11. Hike to the amphitheater of an ancient volcano
Here’s an underappreciated hike everyone with some extra time should check out, and it’s just a 30 minute drive outside of Flagstaff. The Red Mountain trail is a relaxing 1.5 mile leisurely out-and-back trek to the amphitheater (center) of a volcano which is estimated to have erupted about 470,000 years ago. It’s not something you see everyday, and thus, definitely worth the extra drive if you are going to be in the area for a while.
If you are limited on time, consider stopping here on your way back from the Grand Canyon as it is conveniently located on the same route. The scenery along this trail is really diverse considering the short distance and includes towering cinder cones, hoodoos, and a diverse range of high desert plant life including ponderosa pines and juniper trees.
12. Drive through Bearizona
Visiting Bearizona in small-town Williams is a great addition to any Grand Canyon vacation. After an exhausting day walking around the Grand Canyon Village, it’s nice to take a day off and explore some of the area’s more relaxing attractions. Whether or not you are staying in Williams, I would recommend checking out Bearizona, frequently regarded as one of the country’s best drive-thru wildlife parks.
Along the drive, you will see all sorts of wildlife in a setting which resembles their natural habitat – Bison, Alaskan Tundra Wolves, and Black Bear are just a handful of animals you will see roaming in the beautiful countryside. You can also take a tram tour, walk around the small zoo portion of the park, and see raptors flying above your head in the daily Birds of Prey show.
13. Take family photos surrounded by gorgeous seasonal wildflowers
Late summer after the monsoon storms is a great time in Northern Arizona as this is when the summer tourist crowds start dwindling down, hotel rates begin to drop, and the beautiful yellow wildflowers begin to spring up everywhere. The best places for photos are Bonito Meadow (located on the Sunset Crater-Wupatki Scenic drive) and Hwy 180 near the Peak View Gas Station. Both of these locations feature stunning views of the mountains as an added perk. The Hwy 180 location features a perfect photo opp by the iconic Flagstaff sign, while Bonito Meadow offers amazing views of Sunset Crater and the Peaks. You cannot go wrong with either pick!
14. Hike the South Kalibab trail into the heart of the Grand Canyon*
Of course, visiting the Grand Canyon should be on the top of everyone’s Arizona to-do list. Early spring and late fall are the best times to visit as this means fewer crowds and milder weather. While viewing the stunning canyon from the various overlooks is enough for most, hiking into the Canyon is an experience to remember. For an incredible experience you will never forget, consider a hiking adventure along the South Kalibab Trail.
The 3 mile hike to Skeleton point is rough & hilly the entire trek, however, the views are out of this world. Those not up for such a challenging feat can simply hike out to the first look out, appropriately named Ooh Ah Ah point. If you decide to continue you on, you will notice a sharp decrease in crowds, along with the amazing feeling of having the canyon all to yourself! Be aware that this area is high altitude and very dry so dehydration and altitude sickness is a major concern no matter the distance.
15. Take in a bird’s eye view of Sedona via the Sugarloaf/Teacup trail*
With towering red rock formations surrounding every square inch of the town, it’s no surprise that every trail in Sedona is basically picture-perfect. If you really want to see some spectacular scenery (without much effort required), hike the combined Teacup & Sugarloaf Summit trail. Few outstanding views are accessible via such minimal effort.
Combined, the 2 trails are just a little over 2 miles. The trail is mostly flat asides from a short steep climb of under 1/2 mile up to the amazing Sugarloaf Summit overlook. Other perks of hiking this fabulous trail include quick access from the Uptown area and a surprising lack of crowds. It’s a must for any hikers and photographers looking for the best-of-the-best Sedona has to offer.
16. Challenge yourself to 13 creek crossings along the West Fork Trail*
The West Fork trail is the most popular trail within the massive 1.856 million acre Coconino National Forest. Every year thousands of Southern Arizona residents fleeing the heat, leaf peepers, as well as Sedona tourists make the trek down beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to take in the beauty of this diverse trail. It’s the one trail in the area where you can do it all- enjoy serene views of the creek, take in magnificent red rock vistas, enjoy a rare cool & shady Arizona setting, and even see a hint of fall foliage in autumn and snow in winter.
The West Fork trail is one of the few places in Arizona where you get to see some traditional fall foliage in the form of maples and oaks, as opposed to the golden aspens you typically find out West. However, my favorite time to visit is after a big winter storm when the red rocks are dusted with a light of layer of snow. What a sight to behold!
17. Explore ancient pictographs at Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area
The Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife viewing area, previously known as the Veit Springs trail, is a great short hike on the southern slope of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks. The scenery here consists of a dense forest of ponderosa and aspen trees. During the fall months, the bright golden aspens stand out brilliantly amongst the green pines.
Veit Springs is one of the few trails where you have a decent chance of seeing wildlife. It’s peaceful and almost never crowded due to the semi hidden location in between miles 4 and 5 on Snowbowl Rd (most tourists continue on the 7 mile drive). I love this hike because it feels more like a trail you would find in New England rather than Arizona. A short side trail brings you to some cool ancient faint red pictographs of unknown origin. You get a bit of everything on this hike – uninterrupted nature, history, a nice little workout, and most importantly, peace and quiet.
18. Feast on authentic Indian cuisine at Delhi Palace
Delhi Palace, tucked away in a little strip plaza in Flagstaff, is no question the best restaurant in Flagstaff, and possibly the entire state. Do not let the weird strip mall location fool you! The delicious assortment of fresh homemade perfectly seasoned Indian cuisine offered on their daily lunch buffet comes in as the perfect treat after a long & exhausting day out on the gorgeous trails surrounding Flagstaff. The Vegetable Korma and Saag Paneer here are the best I’ve ever come across. For the most delicious lunch buffet ever, head over to Delhi Palace any day of the week between the hours of 11am-2:45pm.
19. Explore historic downtown Prescott
Prescott is known for its’ charming old-fashioned downtown, which is lined with classic historic Victorian architecture from the 19th century. Sipping on delicious coffee and a homemade slice of Quiche at local coffeehouse Cuppers is a great way to start your morning. For dinner, try out one of the authentic Italian restaurants like Papa’s or Rosa’s Pizzeria.
In congested, suburban overrun Southern Arizona, we do not find many of these charming neighborhoods much today. Prescott is home to one of the few remaining classic downtowns from day’s past. Asides from local restaurants, shops, antique stores, cowboy western shops, several western themed museums, and Whiskey Row (a block of old-fashioned saloons), you will find a whole lineup of traditional events throughout the year including a spectacular holiday lights festival, the annual Whiskey Row Shoot Out, and the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo Parade (Prescott is home to the World’s Oldest Rodeo).
20. Enjoy endless red rock vistas on the Red Rock Scenic Byway*
The name says it all – the scenic 14 mile long SR 179 drive, better known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway, features incredible views of some of Sedona’s most stunning rock formations. Each rock in Sedona is named after the shape it resembles and you will see all sorts of crazy formations on this drive including everyone’s favorite, Snoopy rock, which resembles the classic Peanut’s character. There’s lot of stops along the way where you can get out and take photos and you will want to as the scenery is incredible for the entire drive!
Or better yet, stop for a hike at Little Horse, a moderate hike which leads you to an incredible overlook which definitely rewards you for all your effort. SR 179 runs from Interstate 17 to SR 89 and tends to get very backed up on the weekends. For a relaxing, stress free drive visit on a weekday during a non holiday period.