Picture Canyon is a unique feature formed by the gap between two lava flows along the Rio de Flag east of Flagstaff. It has been the focus of conservation interest in the community for decades given its archaeological, geological, and wildlife resources. The Northern Sinaugua occupied the region from 700 AD - 1200 AD and pecked nearly 800 petroglyphs into the Canyon walls and nearby boulders.
Picture Canyon was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 for the extensive cultural resources present within the area. To further protect the area, the City of Flagstaff purchased the 480 acre Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve in 2012 using funds from a 2004 voter-approved bond and a 2012 Arizona State Parks Growing Smarter Grant.
What You'll See
Mature Ponderosa pine and oak woodlands along the canyon are rich with wildlife. Keep a look out for Lewis's Woodpecker, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, marsh birds, raptors, mule deer, elk, fox, bats, lizards, and butterflies.
Located along the Rio de Flag, the Wildcat Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant releases reclaimed water into Picture Canyon, supporting diverse riparian and wetland vegetation and wildlife. In 2006, the Arizona Water Protection Fund awarded the City of Flagstaff a large grant to restore the natural Rio de Flag stream functions, re-establish native vegetation along the stream channel, and create a deep water wetland habitat for migratory waterfowl. This large scale Rio de Flag restoration project was recently completed.
Behind the mall, turn right onto Test Drive and follow it until it "T"s with E. Santa Fe. Turn left on Santa Fe and take the next left onto El Paso Road. Drive past the Wildcat Treatment plant until the road deadends. Access is currently only by foot. A dirt road takes you to the site, where interpretive signs and trailheads mark the way.
Interpretive signs, trails, outdoor classroom, cultural resources, and viewing blinds.
A trailhead is located on El Paso Flagstaff Road. Vehicles, including OHVs, are strictly prohibited within the Preserve.
If you only visit one of the AWWE sites around Flagstaff – make it this one! In this AWWE audio guide, you’ll hear about the rewarding and varied wildlife watching that’s possible here. Hear about the ancient rock art from Evelyn Billo (Rupestrian CyverServices), riparian restoration efforts from David McKee (City of Flagstaff) and the wonderful variety of birds including four species of woodpeckers, plus numerous small mammals you can potentially see here from NAU biologist Tad Theimer.
Narrated by Rose Houk, recorded and produced by Diane Hope with funding from the AZGFD Heritage Fund. Recording of hairy woodpecker courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Have you seen all the birds that come through Picture Canyon?
Use this checklist to mark off the birds you've seen!
City of Flagstaff