The Elden Lookout Trail

The Elden Lookout Trail is a moderate hike to the top of Mount Elden in Flagstaff, Arizona. The most direct route to the summit is by starting at Fat Man’s Loop to the Elden Lookout Trail, making this a round trip hiking adventure of 5.8 miles.

While Fat Man’s Loop is an easier trail, once on Elden Lookout be prepared for a workout with lots of switchbacks leading to the summit.

Mount Elden was named after John Elden, who in 1875 farmed and lived along this land. As time has gone by, the city of Flagstaff built up around this mountain. From horse and buggies to classic American automobiles driving down the paved highways towards Route 66, this mountain has been a familiar source in Flagstaffs existence.

Although, this isn’t to say Mount Elden hasn’t experienced hard times. In June of 1977, a teenager accidentally started a wildfire known today as the Radio Fire. This broke out along the southern portion of the mountain where this trail begins. Once extinguished, 4,594 acres were sadly burned.

While hiking along this path, the scars of the mountain can still be seen today and remains in the process of healing itself.

Fire damage caused by the Radio Fire in 1977

Standing at the trailhead, the dusty dirt path under your hiking shoes will lead you right up to the top of this mountain.  At the top sticking out, like a popped turkey timer stands a fire tower, in which you will soon be standing next to.

Mount Elden

Within a few minutes of hiking, you will come across your first trail sign, indicating the beginning of Fat Mans Loop. The sign informs you that Mount Elden Lookout Trail lies 2.5 miles away, heading clockwise onto the loop trail.

Fat Man’s Loop begins easy enough as it takes you closer to the mountain. The path is wide as it swerves around small cactuses and yucca plants laying low on the desert ground. Every so often, bursting up from the earth are alligator juniper trees.

This type of juniper tree is only found in the Southwest and northern Mexico. Its easy to see how it got its name as the bark around these medium sized trees are scaly, resembling the skin of an alligator.

Bark of an alligator juniper tree

The twisted branches grow out from the flaky trunk, reaching up creating a ghostly silhouette against the blue sky. 

After about a mile of hiking, a trail sign directs hikers to turn left onto the Elden Lookout Trail.

This route immediately inclines up over loose rocks and soon transitions into switchbacks that will zig zag you up, higher and higher.

Within about 10 minutes the landscape changes as you now find yourself walking amongst the white barked aspen trees. Looking out towards the city below, the view becomes wider and panoramic.

At times, it seems as if these switchbacks will never end but as you keep progressing, you’ll soon see the fire tower peeking out teasing you to come visit.

Once at the top, as you walk towards the edge and lookout, the view will make all those switchbacks worth it.

The immense sky broken up by creamy white clouds are spread out along the open landscape. Shadows formed by these clouds are seen along the peaks below, while the further back you gaze the sky becomes gray and hazy. The nearby staple landmarks, such as the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater and Kendrick Peak can be seen from this view.

Hikers can walk among the numerous antenna towers and visitors are welcomed to head up to the fire tower (if the gate is open). 

Not only is this a great area to explore and take in the views but also offers a variety of spaces to find a quiet spot to relax and enjoy the stillness of nature.

Leave a Reply