Fun facts about Northern Arizona

Northern Arizona is a unique area of the country which offers a drastically different climate, geography, and culture than that found in the Southern portion of the state. Although the area is most widely recognized for being home to the Grand Canyon, there really is so much more to see and do. Northern Arizona is an area rich in history and diverse natural attractions, making it a fantastic tourist destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs. Here are some interesting facts that you may not know about one of the Southwest’s most interesting destinations.

1. The Grand Canyon is not the deepest canyon in the world

Looking at the mag scenery at Skeleton Point along the Kalibab Trail at the Grand Canyon

Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon is not the deepest in the world, nor the US. Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru is the world’s deepest at over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. In the US, Hell’s Canyon in Idaho is the deepest river gorge. However, at 277 foot long and 1 mile deep, and featuring an amazing array of colors, the Grand Canyon is one of the most mesmerizing sights in America. And you cannot beat hiking in the Canyon. An adventure along the South Kalibab trail is an amazing experience for any travel/fitness bucket list. More things to do and see at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

2. Northern Arizona is one of the snowiest places in the US

Views at Buffalo Park after a winter storm in Flagstaff, Arizona
Views after a 5 day storm dropped over 3 foot of snow in the city of Flagstaff!

While Southern Arizona cities like Tucson and Arizona are amongst the driest in the country (less than 10 inches of rain per year on average), Northern Arizona cities like Flagstaff see a dramatic 4 season climate which includes massive monsoons during the summer and plenty of snow during the winter. Flagstaff is one of the top 5 snowiest cities in the country. More than 100 inches of snow per year!

Luckily, there are plenty of winter recreational opportunities including skiing at Arizona’s favorite resort Snowbowl, backcountry snowshoeing, cross country skiing at a wonderful Nordic center, sleigh rides, sledding and much more! But Flagstaff isn’t the only city that gets snow. Even the Grand Canyon sees an average of 50-100 inches per year. Snow in Sedona is a bit rarer, although not all that unusual – and absolutely stunning when dusted over the red rocks!

3. Pluto was discovered here

Telescope used by Clyde Tombaugh to discover Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory, one of America’s oldest observatories (built in 1894). Today, you can view this telescope along with other interesting exhibits. Other interesting discoveries at Lowell included the 3 largest known stars and the rings of Uranus (co discovery). Each year, during Flagstaff’s Festival of Science, the observatory hosts a number of events where you can learn more info, take tours, enjoy telescope viewing, and simply enjoy the night skies.

4. Flagstaff is the 2nd highest located city in the US (with a population over 25,000)

Views of the mountains from the AZ Snowbowl scenic chairlift ride
The chairlift ride at Arizona Snowbowl takes you from an elevation of 9000 feet all the way up to 11,500!

At 7000 feet, Flagstaff’s elevation is the 2nd highest amongst towns with populations above 50,000. With this elevation, comes a number of benefits and drawbacks. High altitude exercise improves physical fitness, and thus, athletes and Olympic hopefuls from around the world come to Flagstaff to train. An abundance of pretty mountain trails and cool summer temps draw elite runners and cyclists from around the world.

As for the potential drawbacks, those not used to the altitude can easily get mountain sickness. A much longer recovery period, more stress to the body, and lower immunity are the price you pay in return for the great scenery & proposed better fitness. In my opinion, training at high altitude means more recovery time and thus less total exercise, and hence, the same fitness level!. Potential side effects of high altitude living include dehydration, depression, and higher likelihood of sunburn. Before attempting any high altitude hike, one must acclimate at lower elevation and drink plenty of water!

5. You can drive from the snowy mountain pines to the desert in just 2 hours

From the Phoenix desert to snowy Flagstaff mountains

In just over 2 hours or so, you can drive from the snowy pines of Northern Arizona to the Sonoran desert. During the winter season, it is possible to ski, and then hike amidst towering Saguaro cacti (native only to the Sonoran) all within the same day. It’s pretty crazy to drive from palm tree loaded Phoenix to Flagstaff on a winter day and watch as the rain eventually turns into snow. Northern Arizona’s Coconino National Forest is located within the largest continuous pine forest in the world. Driving from the southern to the northern portion of the state will take you through 2 distinctly different landscapes. It is quite an experience!

