10 Worthwhile Northern Arizona Attractions & 10 to Skip!
2. Hike the Inner Basin Trail (in the fall)
Flagstaff sees a surprisingly awesome fall color season with many trails and parks around town glowing with bright yellow aspens. Most people are shocked when I tell them how beautiful fall is in Northern Arizona; they do not see Arizona as anything other than an ugly dry desert! Sure the colors here do not compare to New England, however, a few of the hikes come pretty darn close. One of these is the Inner Basin Trail: a stunning 4 mile round-trip journey through beautiful aspen forests.
In fact, because so many people want to hike Inner Basin during the peak season (which unfortunately is an extremely limited 1-2 week period of time), a long line with up to an hour or so wait often forms the 1st 2 weeks or so of October (only a limited number of cars are let up at a time due to the dangerous, narrow mountain road and limited number of parking spots).
In exchange for your lengthy wait, you will experience an invigorating hike in the fresh mountain air along one of the most gorgeous, colorful trails found anywhere. People from all over the country come to Flagstaff each fall to enjoy the spectacular color. If you plan your hike at peak (check the Flagstaff Leaf O’Meter for seasonal updates), bright yellow aspens will surround you in every direction.
Colorful views are not the only highlight of this journey – your entire body is going to get a major workout on the 2 mile uphill climb (bad for some, a bonus for others!). As this hike is 4 miles round-trip with both uphill and downhill portions, not to mention located at a very high altitude (8600-10500 feet!), you will want to take your time and possibly get used to the elevation around town before attempting any strenuous exercise like this hike. Lots of people get seriously sick by not taking proper precautions (drinking extra water, eating salty snacks, taking it easy) each year.
3. Spend the day exploring scenic Oak Creek Canyon
This picturesque 14 mile journey, which starts just outside of Flagstaff and continues on until you reach Sedona, not only serves as a convenient means of transportation between the 2 towns, but also earns its’ reputation as a fantastic attraction in itself. Oak Creek Canyon is frequently rated amongst the most picturesque roads in the country, and I have to agree!
As you being your drive on Hwy89a near Flagstaff, you will pass pretty pine forests (Flagstaff is located within the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world). As you slowly drop elevation (from about 7000 feet near Flagstaff to around 4000 when you arrive in Sedona), you will begin to notice the scenery changing from pines to deciduous trees to the gorgeous red rock formations that Sedona is so famous for. Surprisingly there are tons of leafy deciduous trees here (making it another fall hotspot), giving it that New England charm.
From gorgeous pine forests to stunning red rock formations all in the same drive…
And if you happen to visit right after a major winter storm, you may just get to see some rare snow capping the red rocks!
Oak Creek Canyon is not simply just a drive, but an adventure with numerous hiking trails, sightseeing spots, and attractions along the way.
The must-do here is the gorgeous West Fork trail, a long, yet rewarding hike with beautiful “rare for Arizona” leafy views and 13 fun (and slightly challenging) creek crossings. The hike is a great year-round destination, especially come fall!
Other things to do along the drive include stopping for a great breakfast and espresso drink at Indian Gardens, shopping for handcrafted Native American souvenirs (you’ll see many vendors along the way), visiting Slide Rock State Park (a popular summer hangout named as so for its’ natural water slide), and taking in the views from the various scenic overlooks and pullouts along the way.