The best daytrips from Flagstaff

Flagstaff, a small mountain town in the Northern Arizona region, is the gateway to many amazing national wonders, most notably the magnificent Grand Canyon which is just a little over an hour away. Asides from being an easy drive from one of the world’s most well-known wonders, Flagstaff offers a number of attractive amenities of its’ own including the state’s biggest ski resort, a number of pretty mountain trails, a historic downtown, and a 4 season climate not found elsewhere in the state. Flagstaff is known as “The City of Seven Wonders,” as it sits in the midst of 7 incredible natural wonders.

This may come as a surprise to some tourists who solely seek out the Canyon, but there is much more to see and do in this area of the country. Within a 2 hour drive you can get to so many fascinating and unusual places. From gorgeous alpine hiking trails, to historic Native American cliff dwellings, to the Red Rock Wonderland known as Sedona, there are endless places to explore, thus making Northern Arizona a wonderful vacation destination for nature lovers and explorers. If you are willing to hop in the car, here are 10 of my favorite daytrips from Flagstaff, each located within a 2 hour drive!

Oak Creek Canyon & Sedona – “Red Rock Wonderland”

Gorgeous scenery along the Teacup trail in Sedona AZ

Oak Creek Canyon

If you only have time for 1 day trip, you will definitely want to check out the gorgeous Oak Creek Canyon scenic drive and hike a beautiful red rock trail in Sedona. Just 7 miles or so outside of Flagstaff on Hwy 89a begins the incredibly scenic 14 mile long Oak Creek Canyon drive, a magnificent drive featuring towering red rock formations, serene ponderosa pine forests, creek views, and a gorgeous variety of deciduous trees not found elsewhere in Arizona.

The drive is one of the most scenic I have ever come across and will leave you in awe with each twist & turn. As you drive along, the views somehow get more and more spectacular. Along the way there’s plenty to do and see. Take a hike along the West Fork, relax with a delicious breakfast & espresso at Indian Gardens, fish, cool off at a secret swimming hole, slide down natural water slides carved out of the red rock at Slide Rock, shop for handmade Native American crafts, and/or stop at various scenic overlooks. There’s so much to do without even heading into Sedona so you can make this either a half or full day activity depending on your schedule.

Delicious breakfast food at Indian Gardens in Sedona AZ
Indian Gardens serves the best breakfast and coffee in the best setting! The shady outdoor patio is perfect most of the year and is conveniently located right on the drive.
Amazing red rock views along Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona
Gorgeous views of the towering red rocks start entering the picture as you get closer to Sedona.
Looking out into the scenery along the Cookstove Trail in Sedona AZ
Hiking the amazing Cookstove Trail is a prime opportunity for taking in views of the vast ponderosa pine forests.
Bright foliage and red rocks on the West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon
The scenic West Fork Trail sees a colorful variety of hues each fall season including brilliant orange and yellow foliage not seen elsewhere in Arizona.
Red rock surrounded by snow on the West Fork Trail in Sedona
Sedona’s red rocks covered with snow is a sight like no other.
Quiet creek views along the West Fork Trail in Sedona
With 13 creek crossings and an abundance of trees, the beautiful West Fork trail is mesmerizing any time of the year, especially after a winter storm!


When you arrive in Sedona aka Red Rock Country, you will have your pick amongst dozens of amazing trails. Here are 12 of my favorite Sedona trails. Not into hiking? Opt for a more leisurely guided tour of the red rocks aboard the Red Rock Trolley. Or visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an incredible church built between 2 massive rock formations. Uptown Sedona is a beautiful little place to stroll around. Along with great views, you will also find a history trail, galleries, and lots of touristy shops selling eclectic Southwestern foods, gifts, and knick knacks. There are plenty of fantastic places for lunch, most of which offer breezy outdoor patios where you can soak in the views. Check out The Hudson, The Hideaway House, or Wildflower Bread.