6. The area is home to the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest

Dramatic views of the pines from the Cookstove Trail in Sedona AZ

The Coconino National Forest is home to the largest continuous strand of ponderosa pine forest in the world. Ponderosas typically grow in mountain areas with little rainfall and at elevations of 6000-8000 feet. In 1949, the ponderosa became the state tree of Montana. The massive Coconino forest (the 3rd largest in AZ at 1.8 million acres) surrounds the towns of Flagstaff and Sedona. Hundreds of miles of gorgeous hiking trails will take you through these majestic pines. Check out 12 of the most scenic trails in the Flagstaff area.

7. Paranormal happenings are not at all uncommon

The historic haunted Jerome Grand Hotel

Arizona, the northern portion of the state in particular, has a long history of ghostly occurrences. The historic Monte Vista hotel, located off Rt 66, remains one of the most haunted hotels in the country. Over the years many guests (including celebs like John Wayne) have reported the same eerie sightings. Numerous guest have seen a ghostly vision of a woman in a rocking chair haunting Room 305. So many in fact that it was featured on the classic series Unsolved Mysteries! Whenever or not ghosts haunt the Monte, I like to grab a cup of coffee in the Rendevous Bar and enjoy all the people watching downtown.

The haunted Monte Vista hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona

Jerome, a former copper mining town, is another Arizona destination to add to your Halloween bucket list. This town goes out all for Halloween with ghost tours, crazy decorating at the Asylum Hotel (a former mental hospital that is haunted), and plenty of parties. Known as “the largest ghost town in America,” the town now primarily operates as a tourist destination. Legends of ghost sightings date back over 50 years! The town even published a special ghost newspaper (the Jerome Ghost Post) for a while. Sign up for a tour and you will get to pretend you are a ghost hunter with the aid of real ghost hunting equipment like EMF meters and IR thermometers.

8. The region is home to 8 national parks/monuments (besides the Grand Canyon)

Gorgeous views along the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon
On the gorgeous Island Trail at Walnut Canyon, see how ancient Sinagua tribes lived via preserved cliff dwellings.

While seeing the Grand Canyon is an obvious addition to any bucket list – “a place you have to see before you die”, there are so many other fascinating sights to see take advantage of while you are in the area. Northern Arizona is home to 9 natural wonders. Besides the Grand Canyon, you can explore the Petrified National Forest, Canyon de Chelley, Parashant National Monument, Navajo National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument.

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona
The Colorado river forms a unique horseshoe shape, hence the name Horseshoe Bend.

In addition, Oak Creek Canyon, Antelope Canyon, & Horseshoe Bend, while not national monuments, sure are natural wonders worthy of a day trip! Flagstaff has been dubbed “the city of 7 wonders” as it is surrounded by so many gorgeous places. Thankfully, these can all be explored via an easy daytrip.

9. Here you will find Arizona’s tallest mountain peak

Gorgeous fall colors covering the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona

At 12,633 feet, Humphrey’s Peak stands as the tallest peak in Arizona. The hike to the summit is a very popular trail for both locals and tourists, although it is one rough uphill, high altitude journey suited only for the most advanced hikers. Fitness buffs and adrenaline junkies (in top notch shape) should definitely add a climb to their list of must-do hikes. For those seeking something a bit less intense, Slate Mountain offers wonderful views of the Peaks from afar. Humphrey’s is part of the San Francisco Peaks range, an extinct volcano that last erupted sometime between 1040 and 1100 AD.

10. Lots of classics movies filmed throughout the area

Scenes from Casablanca were filmed at the historic hotel Monte Vista in downtown Flagstaff AZ

Scenes from classics like Forrest Gump (the running scene where Forrest runs through dog crap was filmed on San Francisco Street in the downtown neighborhood), Casablanca (the famous hotel scene was shot at the Monte Vista downtown), and National Lampoon’s Vacation (the scene where Clark fills up the gas was filmed at the Little America Hotel) were filmed in Flagstaff.

Page, Arizona was a filming location for desert scenes in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. And Monument Valley near the Arizona/Utah border served as a backdrop for many westerns including Back to the Future Part 3. Several scenes from 80’s classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures were filmed within the Coconino National Forest. And there are plenty more – this is just a small sampling!

More movies that filmed around Flagstaff

11. You can stand in 4 states at the same time

Four Corners monument

At Four Corners Monument, you will be able to take all sorts of crazy pictures where you can literally stand in 4 states at once. At this unique location in Navajo Nation, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico all join together in the only place in the US where 4 states meet. Not worthy of a trip out of your way, however, if you happen to be passing through the area, it’s a pretty cool spot for a unique vacation souvenir photo. You can also shop for all sorts of quality handmade Native American crafts – I found the cutest pottery pieces & dreamcatchers here.

