Hiking O’Leary Peak will take you to the edge of a millennia old lava flow, and up high above to look down on the cinder cone that created it. From the lookout tower at the top of this lava dome, you’ll look into the heart of the San Francisco Peaks, marvel at the size of Humphrey’s Peak, and enjoy a birds eye view of Sunset Crater National Monument.
Getting to the Trailhead
From Flagstaff, head North on Hwy 89. Eleven miles passed the Flagstaff KOA, turn right following the sign for Sunset Crater Volcano Wupatki National Monument. Continue straight on Fire Road 545 for 1.8 miles, then turn Left at the sign for O’Leary Group Campground onto Fire Road 545A.
The road dead-ends at the gated trailhead after about a quarter mile and there are spaces to park on the right. There is no bathroom or water at the trailhead.
Hiking O’Leary Peak
To begin the hike, pass by the gate and start walking the wide black cinder path. The first mile is a combination of flat and slight downhill, as you approach and curve left along the edge of the Bonito Lava Flow. This vast flow was created by the Sunset Crater Volcano 1,000 years ago.
As the path begins to bend northward, Darton Dome then O’Leary Peak come into view. These peaks were all created from volcanic activity, but they are different types of structures. Sunset Crater is a cinder cone, while O’Leary Peak is a lava dome.
Feel free to leave the path and explore the lava flow – the Forest Service encourages it. After investigating the inky dollops, return to the trail and continue towards the peak. The incline comes on in fits and starts during the second mile, then holds steady for the duration. Just before the two mile mark you hit the first of six switchbacks. Here the trees start to become sparse, and the view of the lava field starts to open up.
The trail approaches a saddle, but doesn’t quite reach it before hitting the second switchback. This is by far the longest of the switchbacks. As you progress along this leg, look back to see Humphrey’s Peak rise above the trees.
This long switchback eventually ends at the saddle between O’Leary Peak and Darton Dome, around the 3.5 mile mark. If you look up from here, you can see the tower standing at the top of the ridge. Go left through an open gate, starting the third switchback.
This switchback is about as long as the first. The last three are all shorter, which you’ll find start at mile 4.0, mile 4.3, and mile 4.6 At mile 4.8 you will pass by a final gate. The tower is so close, it’s visible from here!
Continue up the final steep finish to the tower! There’s a sign next to the tower listing the hours it should be open and staffed, but I was there during open hours and it was apparently unattended. If you do hike it while there’s someone on watch, just holler up to ask for permission to climb aboard. If not, the view from around the base of the tower is certainly good enough.
Take in the panoramic view spanning from Sunset Crater to the south and Humphrey’s Peak to the west. Once you’ve finished contemplating the structural differences between cinder cones and lava domes, return back down the way you came.
O’Leary Peak Trail Map & Elevation Profile
O’Leary Peak Resources
- Dogs are allowed, but be aware that the dark gravel trails may get too hot for Fido’s paws.
- Forest Service’s web pages with info on the O’Leary Peak Trail
Flagstaff Weather Forecast
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Arizona Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge – Summer Edition
This hike is part of the Arizona Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge – Summer Edition. This self-paced hiking challenge includes six hikes all easily reached from the Flagstaff/Sedona area. They are a great way to explore the area, train for bigger adventures, and you’ll be doing good, with a portion of the net proceeds going to support Big City Mountaineers.
Registration for the summer challenge opens April 1st! Be sure to check out the winter challenge, too!