue about 4 miles to the signed trailhead for Sunset Trail. You can also park in the large lot at Shultz Tank, a bit further along the road, and backtrack along the Arizona Trail to its junction with Sunset.
It is possible to hike/bike only the scenic ridgeline and skip the climb. Instead of turning left at the fork on Schultz Pass Road, go right to take Elden Lookout Road. Follow this up the mountain to Oldham Park meadow. Leave your car along the road and hike south along the ridge toward the towers.
Sunset Trail is shared by bikers, hikers, and horse riders, so be sure to watch out for trailmates and follow all proper etiquette.