Coconino National Forest
The Coconino National Forest is one of the most diverse National Forests in the country with landscapes ranging from the famous red rocks around the city of Sedona to Ponderosa pine forests in higher elevations, from southwestern desert to alpine tundra. Explore mountains and canyons, fish in small lakes, and cool your feet in lazy creeks and streams. The Coconino National Forest is one of the oldest in the country having been created by a proclamation signed on July 2, 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This was only 3 years after the Forest Service was created. The proclamation consolidated all the San Francisco Mountains National Forest, parts of the Black Mesa and Tonto National Forest, all of the Grand Canyon National Forest south and east of the Colorado River, into the Coconino National Forest. The Coconino covers 1,821,495 acres and is one of six National Forests in Arizona.
The U.S. Forest Service is a federal land management agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. All visitors to the National Forest has the opportunity and responsibility to aid this mission through their own personal stewardship and practice of leaving no trace on the land when they visit. The combined effort of agency personnel, the American people, and international visitors is crucial to maintaining federal lands for all to enjoy into the future.
There is something for everyone on the Coconino National Forest.
Geology: The Coconino ranges in elevation from 12,633 feet at the top of Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in the state of Arizona, down to 2,600 feet in the Mazatzal Wilderness near the confluence of the Verde River and Fossil Creek. Within this elevation range there are many interesting geologic features including: Volcanic peaks and cinder cones; the Mogollon Rim (lowest edge of the Colorado Plateau); basalt, sandstone, and limestone canyons; mesas, buttes, and rock spires; sinkholes, alcoves, and a lava tube; the Verde River, several creeks and small lakes. Our geologic wonders are important features we must protect as they are the foundation for the beautiful and special places we all love to visit. Always check the Forest Service website or call the local Ranger Station to find out if there are any restricted areas or activities in the area you wish to visit. Defacing rocks and geologic features is a violation of federal laws as is littering of any kind. Report any violations to the local Ranger Station.
Culture: The lands within the present day Coconino National Forest have been home to people for thousands of years and has seen many cultural changes in this time. The first evidence of humans dates back to 12,000 BC with the Paleoindians followed by what is today called the Archaic people from 9,000 BC to AD 600. These early cultures were hunters and gatherers. From AD 600 to AD 1400 we have an abundance of evidence for the Northern and Southern Sinagua people, who were a pueblo culture and some of the earliest farmers in the region. Today on the Coconino you can visit dwelling built by these people and see the pictographs and petroglyphs they created at sites like Elden Pueblo, Palatki, Honanki, and V Bar V Heritage sites. Following in time were the Yavapai from AD 1300 to present day and the Apache from AD1500 also to present day. Beginning in about 1863 we have the most recent culture to call the Coconino home, and they are the Euroamericans. Cultural site protection is a very important issue and there are numerous federal and state laws protecting cultural sites. You can do your part when you visit one of these special places by: not moving or removing any artifacts, walk only on established trails, leave pets at home, avoid touching any rock art or structures. The descendants of the people who once lived in this area appreciate your respect for cultural sites.
Plants: True to the diverse nature of the Coconino, the wide variety of plants will impress even the most experienced botanist. High elevation plants such as bristle cone pine, quaking aspen, silverstem lupine, yellow owl's clover, Rocky Mountain iris, and senecio. Mid-elevation plants such as Ponderosa pine, red barberry, manzanita, sego lily, claret cup cactus, Parry's agave, and locoweed. The lowest elevations have high desert plants including velvet mesquite, desert willow, desert five spot, fishhook barrel cactus and desert globemallow. In Arizona all cactus and succulent plants are protected by law. On national forest lands plants are a critical element to the health of the various ecosystems. When visiting, do not pick flowers or damage trees and other plants. Enjoy their beauty and function and take photos to remember the amazing plants you saw while visiting the Coconino.
Wildlife: Sightings of wildlife is one of the aspects to a visit on the Coconino that people get the most excited about. This Forests is home to many mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, and insect species. Some of the more unique or unexpected are: black bears, mountain lions, pronghorn, elk, javalina, coatimundi, ringtail, river otter, northern leopard frog, Arizona black rattlesnake, narrow-headed garter snake, bark scorpion, tarantula, bald eagle, lesser night hawk, canyon wren, willow fly catcher, collard lizard, roundtail chub, and loachminnow. When you see wildlife, keep your distance and do not approach or handle them for their protection and yours. Keep all pets confined or on a leash so they do not harm or chase wildlife. So not feed wildlife or leave litter of food scraps out on the ground, picnic table or firering as this can draw in wildlife and habituate them to human food. remember you are a visitor to these animal's home, respect their environment.