Teacup trail in Sedona
The magnificent Teacup Trail is one of the easiest & most scenic trails in Sedona.
Devil's Bridge hike in Sedona, Arizona
Hiking to Devil’s Bridge is one of the top must-do’s for any new Sedona visitors! The views are amazing and walking across Sedona’s largest natural arch is scary, yet exhilarating!
The Chapel of the Holy Cross built into Sedona's red rocks
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is an amazing architectural wonder as it was built between 2 massive rock formations. Incredible 360 degree views!
Scenic outdoor dining at Che Ah Chi in Sedona AZ
Che-Ah-Chi inside the Enchantment Resort offers the most spectacular setting.

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: The drive begins about 10 minutes outside of Flagstaff on 89a and takes about 30-45 minutes. Plan extra time as needed for stops, photos, dining, and hiking.

What to do: Breakfast and coffee at Indian Gardens, Hike the gorgeous West Fork trail, Stop for photos at Midgley Bridge, Oak Creek Vista scenic overlook, Stroll around Uptown Sedona, Hike the Teacup trail, Dinner at The Hudson or Cucina Rustica.

Why it’s worth the drive: Gorgeous out of this world scenery, access to beautiful creekside trails not found elsewhere in Arizona, wonderful dining options with beautiful outdoor patios, the best breakfast in the state at Indian Gardens, endless options for hiking in one of the country’s most picturesque settings.

Williams -“Gateway to the Grand Canyon”

Rt 66 nostalgia in Williams, Arizona

“Get Your Kicks on Route 66”

Williams is a tiny little town of just over 3000 about 40 minutes west of Flagstaff. As the last town to be bypassed by I-40, Williams offers lots in the way of Rt 66 nostalgia. The small town is jam packed with old-fashioned diners, Rt 66 museums, and souvenir shops. Asides from Rt 66 memorabilia, the town is most well-known for being home to the Grand Canyon Railway. The small town swells up with tourists both summer (as this is prime season for Grand Canyon tourism), and again in the winter for the popular Polar Express ride based on the classic children’s novel.

Williams Arizona Route 66 sign
The Grand Canyon Railway
Polar Express lit up for holidays in Williams, Arizona
The seasonal Polar Express train ride lit up for the holidays

The Grand Canyon Railway

The drive from Flagstaff to Williams is pretty short and actually pretty scenic with views of both the pine forests and wide open views of the countryside. Most tourists head over to Williams to enjoy a stress-free mode of transportation to the Grand Canyon. The ride is okay – not much in the way of scenery but should be fun for anyone who loves trains. In my opinion, it’s a much better value to drive yourself and stay as long as you like as your time is severely limited when you take the train. Plus, the ride is not especially scenic (especially if you have ever taken an incredible trail ride like the Durango Silverton). Unfortunately, the only real views occur just 15 minutes or so prior to your arrival.

Grand Canyon Railway entering the South Rim
The Grand Canyon entering the South Rim

Outdoor Fun

Williams does offer a number of amenities of its’ own. It is still worth a quick daytrip regardless of whether or not you intend to take the Grand Canyon Railway. Bearizona, a wonderful drive-thru wildlife park is definitely a must visit. And for outdoor lovers, there are a number of trails and parks in the area. Being located in the high altitude Kalibab National Forest, the trails are doable during the summer season as the weather tends to stay in the 80’s. Check out the Bill Williams, Sycamore Canyon, Kendrick Mountains, and Keyhole sink trail featuring a seasonal waterfall.

Group on buffalo at Bearizona in Williams Arizona
A group of Bufffalo and pretty views of the surrounding pines on a lovely drive around Bearizona.
Black bear climbing a tree at Bearizona in Williams AZ
Black bear climbing a tree at Bearizona in Williams AZ
Beautiful views from the Keyhole Sink trail in Williams AZ
The short and scenic Keyhole Sink trail is just a short drive away.

