Weatherford-Kachina Loop offers big day of hiking

The entry to Weatherford Trail offers the start of panoramic views for miles. Photo/Stan Bindell

The entry to Weatherford Trail offers the start of panoramic views for miles. Photo/Stan Bindell

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Take two hard or strenuous hikes, add them into one loop and you've got one of the toughest hikes going in Arizona.

The Weatherford-Kachina loop involves 19.5 miles and about a 2,800 foot change in elevation. For those who can take the challenge, this loop hike offers a bit of everything:

• meadows,

• forests,

• great panoramic views for hundreds of miles,

• a fantastic look inside the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks,

• a dozen types of flowers including Columbine and lupines, and

• many types of butterflies including the Arizona butterfly, the Swallowtail, and high elevation butterflies such as the Western Tailed blue. The Police Car Moth is also found at the high elevations.

The Weatherford Trail begins at the same trailhead as the Humphreys Trail. Mount Humphreys Peak is the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet.

The trail for both hikes remains the same for the first 3.8 miles. The Humphreys Trail continues one more mile to the peak. The Weatherford Trail splits off to the right and continues another 5.1 miles making it a hearty hike for those who want to turn around and go back the same way.

Most of the climbing is in that first 3.8 miles and includes a 2,500 foot climb. The hike starts by going across a short meadow with a great panoramic view and flowers to boot. It soon enters the fir, spruce and aspen forest. Hikers are already up above 9,000 feet, but if the sun is shining the forest blocks out the sun for most of the rest of the climb.

Once hikers reach the saddle, this is a good place to take a break along side of the friendly chipmunks. Then to the right it's uphill for another half mile or so near the top of Agassiz Mountain. Agassiz tops out at 12,356 feet. But hikers aren't allowed to walk to the top because of a sacred Native American site. So, the trail winds around Agassiz and above the Inner Basin.

At this point, hikers are above the timberline and there is no tree cover so if the sun is shining it can be warm. Of course, during winter it will be freezing. At this point, most of the trail is good, but there are many points with loose gravel and jagged lava. Hikers need to watch their footing.

Once hikers reach toward the top of Agassiz, the next nine miles are a slow down hill requiring little effort except for the mileage. However, the last stretch of the loop hooks into Kachina Trail where the rest of the hike is a roller coaster, meaning that hikers are often dropping down 300 feet only to climb back about the same amount before reaching the end.

Once hikers start down from Agassiz, the ferns start to appear. Once hikers find the Kachina Trail, the fern forests are overgrown as they hike right through them.

The Kachina Trail is 9.8 miles roundtrip for those who just want to do that hike.

Fred Stelbrink led our recent hike and Joel McMillin, from the Rocky Mountain Research Station, identified butterflies and moths along the way.

Once motorists reach the parking lot, there are port-a-potties as well as trash bins. These trails are all part of the Coconino National Forest system.

Resource Book: "Flagstaff Hikes" by Richard and Sherry Mangum.

Directions: From Flagstaff, go north on Humphreys Street for six-tenths of a mile. Turn left onto Highway 180. At 7.1 miles, turn left onto Snowbowl Road. At 13.7 miles, there is a large sign for the Humphreys Trail. Turn left into the parking area.

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