Jeep Emerging From the Volcano at Cinders Hills OHV Area
Sunset Crater in Sunset Crater National Monuemnt
RV Camping on the Shore of Cinder Lake at Cinder Hills OHV Area
Cinder Lake with San Francisco Mountain in Background
The Cinder Hills OHV Area is the place to camp if you've got a dirt bike, ATV, jeep, or dune buggy. It's the ultimate playground for off-road vehicles. I've even seen equestrians out here, which is fitting, as a horse is the ultimate go anywhere vehicle! Finding a spot to park the RV is easy - you can pretty much camp anywhere among the cinders. The Cinder Hills are located northeast of Flagstaff in the Coconino National Forest. There is much to see nearby including Sunset Crater National Monument (directly north of the OHV Area), San Francisco Mountain (the highest mountain in the Arizona), and Elden Mountain.
Elevation: 6774 feet
Caution: If you have 2 wheel drive, be very careful that you don’t go off any paths that aren’t packed down. You can easily get stuck in the loose cinders.
RV Campsite 1
GPS Coordinates: N 35 19.471’ W 111 31.512’
Directions: From Flagstaff take Highway 89 north about 8 miles then turn right (east) on FR 776. Follow FR 776 about 1 ¼ miles to the Cinder Lake, a large treeless expanse of black cinders. You’ll see a road on your right that follows the tree line. Take this road ¼ mile to the campsite next to the ponderosa pines on the right.
RV Campsite 2
GPS Coordinates: N 35 19.674’ W 111 31.651’
This is a much better campsite, though it doesn’t have a view of Cinder Lake like Campsite 1. It’s more private and quiet being away from the majority of traffic. This campsite is right next to the OHV area boundary and near a hill that has a great view of Elden Mountain and San Francisco Mountain. There are a few short single track hiking/biking trails on top of this hill.
This is a neat place to camp, but it would be more fun with a dirt bike or ATV as this is an OHV area. Hiking and biking can be difficult due to the loose cinders. Hiking is pretty limited, unless you want motorized company.
Surprisingly though, it’s quiet most of the time. Weekends are the busiest times. If you don’t have an OHV, there isn’t much to do here. However, it is a convenient place to camp if you want to visit nearby Sunset Crater National Monument, San Francisco Mountain, or Elden Mountain. There are many excellent hiking trails on these mountains, including a few that are popular for mountain biking.
Hiking and Biking: Hiking is difficult – it’s sort of like hiking in sand here. The OHV area is quite large so you wouldn’t run into dirt bikes and ATVs too often, unless it’s a weekend or holiday. There are plenty of cinder hills (extinct volcanoes) to explore. Forest Road 776 is a good road for biking and receives only light traffic. From it you can get to FR 545 and Sunset Crater National Monument, and also to Strawberry Crater Wilderness. You can also bike west across Highway 89 to San Francisco Mountain. Many of the less traveled roads here among the cinders are impossible to bike as bike tires easily sink into the loose cinders.
Weather: This must be the warmest place to camp near Flagstaff. It seems my last campsite, west of Flagstaff, was the coldest. All this black volcanic rock really absorbs the sunshine, making temps go up. The ponderosa pines are stunted here due to the drier conditions. Highs have been in the 80s, with a few days reaching the low 90s. At night, it only drops down into the 60s. The wind hasn’t been too bad; just breezy now and then. It’s been quite calm the last few days with clouds rolling in. I’ve had no rain yet, except for a couple sprinkles.
Wildlife: Due to the traffic, noise, and reduced vegetation there isn’t as much wildlife here. What I have seen are squirrels, cottontail rabbits, swifts, a couple hawks, and a few other birds. I did see a golden eagle and a deer on Elden Mountain.
Cell Signal: Verizon cell phone service is great. Verizon mobile broadband internet is consistently fast, usually 2-3 bars. Videos take a bit longer to load, so it’s not the fastest service I’ve had. I have an external antenna placed on my RV roof for better internet reception.
Insects: There are some large gnats that look like small flies. They like to fly in front of your face sometimes. They don’t bite and haven’t really been a problem.
Privacy: If you want privacy camp somewhere else. OHVs can go anywhere out here and it can be noisy at times.
RV Campsite Rating: 7 out of 10. It can be noisy here and hiking is limited. Summertime temperatures can be a bit hot. But the Cinder Hills OHV Area does make for a unique camping experience - there aren’t too many places where you can camp among volcanoes.