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 40 minutes

What to do: Bearizona, Stroll around historic Main Street, Grand Canyon Railway, Hiking in the Kalibab forest, Lunch & homemade pie at Pine Country restaurant

Why it’s great: Close proximity to the Grand Canyon, national forest land surrounding the city, high altitude 4 season climate, not as crowded and congested as Flagstaff, cheaper lodging than Flagstaff, a nice base for exploring the wonders of Northern Arizona

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon – “The 8th world wonder”

River view from Skeleton Point - Kalibab Trail at the Grand Canyon

Flagstaff is the most popular lodging choice after the Grand Canyon itself due to its’ close proximity to the canyon and bountiful amenities found in town. While staying at a canyon hotel is awesome, most hotels are booked months in advance. Therefore, Flagstaff is your next best option. Flagstaff is located an hour and a half away and features a number of its’ own attractive amenities.

Strangely, the Canyon is not considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the world, however, it is one of the 11 Eighth World Wonders. This beauty is one of the deepest gorges worldwide with a depth of 1 mile and a width of 18 feet! And the colors are so magnificent, especially at sunrise and sunset. The Grand Canyon is simply one of those places you must see in person. It is an easy addition to any explorer’s Western US travel bucket list.

Views of the Grand Canyon from an overlook at the South Rim

South vs. North Rim

Grand Canyon National Park is split into 2 sections: the South and North Rim. The South is the more crowded park, while the North is almost 4 hours away, but much more beautiful and peaceful due to the higher altitude and isolate dnature. The South Rim also offers more dining and lodging options. As it is the more convenient choice, I recommend visiting the South Rim first. Visit the North Rim if you have the extra time. Be aware that the North Rim closes sometime in early winter.

There’s so much to do at the Canyon that it is impossible to see everything in a single day. Luckily, your pass is good for 7 days! Scenic overlooks, museums, galleries, gift shops, hiking trails, interpretative centers, ranger programs, mule rides, and white water rafting are some of your options for exploring this natural gem. These are all great, however, the most unforgettable way to explore the canyon is to hike one of the wonderful trails which go deep into the heart of the scenery.

Mule rides along the Kalibab trail at the Grand Canyon
Mule rides are a great alternative for anyone not up for a big hike! Enjoy the same views without all the effort!

Hiking the Canyon

The South Kalibab trail allows you to see this spectacular natural wonder in a new light- and absent are the many crowds hovering at the overlooks, particularly the further you go out. For the ultimate in adventure (experienced hikers only) complete the strenuous, yet totally rewarding hike to Skeleton Point. Don’t worry if you are not up for a major hike, you can simply complete the short trek to the first overlook (Ooh Ahh Point) which definitely offers no shortage of spectacular scenery. Prepare yourself for a strenuous high altitude adventure. This means coming prepared – packing plenty of extra water (fill up a camelbak at one of the free spring water stations) and bring with plenty of food.

Walking down the trail along the Kalibab trail at the Grand Canyon
The trail is pretty steep and narrow – so not a great choice for those afraid of heights!
Monsoon rolling over the Grand Canyon
Monsoon storms come on rapidly with no warning during the summer season. Be prepared!
Skeleton Point - the South Kalibab trail at the Grand Canyon
The hike to Skeleton Point and back is steep and challenging. Yet so worth it for the peace and quiet and extraordinary views!

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 1.5 hours

What to do: Hike the South Kalibab Trail, Stroll along the Rim Trail, Dinner at the El Tovar Lodge, Smooth whitewater trips, Mather Point overlook, Yavapai Point Overlook

Check out my full guide to visiting the South Rim

Why it’s great: It’s widely recognized to be one of the top sights to see before you die! No travel bucket list would really be complete without a trip to the Grand Canyon!

The Petrified Forest – “225 million years in the making”

Crystal Forest at Petrified National Forest in Northern Arizona

The Petrified Forest is a unique Northeastern Arizona national park home to one of the largest collections of petrified wood in the world. Through the natural process of perimineralization over the course of 225 million years, the organic materials from Triassic era trees have been replaced with minerals like quartz. This gives the wood a unique crystal-like appearance. When you look up close you will see an array of colors, the result of the varying minerals present.

