Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Over 900 years ago, Sunset Crater Volcano erupted sending ash over 800 square miles and lava down to the base of the crater leaving behind black rivers of hardened lava.  The crater spouted great quantities of black ash, which completely engulfed the Indian pueblos, very much as Vesuvius covered Pompeii.  Sunset Crater was the last volcano to erupt in Arizona. 

In 1892, John Wesley Powell, a Colorado River navigator gave the volcano cone its name.  The name came from the way the volcano takes on a rosy shade right before sunset.  The cone is dark in color at its base and gradually changes to a red, orange and yellow color leading up to its summit.  It is a beautiful sight to behold.

Then in the 1930’s, Hollywood came to Sunset Crater Volcano and proposed using dynamite to create an avalanche for an upcoming movie.  Local citizens protested and Sunset Crater became a National Monument.  Today, visitors will see a cinder cone rising 1,000 feet above the ground.  You can walk trails and stop at viewpoints to see this spectacular crater.  The area abounds with fossils of various marine animals, evidence of the great sea that once covered this region.  Two interesting volcanic features can be seen at Sunset Crater, they are squeeze-ups and hornitos. 

Hiking is no longer allowed on the slopes of Sunset Crater because the footprints made created streaks, which ruin the beauty of the crater.  It is important that individuals stay on the designated paths to protect this fragile resource.  Hikers should come prepared wearing sturdy hiking shoes.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument has a variety of trails for hikers.  The Lava Flow Trail begins just one and a half miles east of the Visitor Center.  It is a self-guided loop trail covering one mile.  The trail loops across a lava flow at the base of Sunset Crater.  This hike explores volcanic formations.  You will nee to allow about 45 minutes for this hike.  The Lenox Crater Trail begins one mile east of the Visitor Center.  It provides a glimpse at the cinder cone.  This trail is an easy climb, yet it requires almost an hour to travel round trip. 

The Visitor Center should be the first stop when visiting Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.  A daily 45-minute program is offered at the center.  There is a display showing the range of the volcanic field from Flagstaff to the Little Colorado.  A hands-on exhibit allows visitors to see and feel volcanic rocks.  The showcases represent a variety of insects and plant life, which live in the area around Sunset Crater.  Programs are subject to change, so call in advance for exact times.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is open every day from 8:00 to 5:00 and during the summer 8:00 to 6:00, except on Christmas and New Year’s Day.  The admission charge is $3.00 and individuals under 17 are free.  The crater sometimes does close, due to snow in the wintertime.  The best time to make a visit to Sunset Crater is during the spring or summer when the weather is mild.  The area experiences windy conditions throughout the year.  If you would like more information on the monument, you may call 520-526-0502 or 520-556-7042.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is located 15 miles north of Flagstaff off of Highway 89.  If you are coming from Flagstaff take U.S. Highway 89 north out of town, until you come to Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road.  Then take this road to the Crater.  If you are coming from Tucson or Phoenix take Interstate 17 north out of town and head to Flagstaff.  Once you are in Flagstaff travel north on U.S. Highway 180.  Then when you come to Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road turn and follow the signs to the Crater.


Both Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument are located close together.  A 36 mile paved loop road connects the two monuments crossing a lava flow and rejoins U.S. Highway 89.  It is a terrific experience, if you have time to take in both of these monuments.Ancient Indians undoubtedly witnessed the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano in A.D.1065 which blanketed the region with black cinder. Today the volcano's rim of red cinders and the lava flows near the cone seem to have cooled and hardened to a jagged surface only yesterday. Squeeze-ups and hornitos are just two of the fascinating volcanic features you'll encounter while exploring the park. To protect this fragile resource, Sunset Crater Volcano is closed to climbing and hiking. However, other cinder cones in the area may be climbed.

Sunset Crater Volcano is often confused with another nearby attraction, Meteor Crater. At Sunset Crater Volcano you will see a cinder cone rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape. Meteor Crater, located 35 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40, is an impact crater measuring over 500 feet deep and 1 mile across.