Pet Friendly Notes
Pets are permitted on most of the Coconino National Forest but need to be on a leash, or otherwise confined for the pet’s safety, public safety, and the safety of the local wildlife. Exceptions include: Palatki Heritage, V Bar V Heritage Site, Honanki Heritage Site, Elden Pueblo, the Inner Basin, and Slide Rock where pets are not permitted.
Hiking/Mtn. Biking/Horseback Riding/Backpacking: Hundreds of miles of trail.
Camping (tent/RV): 19 campgrounds including one ‘Horses Only’ campground.
Recreation Cabin Rentals: Four Forest Service Cabins and yurts and cabins at the Nordic Center, all by reservation only.
Picnicking: 17 developed picnic sites and many high development trailheads also have 1-3 picnic tables available, prices vary.
Fishing/Boating (size and motor restrictions apply): One river, five creeks, and six lakes (lakes occasionally dry up).
Hunting: Over one million acres open to hunting within season.
Rock Climbing: Oak Creek Vista (restrictions apply contact the Red Rock Ranger District) and Jack’s Canyon Camping and Climbing Area (contact the Mogollon Rim Ranger District).
Cultural Sites and Outdoor Learning: Palatki Heritage Site (reservations required call 928-282-3854), V Bar V Heritage Site (only open Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon), Honanki Heritage Site, Elden Pueblo, Kendrick Watchable Wildlife Trail, Griffiths Springs, Lava River Cave, Painted Desert Vista, Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center, and Oak Creek Vista, Oak Creek Visitor Center.
Road Cycling: Forest Highway 3 (a.k.a. Lake Mary Road) and State Route 179.
High-clearance and 4X4 driving: must stay on designated roads and trails, many locations require all vehicles to be fully ‘street legal’, some do not. All driving but be conducted following State traffic laws and without damaging roads, trails, or soils and vegetation. Motor vehicles are only permitted on designated roads. Contact the Coconino National forest by phone or visit the website for free copies and free downloads of the Motor Vehicle Use Map which shows all designated roads. Many higher elevation roads are closed in winter and all Forest roads are subject to temporary closures due to wet weather conditions or rock fall situations.
Scenic Driving: Many scenic drives are available through the Coconino National Forest. Some of the most popular paved drives are Forest Highway 3 (a.k.a. Lake Mary Road), Highway 89A, State Route 179, Highway 180, NPS-545, and Highway 87. Popular non-paved routes are FR 151, FR 552, FR 420, FR 231, and FR 300.
Winter Sports: Arizona Snowbowl (down-hill skiing and snowboarding); Flagstaff Nordic Center (cross-country skiing and snowshoeing); Wing Mountain, Peakview Parking Area, Crowley Pit, and Walker Lake (general snow play and sledding); Kendrick Snowmobile Trail System, Mormon Lake/Pinewood Snowmobile Trail System; Humphreys Trail #51 (snowshoeing free backcountry permit is required).
Water Play: White Bridge Picnic Site (Free), Clear Creek Day Use Site (Free), Grasshopper Point Picnic Site (Fee Applies), Slide Rock (parking is at Slide Rock State Park, Fee Applies), TAPCO Day Use and Boat Launch (Free). Many other water access points are available along the southwest shores of the Verde River on the Prescott National Forest (www.fs.usda.gov/prescott). Also, several communities in the Verde Valley and Flagstaff have community pools and/or water parks.
- In the lower elevations hiking, creek/river fishing, camping, picnicking, scenic driving, nature viewing, mountain biking, horseback riding, road cycling, and cultural site visits are possible year round. Summer also brings out excessive crowds of people who want to play in the water. Public demand for water play is greater than public access can accommodate. Winter can be excellent hiking for the properly prepared hiker. Backpacking is very limited in the low country due to the lack of year round water in locations conducive to backpacking; interested parties should call the Red Rock Ranger Station (928-203-2900) for more information.
- In the higher elevations hiking, lake/reservoir fishing, camping, picnicking, scenic driving, nature viewing, mountain biking, horseback riding, road cycling, and cultural site visits are a little more seasonal. Fall also brings out many deer, elk, and turkey hinters. Winter brings out skiers and snow players in droves during a year with significant snows. Public demand for snow play is greater than public access can accommodate. Backpacking is very limited in the high country due to the lack of year round water in locations conducive to backpacking; interested parties should call the Flagstaff Ranger Station (928-526-0866) or Mogollon Rim Ranger Station (928-477-2255) for more information.
Fees vary at each site, many sites have no fee. Call ahead or visit our website for details.