Best things to do at The Petrified National Forest

History buffs really need to add a trip to the Petrified Forest to their bucket list, particularly if you are already planning a Grand Canyon vacation and staying in nearby Flagstaff. There’s a lot to do here including a scenic drive, several hiking trails, a number of historical attractions, and a great visitor’s center which will give you a full history lesson on the process in which wood becomes petrified. At the visitor’s center, you can pick up a handy map detailing the park’s diverse trails and historical sights. Hiking is the best way to get an up close look at this ancient wood! For those interested in unusual and off-the-beaten path attractions, The Petrified Forest is definitely for you!

Crystal Forest at Petrified National Forest in Northern Arizona
An upclose look at a piece of petrified wood in the Crystal Forest. This short 1 mile trail was named after the beautiful crystals found in the wood. This is the best trail if you are limited on time as you will get to view petrified wood of all shapes and sizes.
Ancient petroglyphs at the Petrified National Forest
The Puerco Pueblo ruins will take you past petroglyphs carved by the ancient people 600-800 years ago!
Painted Desert hike at the Petrified National Forest in Arizona
If you are up for a bit of an adventure, a hike within The Painted Desert is a must! Pick up a trail map at the visitor’s center.
Scenic views at Petrified National Forest
Gorgeous views via one of the overlooks on the scenic drive

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 1.5 hours

Why it’s great: The Petrified National Forest is an under visited historical gem. It’s a unique and eclectic place and a great addition to any Flagstaff trip. The brilliant colors of The Painted Desert are just amazing.

What to do: Scenic drive, Crystal Forest trail, stop at Winslow (directly on your route) for lunch at the wonderful Turquoise Room, explore the remains of an old zoo in abandoned ghost town 2 Guns (near exit 230 on I-40).

Prescott – “Everybody’s Hometown”

Downtown Prescott Arizona in the spring

Prescott is a charming small town in central Arizona most commonly referred to as “Everybody’s Hometown. ” The nickname arises from the assumption that anyone who visits from anywhere can find something that reminds them of home here. The 4 season climate, charming old architecture, and lively downtown have made it a popular daytrip for Southern Arizona residents fleeing the extreme heat of the desert summer.

Prescott has a lot to offer and is just a quick hour and a half drive from Flagstaff. Plus, you can always make side trips to Cottonwood and Jerome to make it a longer daytrip. Start your day off with a local cup of joe on the patio of Wild Iris. Plan for a stroll around Prescott’s charming downtown which is loaded with local restaurants, antique shops, galleries, historic Whiskey Row, and the beautiful Yavapai County Courthouse as the centerpiece. Most of the year, temps are mild and dry. The city has even been named as having one of the best mild 4 season climates.

Chicken Alfredo at Papa's Italian Restaurant in Prescott, Arizona
Papa’s Italian is the best restaurant in town. The perfect choice after a long day strolling downtown or hiking/biking any of the nearby trails.
Prescott courthouse Christmas Lights
The grounds of the gorgeous Yavapai County Courthouse are lit with over a million colorful lights over the holidays!

An outdoor oasis

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to take a ride on the Peavine National Recreational trail, one of the few rail trails in Arizona. The path is 4+ miles each way, flat enough for easy cycling, and features amazing views of Watson Lake and the Granite Dells formations. If you are up for a challenge, take an invigorating hike up Thumb Butte for a bird’s eye view of the city. Or opt for a leisurely stroll around one of the area’s 4 lakes. Lynx Lake is a great place for water recreation. The Heritage Park Zoo, adjacent to the lake, is small, yet makes for a nice fill in activity.

National Peavine Recreation trail in Prescott, Arizona
The Peavine trail is 4.5 miles each way, the perfect distance for a leisurely bike ride. Take advantage of riding one of the few rail trails in the state!
Gorgeous Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona
Gorgeous Watson Lake -a perfect place for hiking, biking, or any type of water recreation.
Hiking up beautiful Thumb Butte in Prescott, Arizona
The hike up Thumb Butte is semi challenging, yet rewards with fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountain scenery!
Gorgeous views kayaking Lynx Lake in Prescott AZ
Lynx Lake, surrounded by pretty pines, is the best lake in the area for summer recreation! Rent a kayak or try out stand up paddleboarding!

Prescott is a quick easy day trip from Flagstaff. Whether you are interested in outdoor recreation, boutique shopping, cultural attractions, or wining and dining, Prescott offers a bit of everything.

