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AZ Trail Section: Portion of 33

Distance: Approximately 8.1 Miles

Begin Point:  Schultz Creek Parking Area (35.244835, -111.661253)

End Point:  Sinclair Wash Duck Pond (35.183547, -111.631205) or Sam’s Club.

Highlights:  Rocky Ridge Trail, Buffalo Park, The Dale Shewalter Memorial, Switzer Mesa, Flagstaff Urban Trail System

Difficulty: Easy

This is a great, easy hike through the forests in and around Flagstaff!  You will start at a Forest Service parking area, located about ¼ mile north of the intersection of Schultz Pass Road and Mount Elden Lookout Road in rural northwest Flagstaff.  This parking area is extremely popular with the Flagstaff locals as it has access to about 6 trails that head off in 3 or 4 directions from there.  Parking spaces may be a bit limited, but you can head north or south a few hundred yards and be fine.  From the road intersection, proceed north on Schultz Pass Road.  Just after crossing the cattle guard will be a road to the right that leads to the parking area and the trailhead.

Today’s trail will head almost due east.  You will take the aptly named Rocky Ridge Trail which rises slowly in elevation and meanders along the south side of the Dry Lake Hills north of Flagstaff.  You will have great views of rural north Flagstaff off to the south and be surrounded by those tall Ponderosa Pines that make Flagstaff home.

After about the 2 mile point, you will cross Mount Elden Lookout Road.  This road accesses the top of Mount Elden which looms ahead and to your left.  At about 9300 feet in elevation, Mount Elden is a volcanic dome mountain.  It is essentially a giant volcano that burped up, but never erupted in the traditional sense, but lava flowed outward through vents.  Mount Elden is a very popular hiking and training destination and has 5 or 6 great hiking trails that are easily accessed from Flagstaff neighborhoods.  It also features fairly steep elevation changes and is popular for high altitude endurance training.

After crossing Mount Elden Lookout Road, you will meander southwest around the base of Mount Elden and eventually head almost due south into Flagstaff.  At about the 4.3 mile point of today’s hike, you will enter the north end (or back entrance) to Buffalo Park and are now inside Flagstaff city limits.  You are traversing what locals call McMillan Mesa and have moved from a Forest Service trail and are now in the Flagstaff Urban Trail System known commonly as the FUTS Trails. 

Buffalo Park is a City of Flagstaff walking and running park that is known for its sweeping views of the mountains and hills to the north.  It is located about mid-city in the north end of Flagstaff and is very well known to runners and walkers alike.

Buffalo Park started out as a wildlife park and old west town in the early 1960’s and was created by a committee of local business people with help from the City of Flagstaff.  Here is a great blog on the history of Buffalo Park:

The park was the inspiration for the movie “Bless the Beasts and The Children” which came out in 1971: which had a featured song of the same name performed by The Carpenters:

In the late 1960’s, several Buffalo escaped the park and were discovered grazing at Flagstaff’s Sechrist Elementary School, which caused quite a stir with the school kids, including myself!  I still remember the massive piles of Buffalo dung that lingered a few days. And I will never forget the then Principal of the school, Tony Gabeldon, trying to build up the courage to chase off the buffalo and failing.

By 1969, the park had closed and the animals had been sold to other attractions.  The park was basically deserted through the 1970’s and was mostly used by my friends and me to stage BB gun wars and weekly adventures.  I grew up within a mile or so of there and it was basically our side-yard growing up in Flagstaff, AZ.

On your hike south through Buffalo Park, pause near the entrance not only for water at the water fountain, but also to take the time to walk east and visit the memorial to Dale Shewalter, founder of the Arizona Trail.  It was Dale’s idea in 1985 to create a trail that spanned Arizona from north to south traversing the best that the state has to offer.  He passed away at the age of 59 in 2010 after a fight with cancer, and missed the final touches on the Arizona Trail, but knew it would be finished…and it is!

I was lucky enough to have actually known Dale Shewalter as he was good friends with my older brother, John Nelson of local Forest Service fame.  I have a hand carved walking stick that Dale gave me as a thank you for helping him move his father into a retirement community in Sedona.  Dale’s father made the walking stick and Dale finished it for me and carved my initial “G” at the top of it.  To this day I use it (although sparingly so that I never lose it) and it is my goal to be using that walking stick when I hike to both ends of the Arizona trail, Mexico and Utah.  Here is some info on Dale: and also

After thinking on this great man a bit, head south and out the front entrance of Buffalo Park.  After about a half mile, you will take a magnificent bridge over Cedar Avenue in north Flagstaff.  This bridge was funded by Flagstaff voters and is another great tribute to the Arizona Trail and its founder.  From the bridge you will hike south on the FUTS trail through and around Switzer Mesa and will have great views of a lot of Flagstaff and it’s neighborhoods with hills and mountains mostly to the north.  At the south end of the mesa, you will drop down through Ponderosa Paine and Gambel Oak groves to Route 66 at mile point 7.1.  Pause for a moment as you wait for the crossing signal and wonder that this is truly Route 66, the Mother Road, and the heart of America.  You only get to cross it once on the Arizona Trail, and this is the spot!