12. Natural health oasis Sedona offers more than simply gorgeous scenery

Great views from the summit of the Airport Mesa loop hiking trail
Airport Mesa – a vortex site and one of Sedona’s most breathtaking trails!

There is no question as to whether or not Sedona is one of the most gorgeous destinations in the West, if not the entire country. The million plus year old red rocks are simply out-of-this-world. If you actually get out there on the trails and explore a bit (which you totally should), you will likely feel a general sense of well being and possibly even healing. Sedona has been drawing more and more tourists over the years due to these energy vortexes, which many believe to possess healing properties.

Stunning views from the Boynton Canyon Trail in Sedona Arizona
Boynton Canyon is said to have both masculine and feminine energies, which means that it is a great trail to balance yourself. Whether or not you believe in vortexes, it is one beautiful hike!

A vortex is basically an area of intense energy that rises up from the Earth and affects a person in various ways depending on whether or not it is a masculine or feminine energy. A y8in feminine vortex strengthens intuition and creativity. Masculine vortexes are more yang and give you confidence and determination. The beautiful Chapel of the Holy Cross is the most popular vortex site. Vortex hikes include Cathedral Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Bell Rock. Whether or not you feel any special energy, one thing’s for sure, all of these hikes (as well as many others in the area) feature some of the most stunning landscapes you will ever witness.

13. Fall foliage rivals that of the New England region

Striking yellow foliage at Aspen Corner along Snowbowl Rd in Flagstaff, Arizona
Aspen Corner along Snowbowl Rd. is just one of many places where you can experience some of the brightest fall foliage in the country!

Northern Arizona offers some of the best leaf peeping opportunities out West. With dramatic fall foliage and an abundance of outdoor recreational activities, it really is an easy entry on any leaf peepers fall getaway bucket list. Each season, shimmering golden aspens line the high altitude trails (mostly those above 8000 feet). Flagstaff offers the most dramatic fall scenery via trails like the incredible Inner Basin, which takes you on a colorful journey through the heart of the San Francisco Peaks. To get started, explore my list of the top 9 fall foliage trails in Northern Arizona.

14. The city is the world’s first “International Dark Sky City”

Blood Moon in Flagstaff AZ - March 2016

It comes at no surprise that Northern Arizona frequently rates as one the top places in the world for stargazing. With clear skies and low light pollution, you can enjoy endless stargazing almost any time of year. In 2001, Flagstaff became the World’s First “International Dark Sky City.” Flagstaff sees on average over 280 sunny days per year, meaning many dark cloudless nights for stargazing.

Head to the Lowell Observatory, Buffalo Park, or take a scenic drive along the Sunset-Wupatki loop drive for some of the best stargazing in the country. During the summer months, Walnut Canyon offers free stargazing hikes. Also be on the lookout for the annual Festival of Science, featuring more stargazing parties and events than you could possibly imagine.

15. The region is rich in Native American culture

Wupatki National Monument in Northern Arizona
This 100 room pueblo was built in the 1100’s and occupied by 85-100 people.

Currently, Arizona is home to 22 Indian tribes. Arizona has the 3rd highest Native American population, with reservations taking up over a quarter of the total land area. The Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Kalibab-Paiute, and Hualapai tribal lands cover 31,000 square miles of this region.

Cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle is known to be one of the best preserved cliff dwellings. This 20 room apartment-like dwelling is over 800 years old!

There are numerous ancient Indian ruins to explore around the Northern Arizona region, the most famous being Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon. Exploring the ancient cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon & Montezuma Castle are definite must-do’s for anyone interesting in Native cultures or just looking to take in some fabulous views. Exploring the ancient pueblos at Wupatki National Monument is another great addition to your itinerary. If you are really interesting in further your education, you can plan a visit to the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.

Native American food is also in abundance. Do try the Navajo Taco (made using Frybread) at Charly’s at the Weatherford in downtown Flagstaff.

Navajo taco at Charly's at the Weatherford in Flagstaff, Arizona

Also, if you are a fan of Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives you will want to dine at Salsa Brava. This popular Mexican restaurant on Rt. 66 in Flagstaff offers great food and a lively ambiance. Order “What Guy Ate” – the Navajo taco. This Native American dish consists of traditional fry bread topped with pinto beans, smoked chicken, cheese, cilantro cream sauce, pickled red onions, and sour cream.