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 1 hr 40 min

What to do: Hike the Thumb Butte trail, Explore historic downtown, Breakfast at Cuppers, dinner at Papa’s Italian, Bike the Peavine trail, Take a stroll around Willow Park lake, Tea at the Wild Iris tea house

Why it’s great: Prescott is home to a charming small town downtown not really found in Arizona. The 4 season climate is pretty great with occasional snow in the winter and milder temps in the summer.

Jerome & Cottonwood – “America’s largest ghost town” & “Heart of the Verde Valley”

Historic downtown Jerome AZ

Cottonwood, a small community located about 20 minutes outside of Sedona, is most well known for its’ abundance of wine tasting rooms. It’s really not worthy of a visit on its’ own, but makes a good accompaniment to any Jerome or Sedona daytrip due to the close distance. Exploring the shops, galleries, and wine tasting rooms in Old Town is the main draw here. Seeing a magic show at the Blazin M. Ranch is also recommended. Take a coffee and dessert break at Paradise Point if you need a pick me up.


From Cottonwood, you can take the short scenic drive over to Jerome, a particularly attractive small Arizona community with charming historic architecture and a scenic location atop 5000 foot Cleopatra Hill. The surrounding colorful views of the Verde Valley are quite scenic. Many of the wine rooms and restaurants have built patios to take advantage of such views.

Be aware of ghosts!

Jerome is one of the most haunted towns in American, hence its’ nickname. While the population of this copper mining town once dwindled down to almost nothing, it is now a lively tourist destination with numerous galleries, local restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and museums. Tourists report seeing ghosts at locations all around town, most notably the Jerome Grand Hotel, which not surprisingly, was once a mental institution. If you love all things spooky, you must sign up for a haunted ghost tour. Feel like a real ghost hunter as you use EVPs and other ghost hunting equipment. If this sounds a bit too spooky for you, simply opt for lunch/dinner in the spooky Asylum Restaurant.

Asylum Rest at the Jerome Grand Hotel
The Jerome Grand Hotel, once a mental institution, is one of the most haunted buildings in America.
Picturesque views from The Asylum Restaurant in Jerome AZ
Great views of the Verde Valley from the Jerome Grand Hotel
A view of historic downtown in Jerome AZ
Creepy old buildings line the streets of downtown Jerome, and many of them are supposedly haunted.

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 1.5 hrs

What to do: Dine at the Asylum Restaurant, Sign up for a ghost tour at the Grand Hotel, shop, wine, & dine, browse around the historic Liberty theater, visit the Old Sliding Jail, browse the local art galleries

Why it’s great: Nice historic architecture and great views of the Verde Valley, The Asylum restaurant puts on the best Halloween decor in Arizona, spooky ghost tours in a historic setting not found elsewhere in Arizona

Phoenix – “The Valley of the Sun”

Hiking at Usery Mountain in Mesa, Arizona

Although many Phoenix residents are constantly making the 2 hour trek up to cool pines of Flagstaff, there are some great attractions in Phoenix for the first time visitor. If you have never seen the stately Saguaro cactus before, you will definitely want to plan a Phoenix daytrip. Avoid the brutal spring/summer season (which typically lasts from April to October) and you should be fine.

Exploring the Sonoran desert

The best thing to do in Phoenix is to check out a beautiful trail within the Sonoran desert. A few good options are South Mountain Park, Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, or the Scottsdale McDowell Preserve. All of these are massive recreational parks with a variety of trails for all levels. Gorgeous Saguaro cacti only found in Southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert line the trails and the beautiful mountains comprise the backdrop. If you are not up for a hike, opt for a leisurely narrated cruise aboard the Desert Belle. This relaxing boat ride treats you to the same wonderful scenery, along with a rare glimpse of water in the desert.

Beautiful Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, Arizona
Usery Mountain Park in Mesa – a quiet, scenic place to hike without all the crowds
Cacti at the Scottsdale McDowell Preserve
The gorgeous mountain views, never ending cacti, and secluded location make the Scottsdale McDowell Preserve one of the best places to hike in the Phoenix area.
Gorgeous views from the Desert Belle cruise in Phoenix, Arizona
The Desert Belle cruise on beautiful Saguaro Lake is so relaxing and scenic, a definite must for first time visitors.