As you head south across Route 66 and the railroad tracks almost immediately you will come to the Trails underpass underneath one of Flagstaff’s busiest intersections.  This is another big investment that the people of Flagstaff have made in the Arizona Trail!  Continue west on Butler Avenue for a block or 2, turn south on Babbitt Way and the end of today’s hike is near!   You will either stop at that Sam’s Club parking lot where your car is parked or will continue following the markers to the actual end for today, the pond of reclaimed water at Sinclair Wash in South Flagstaff.  Although treated to as high a quality as the City of Flagstaff can make it, it is treated effluent and the water behind you at any mini-mart or fast food restaurant will serve you much better!  

The Arizona Trail For Day Hikers: An Introduction

by Gary Nelson

This is my second blog in a series on the Arizona Trail that I will write as I hike the entire length of Arizona, top to bottom, from Utah to Mexico.  If you have not read my previous blog post on an introduction to the Arizona Trail, you can find it here.

The Arizona Trail North To Utah

I will write as I go from the perspective of someone who is experiencing almost all of it for the first time and also from the perspective of a day hiker.  To hike all 809 miles of this awesome trek all at once, or even in passages would be…amazing to do. It would be very reminiscent of the movie, “Wild” where Reese Witherspoon’s character traverses the length of the Pacific Coast Trail banishing her inner-demons along the way.  But no, I don’t have time for that nor does my right knee relish its old high school track injuries.  Maybe you don’t have that kind of time either and that is why you are still reading this.  Regardless, for many people, breaking up an 809 mile hike makes sense, I am sure.

I also am lucky in that I don’t have any inner demons to purge like Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Wild” had and therefore, I won’t subject any of you to very much drama.  I will do this in stages and it may take a while, but as of this my first writing…I am about 40 miles along the way after a little over a month of weekend hikes.  Most “legs” or “Stages” that I will write about will be 7 to 13 miles in length.  That is a fairly good morning hike for most people or…it is for me!  As time goes on, I know that I will need to plan some multi-day back packing trips to explore the remote parts of the State that is traversed by the Trail, but for now, it is great to be able to do this huge goal in small bites.

The Arizona Trail near Flagstaff

Also, I am very lucky to live in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Flagstaff is a day hiker’s dream location. The Arizona Trail runs right through the heart of Flagstaff and utilizes the Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS Trails) which features spectacular scenery in Flagstaff on a very nice trail surface.  Here is some great info on Flagstaff’s FUTS trail.

Therefore, I will be using Flagstaff as a center for these writings as most of the people that might read my blogs live there too.  If you live somewhere else, just search through my blogs for a Stage of the trail that appeals to you and start there.  Also, I would recommend the official Arizona Trail website for Passages. 

However, the Passages section on is broken down into 30 to 50 mile sections, which is very hard for a day hiker to do.  So what I will concentrate on is to try to convey the easiest way to use the AZ Trail in smaller, more manageable legs that I will call Stages.  This will include information on where I started, where I stopped and where I left a car.  This will be extremely important, of course, when it comes time to come back home again!  A turn around spot, a place to drop a car for pickup or a place to be picked up by a friend will be very, very important to the success of your hike, so plan accordingly! At the end of each blog I will also give you an added bonus:  A recommendation for a great place to grab a bite to eat!  After hiking all morning, a great restaurant is a very welcome reward for yourself, and I know some great places.

I would be remiss if I did not remind you to BE PREPARED for hiking anywhere and everywhere.  Maybe it’s the old Boy Scout in me that spent so much time hiking the Grand Canyon, Havasupai and other parts of Arizona that makes me try to be prepared for ANYTHING that comes my way.  My Camelpack is loaded and quite heavy even for a day hike.  I prepare for maybe getting lost or being stuck in the wilderness for several days, even if I am only gone for a few hours.  Prepare for the worst.  I use my Camelpack as a “bug-out bag” and make sure it is loaded for almost any emergency I can think of.  From a first aid kit, to a survival kit it is loaded.  When I hike, I am not only trying to be prepared for a blister on my foot, but also a change in the weather I didn’t know about or even personal safety.  You never know who else might be on the trail.

So…first make sure that you are healthy and fit enough to do the hike at all.  Get a physical if you haven’t had one recently.  Talk to your doctor about your health.  From there, here is a great resource for hints on how to be prepared for hiking and back packing:

That’s it for this blog. My next will be about my first Stage of the Arizona Trail:  Flagstaff.  That first hike was in August of 2015, so hopefully future blogs from me will explore other sections of the AZ Trail both north and south from Flagstaff, and in the order I did them.  At this writing, I have at least 5 Stages of the trail to talk about, so be patient with me and you will see some great photos of what I have seen on the trail along with some information that might help you with your own trek along Arizona’s great trail.


Gary Nelson is a lifelong resident of Flagstaff, Arizona and is the Delegated Associate Broker at Realty Executives of Flagstaff.  Find your own part of Flagstaff at

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Contact Information

The Gary Nelson Group
Realty Executives of Flagsaff
15 E. Cherry Ave. Suite 101
Flagstaff AZ 86001
Direct: 928-225-3510
Office: 928-773-9300
Fax: 928-774-1102