The San Francisco Peaks

Gorgeous wildflowers at Bonito Meadow - beautiful view of the San Francisco Peaks

The Peaks are the highest mountain range in Arizona, with Humphrey’s at 12,635 feet standing tall as the highest natural point in the state. There are so many beautiful hikes to explore in Flagstaff. One must-do is the gorgeous Inner Basin trail which takes you through the heart of the peaks. This high altitude trail (8000-95000 ft) is a popular choice for Phoenix locals fleeing the summer heat as the temps this high up tend to be at least 30 degrees cooler! Come fall, the views are even more spectacular as towering golden aspens line almost the entirety of the trail.

Other picturesque trails on the peaks include the Arizona Snowbowl trails (the state’s premier ski resort), all of which are stunning during the fall season. The drive up to Snowbowl is particularly stunning in the fall as both ponderosa pines and bright aspens line the drive up. Stop at Aspen Corner about 6 miles up for the most incredible foliage and fall photography opportunities in the state. For an easy walk with amazing views of the peaks, take a stroll around Buffalo Park, a nice little city park close to downtown which features an easy 2 mile loop.

Winter recreation is also a blast. Check out the wonderful Arizona Nordic Center or rent a pair of snowshoes and hike the Veit Springs trail on Snowbowl Road.

Sunset Crater National Monument

Sunset Crater National Monument and summer wildflowers

Sunset Crater is another interesting natural wonder pretty close to Flagstaff. Sunset is one of the youngest volcanoes in the US and the last predicted eruption was between 1080 and 1150. This is actually a great addition to a day out at Wupatki as they are located on the same scenic drive (the 36 mile long paved FR 545 known as the Wupatki-Sunset Scenic Drive) and you get admission to both for one price.

The Lava Flow trail at Sunset Crater will take you around the base of the cinder cone where you will see the old dried lava fields. It’s an interesting & easy walk with nice views throughout. The best part of visiting the crater is the scenic loop drive connecting the 2 monument which goes through a variety of landscapes and has the most gorgeous overlook of the San Francisco Peaks. During the winter, you will see the majestic snow capped peaks and during the summer you will see 1000’s and 1000’s of bright yellow wildflowers.

Coconino National Forest

Devil's Bridge hike in Sedona, Arizona

Coconino Natioanl Forest is a massive 1.8 million acre forest surrounding the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona. It is one of the country’s most diverse forests, with scenery ranging from the tall green ponderosa pines in Flagstaff to the towering red rock formations of Sedona. Within a short drive, you can see many diverse landscapes including ponderosa forests, alpine tundra, mesas, flatlands, deserts, and ancient volcanoes.

There are so many great hikes within the Coconino, ranging from easy nature loops like Flagstaff’s gorgeous 2 mile Aspen Nature Loop to the extremely challenging high altitude climb up to Humphrey’s peak. Other easy hikes in Flagstaff to check out include Griffith’s Spring, Veit Springs, and Red Mountain. If you are up for a challenge, Bear Jaw, Inner Basin, and the Kachina trail are must-do’s. In Sedona, here are 6 gorgeous easy trails you will want to check out and if you are up for a bigger challenge, Devil’s Bridge & Doe Mountain reward with some of the area’s biggest views.

If you are limited on time, this is how I would rank the natural attractions surrounding Flagstaff 1. Grand Canyon 2. Oak Creek Canyon 3. San Francisco peaks hikes 4. Coconino National Forest 5. Walnut Canyon 6. Sunset Crater 7. Wupatki. On the flip side, if you have extra time, I recommend adding these amazing natural wonders to your itinerary: Horseshoe Bend, the Petrified National Forest, and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. In my opinion, Horseshoe Bend & the Petrified are even more spectacular than Wupatki and Sunset Crater, however, the lengthy drive of 2 hours puts them a bit out of reach for those only staying for a short period.

Horseshoe Bend in Page AZ

Horseshoe Bend is a unique name given to a natural wonder near Page, Arizona where the Colorado river has taken on a unique horseshoe like curve around a sandstone formation.

Crystal Forest at Petrified National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona

The Petrified Forest is home to one of the largest collections of petrified wood in the world, some of which is over 225 million years old! The wood takes on a gem like appearance from the petrification process in which the wood is replaced with silica and minerals which give the wood a colored crystal like appearance. It’s a pretty cool place to visit and just an hour and a half easy drive from Flagstaff.

Largest travertine bridge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is home to the largest travertine bridge in the world.