Mount Elden is the closest paragliding and hang gliding site to Flagstaff, Arizona. It is primarily a thermal flying site, but favorable weather conditions and a local guide can allow for ridge soaring. The beautiful panoramic views of Northern Arizona makes this site a must-fly for any P3 or higher pilot. Good thermals reward pilots with views of Sedona and the Grand Canyon simultaneously. Due to the site’s technical, high desert conditions on launch and in the landing zone, new pilots are required to contact locals for an official site introduction before flying here. The designated landing zone is Buffalo Park but there is a bailout landing zone on Pipeline Trail.
All pilots must be current members of the Arizona Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (AZHPA). Membership info here.
All pilots must be current members of the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) and have ratings listed below.
All pilots must have a current H3/P3 or higher USHPA rating while launching and flying.
For all pilots, on-site briefings from a local, qualified pilot are a requirement. This sponsor shall be a qualified P3 or higher pilot that has experience flying this individual site.
Visiting pilots can obtain a visiting pilot pass here and show the registration confirmation as proof.
Mini wings and speed wings may be flown here in certain conditions with an USHPA M1 or M2 Rating and pilots must contact firstname.lastname@example.org prior to get detailed site and conditions briefing from local M2 rated pilots.
General Rules That Must Be Adhered To By All Pilots
Do not launch anywhere except for the designated launching areas. (See Images Below)
Do not land anywhere except for in the designated landing areas. (See Images Below)
Do not fly into Pulliam Airport's airspace. (See images below)
Do not take up the whole trail while folding your wing in Buffalo Park.
Do not land near people in Buffalo Park.
Do not overfly cars and spectators.
Do not "scratch" near terrain, especially during thermic parts of the day.
Know Before You Go
Be sure to check Elden Lookout Road for road closures, as the Forest Service closes the road over winter. If the road is closed you can still get to launch via the Elden Lookout Trail. Mount Elden is difficult for forecasting and predictions can be inaccurate. XCskies is a great resource for pilots to check local weather conditions. HRRR and NAM3 are best for day-before forecasting. Beyond this, predictions can be inaccurate. The launch site is at 9,000 ft; the air is thin. Be advised if you are coming from a lower elevation and or there is a chance you will fly above 10500 ASL you will need oxygen.
Site Frequency: 151.505 Mhz, DCS code 25: Please note you must turn your DCS on, set the code to 25, and make sure it is turned on for both transmit and receive prior to arrival. Programming instructions for most popular 2 meter radios can be found here.
Latest REV: 2.17.21
Usage: Hang Gliding and Paragliding.
Season: Allowed usage year round, but drive-up access is limited in winter. Check road closures before you go.
Affiliation: Arizona Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Not an USPHA RRRG insured site.
Land ownership: Launch - Coconino National Forest. Landing zone - City of Flagstaff, AZ.
Other use: Open to the public for sightseeing, hiking, mountain biking, etc.
HG and PG Launches
Orientation of Upper Launch: 9,087' MSL. (2,770m)
Type: Mountain launch. 35 degree grassy slope surrounded by pine trees.
GPS Coordinates: 35.239951°, -111.607998°, Google Maps
Winds: Wind direction needs to be between 190° and 260°. The preferred wind speed is 0-10 mph on launch. Launching into a headwind compromises your glide to the LZ if you fail to find lift. A 5:1 glide ratio is required to reach Buffalo Park, 4:1 to reach the bail-out landing zone on Pipeline Trail. Caution: wind indicators on launch can give false wind direction. Connecting with locals to get the nuanced information critical for safe flying is required.
Road Conditions: A high clearance vehicle is helpful, but not mandatory when the road has not been rutted or muddy.
Parking: Parking near launch is limited. Do not drive off-road to make more parking spaces. More spaces can be found near the towers.
Special Note on Thermal Flying:
Thermal conditions create a demand for pilots to not only have solid ground handling skills with a connected feel to their glider, but also a thorough understanding of how the local weather conditions play into the forecast models in order to be sufficiently prepared for a short launch window that demands certain launch techniques. Proficiency in high-wind-with-gusts kiting, no-wind forwards and light-wind dynamic reverse launches on shallow slopes are crucial for many of our sites and conditions.
Please be aware that strength of conditions will determine if it is better to a.) launch between the thermal cycle, when speeds are zero or light, to then fly away into the next thermal approaching the hill with ample clearance from the terrain, or b.) pull glider up and launch glider directly into the thermal cycle blowing into launch.
Many times launching during a zero- or light-wind cycle between the stronger thermals is not only a safer window, but a better plan to capitalize on the launch cycles as well as the flight plan.
It was common to see many pilots "waiting for the wind" (which is the thermal) to cycle through launch because they are not comfortable and/or proficient with forward and light wind launch techniques, only to experience a stronger cycle than anticipated once their glider was overhead.
Pilots most accustomed to launching in prevailing winds, onshore winds and lighter thermal ridge lift need local, and perhaps local professional, expertise and guidance to gain the needed insight to fly our sites safely.
Pulliam Airport’s Airspace (class D) almost reaches Buffalo Park. Do not enter this airspace. If you are ever unsure, do not fly south of Buffalo Park.
Directions to the launch site can be found here. This launch site faces directly southwest. It is a steep grassy area that is a little smaller than most pilots like. It is recommended not to kite on launch. There is a lot of potential for getting “plucked,” especially in thermic conditions.
Getting a true wind speed on launch is tricky because of the tall trees in the surrounding area. Always assume the wind speed is higher above the trees, especially if you can see them swaying. Make sure to take at least 30 minutes before launching to assure the gusts and cycles are within your operating limitations. Being blown over the back or over the side is a real hazard here. If you are not making any progress forward or you are moving backward, it is best to move on a diagonal away from the mountain to exit the venturi. Once clear of the mountain, redirect yourself to Buffalo Park or Pipeline Trail.
Conditions can change rapidly, especially during the summer monsoon season when either nearby overdevelopment or gust fronts from distant thunderstorms, can kick up nasty flying weather. Please be an active pilot. Dust devils are not just a phenomenon of the lower desert. The high country gets them, too.
Hot days in the summer and below-freezing weather in late fall and early spring are extremely unforgiving on unprepared pilots, outdated equipment, and pilots not giving an extra margin of safety within their operating limitations. Adequate preparation, a sufficient understanding of local weather forecasting, and a local on-site briefing are required. Be aware that dehydration is a real possibility even during the winter months. Give yourself an extra margin for error due to the terrain and weather conditions.
Before arrival, all pilots must read the General Site Guidelines.
Directions to Buffalo park, the primary landing area, can be found here. Buffalo Park is a huge landing zone but does have rocks and some small cacti hidden by the knee-high grass. Boots are highly recommended for this landing area. Landing on the trail is allowed only if there is no one on the trail. Do not land near people. Do not land downwind of trees. Pilots have the option of landing on the Pipeline Trail if they are not going to make Buffalo Park. (See Image Above)
Landing on Pipeline Trail can be disorienting once you are below the tree line. Knowing how to get from Pipeline trail back to your vehicle is crucial. All pilots are advised to walk their landing zones at least once before flying Mount Elden.
Note: Pilots must familiarize themselves with this information before arriving, and this information does not replace the need for an in-person site briefing from a qualified, local pilot or instructor familiar with the area and experienced in flying the site.