F.R. 245 to 171 / Lava River Cave
On this trail, take an easy shortcut through the Coconino National Forest between Highway 180 and I-40. While on the trail, take a side trip to the unique Lava River Caves, a cool underground tunnel carved out by lava 700,000 years ago. This road also provides numerous opportunities for great camping before ending at a frontage road in Bellemont.
Where to go:
From downtown Flagstaff, head west on Historic Route 66/I-40 BUS. Follow the signs for Highway 180/Fort Valley Road. Continue northwest for 13.7 miles. Turn left onto the small dirt road marked as F.R. 245. Staging is on both sides of the road just west of Highway 180, although vehicles on this trail must be street-legal.
F.R. 245 leaves Highway 180 as a wide, graded dirt road. Stay straight at 1.5 miles where lesser roads branch off in either direction. The road begins to head in a northwesterly direction surrounded on either side by thick ponderosa pines. The road remains fairly easy in good weather but does have a lot of washboards and ruts so you may have to slow down. At 3.0 miles, you’ll come to an intersection with F.R. 171. Turn left here. Right will take you further north towards Kendrick Peak. Continuing southwest on F.R. 171, the trail remains wide and graded. Stay straight at 3.7 miles where a lesser road goes right towards Government Prairie and Parks. The road curves left as you come to F.R. 171B at 4.1 miles.
This is where you will turn if you want to see the Lava River Caves. Continue to the parking area east of the main road and continue to hike along the trail to the east. The Lava River Caves are about a mile long. The Forest Service recommends sturdy shoes, several flashlights, and warm clothing if you decided to hike in the chilly caves. When you’re done, return back to F.R. 171 and turn left.
Continuing south on F.R. 171 from the Lava River Caves, the road remains wide although filled with ruts. Pick the most comfortable line through this section. Continue straight through a large meadow at 5.3 miles ignoring any side roads. You’ll cross through another wide meadow and past a fire line at 8.4 miles as the trail continues to head south downhill towards I-40. This stretch has numerous great primitive camping on both sides of the road. After another fire line and some ranching in a meadow, you’ll arrive at the I-40 frontage road at 11.5 miles. Turn left to get quickly to I-40 via Transwestern Road. Turn right to follow the mix of paved/dirt road along the highest point of Route 66 (Brannigan Park) to the small town of Parks which has gas and a convenience store as well as I-40 access.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
Using F.R. 245 and 171 is a fun way to easily bypass Flagstaff if you’re trying to get from Highway 180 to I-40. That’s what we used it for. It is also an access road for the Lava River Caves. Why not make a scenic loop out of it? The 11.5 miles one way should take less than an hour (more if you visit the caves). The trail is rated a ‘1.5’ out of 10 because passenger cars can make this trip. Expect a bumpy ride depending on when the last maintenance of the road was. High clearance not required but it always helps. Like other forest roads, this road is open seasonally and is closed in the winter to vehicles. If you’re looking for a fun and scenic outing in the forest, check this one out!