The Phoenix Zoo is another must-do while in town. Surprisingly, the zoo’s grounds are quite lush and shady for a desert. Also, the zoo is wonderfully maintained and laid out, and houses a nice diverse range of animals.

Giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo has a nice layout, a great diversity of animals, and beautiful landscaping throughout the grounds.

Indoor fun to beat the heat

Unfortunately, sometimes it is just too hot in Phoenix to enjoy the beauty of the desert. Luckily indoor attractions are plentiful. Most notably, OdySea Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Southwest. Or check out the highly regarded Musical Instrument Museum. Phoenix is home to some of the best shopping in the country, with everything from luxury malls, to fantastic outlet malls, to entertainment complexes. Desert Ridge Marketplace is a fun place to kill a few hours. Highlights include a Dave and Busters, a nice theater, and a range of lively restaurants with patios.

If you are looking for a special dining experience, look into these fabulous Phoenix restaurants with a view. 

Overall, Phoenix is a great day trip for anyone who enjoys hiking, outdoor recreation, shopping, and dining.

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 2 hours

Why it’s great: The solitude of the desert is just minutes away from the bustling suburbs of Phoenix. The amazing Saguaro cactus grows only in Southern Arizona, thus hiking is quite an unusual experience. The metro area is clean and nicely landscaped.

What to do: Camelback Mountain, South Mountain Park Kiwanis trail, Merkle Trail at Usery Mountain, Cruise aboard Desert Belle, The Phoenix Zoo, Hole in the Rock at Papago Park, Desert Ridge Marketplace shopping & dining, Dinner at Cibo Pizza

Horseshoe Bend “a unique horseshoe shaped curve of the Colorado River”

Horseshoe Bend in Page AZ

Horseshoe Bend is quite an unusual sight to see and a definite add-on to any Northern Arizona vacation itinerary. This natural attraction near Page Arizona is one of the most photographed sights out West and rightfully so as the unique horseshoe shaped curve of the Colorado River is a truly mesmerizing, unforgettable sight. A short, steep hike of about 3 quarters of a mile takes you to the dramatic scary 1000 foot drop. The emerald green color contrasts brilliantly with the red sandstone rock formations. Look but do not get too close – many die attempting to take all sorts of crazy photos!

Horseshoe Bend is worthy of a daytrip on its’ own from Flagstaff. Or better yet, you can make a pit stop here on the way to gorgeous Zion National Park, another natural wonder that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Other popular activities in the Page area include Antelope Canyon and cruises on beautiful Lake Powell.

Beautiful views from the Emerald Pools trail at Zion National Park
Continue onwards just under 2 hours to gorgeous Zion National Park. It is absolutely worth the drive!

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: 2 Hours

Why it’s great: This unique geologic wonder is unlike any place you’ve seen. Easily one of the most mesmerizing sights you will come across in the Southwest.

What to do: Hike the trail to Horseshoe Bend, Book a Lake Powell cruise (in advance!), sign up for a tour of Antelope Canyon

Walnut Canyon, Wupatki National Monument, & Sunset Crater

Gorgeous views along the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon

Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, and Wupatki are 3 great natural gems that can all be combined into one easy daytrip. First on your list should definitely be Walnut Canyon. This incredible site is located just a 1/2 hour outside of town and features both spectacular scenery and historical significance. At Walnut, you can explore ancient cliff dwellings once occupied by the Sinagua tribes far back in the 1100’s. At twenty miles long, 400 feet deep and ¼-mile wide, it’s quite an amazing natural wonder.

Walnut Canyon cliff dwellings

The Island Trail consists of over 200 steep steps and can be quite a challenge to those out of shape (esp combined with the high altitude) although it is totally worth it for the magnificent scenery and rare glimpse into the past. Interestingly, the mountains surrounding Flagstaff are called Sinagua (meaning mountains without water). Walnut was once home to a flowing creek and therefore cherished by the early inhabitants.

View of an ancient cliff dwelling on the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff, Arizona
One of the many cliff dwellings you will get to explore on the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon

Sunset-Wupatki Scenic Drive

Sunset Crater and Wupatki are 2 other interesting historical attractions to check out while in town. Both attractions connect via a scenic loop drive. The paved route, Forest Rd 545, is 36 miles long and worth it in and of itself for the tremendous scenery. Along the way, you will get to take in diverse landscapes including the magnificent San Francisco Peaks, colorful cinder cones, barren desert lands, and tall pondersosa pines. It’s a nice relaxing drive with barely any congestion and plenty of serene views of the pine forests. Take a break at the Bonito Meadow overlook, where colorful wildflowers take over the fields in the summer and snow dramatically dusts the peaks in winter.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki, a unique 100 room, 4 story pueblo, was built 900 years ago out of sandstone, basalt, and limestone. One of the really unique features here is a natural blowhole, which really is a mysterious wonder as no one knows why air blows in and out from the Earth. It’s like a natural vacuum which blows air out when a low pressure system rolls in as the ground is higher pressure and vice versa when a high pressure system comes in.

Wupatki National Monument in Northern Arizona
Spirit hole at Wupatki National Monument
The mysterious blow hole at Wupatki

Sunset Crater

Sunset Crater was created by an explosion almost 1000 years ago. A 1 mile loop trail known as the Lava Flow trail gives you the opportunity to explore the volcanic remains. The volcano is not expected to erupt again.

Sunset Crater National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona

Additional Details

Distance from Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon is about a 15 minute drive from the city. Sunset Crater is about 30 minutes outside of Flagstaff. If you are planning on visiting all 3 altogether, the Sunset Crater monument is about 25 minutes from Walnut Canyon. Note: There is not much in terms of dining options, so eat a full breakfast beforehand and bring a picnic for lunch!

What to do: Lava flow trail at Sunset Crater, Island Trail at Walnut Canyon,Wupatki-Sunset Crater Scenic Drive

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park – “the largest natural travertine bridge in the world”

Largest natural travertine bridge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Payson is another high altitude small town in Arizona, although it’s pretty tiny and limited in terms of attractions, lodging, and dining options. Flagstaff is the best base location for exploring Northern Arizona. While the town of Payson itself is nothing to write home about, Tonto is pretty amazing. This park features the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The great thing about Tonto Bridge is that all 3 trails are under 1/2 mile, so pretty much doable by anyone in basic shape. A small waterfall near the bridge gives you a rare glimpse of water in the desert.

A gorgeous waterfall at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Beautiful views at Tonto Natural Bridge State Forest near Payson, Arizona

The drive over from Flagstaff will take you through the small communities of Pine and Strawberry. Both of these areas offer quaint restaurants and lots of antique shops. If you love shopping for a bargain, you will love all the vintage shops in these towns. There is a wonderful homemade honey stand along the way and a cute local restaurant known as The Randall House, which has a lovely outdoor patio surrounded by trees.

Honey Stand in Pine Arizona
At the Honey Stand in Pine, you can shop for all sorts of delicious homemade honey flavors.
Randall House in Pine Arizona
The Randall House offers a nice shady cozy homestyle setting for breakfast. Stop here for a quick bite and cup of coffee before your visit to Tonto.

Additional Details

The drive from Flagstaff to Pine/Strawberry is picturesque with beautiful views of the pines and mountains. Hwy 260, aka the White Mountain Scenic Drive, is really gorgeous. It really feels like you are getting out into the country, which obviously is a major bonus if you are coming from a congested city like Phoenix or Tucson!

Distance from Flagstaff: 1 hr 45 min

What to do: Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, antique shopping in Pine & Strawberry, Oldest schoolhouse in Arizona in Strawberry, Hike the Horton Creek Trail in Payson

Why it’s great: The views at Tonto Bridge are unique & gorgeous, the drive over from Flagstaff is picturesque and quiet, the weather is nice and cool during the summer season & fall foliage is great around October/November.