The Top Ten Attractions in Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaff is the gem of Arizona. This small, high altitude mountain city is located just 2 hours north of Phoenix, however, at 7000 feet, the climate, geography, and vibe is completely different. As opposed to the harsh climate and exotic cacti of the Sonoran desert, Flagstaff sees 4 distinct seasons and is located within the largest ponderosa pine forest. With much in the way of scenic recreation, the state’s most impressive ski resort, a lively historic downtown, beautiful parks, and easy daytrip access to natural wonders, it’s easy to see why on any given weekend Phoenix locals flood the city. Take a look at my top recommended Flagstaff attractions after several years residing in the area.
1. Buffalo Park
Flagstaff’s iconic urban park, Buffalo, is the perfect first stop for new visitors. The beautiful mountain backdrop makes this park the ideal place for any type of recreation. The 2 mile loop around the park (mostly flat with the exception of one steep hill) is enjoyable year-round. From spring and summer hiking, to winter snowshoeing and cross country skiing, there is never a bad time to visit Buffalo. If you are seeking the most picturesque place to exercise within the city limits, you cannot beat the pretty vistas of Mt. Elden and the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in Arizona (Humphreys peak sits at 12,637ft).
2. Aspen Nature Loop
Arizona Snowbowl offers much more than just skiing and scenic chairlift rides. There are also a number of fantastic hiking trails to enjoy. New visitors will want to get acclimated to the high altitude around town for a few days before attempting any high elevation hike. Snowbowl is located at an even higher altitude (~9000 compared to 7000 in town). Aspen is the easiest and most scenic of the 3 trails at Snowbowl. The loop is just under 2 miles round-trip with little elevation gain (~300ft), although you must remember that you are starting so high up. Overall, a beautiful destination year-round especially during the peak of fall!
3. Arizona Nordic Village
Cross country skiing in Arizona? At this high of an altitude, the annual snowfall tops 200 inches making Flagstaff one of the country’s snowiest cities! What a striking distance to the mild winter climates experienced by Phoenix and Tucson! The Nordic Village is a scenic place to enjoy a winter workout, burn a ton of calories, and enjoy lovely views of uninterrupted nature. With beautiful ponderosa pines surrounding you in every direction, it’s hard to believe you are still in Arizona! Over 40km of groomed trails on-site with options for beginner to advanced.
4. Fort Tuthill County Park
This large park is located just 3 miles south of Flagstaff. A beautiful setting within a dense ponderosa pine forest makes this park ideal for any type of recreation. Most notably, the Flagstaff Urban Trail system runs through the park. Enjoy a walk, jog, or bike ride surrounded by gorgeous pines during the mild spring or summer months. The weather is so gorgeous this time of year for any type of recreation. While this isn’t the best leaf peeping destination due to the heavy pine presence, winter here is a blast! With trails suitable for cross country skiing and snowshoeing, along with sledding hills, there is never a dull moment.
5. Veit Springs loop trail
This quiet trail is located on Snowbowl Road just a few miles before you reach the summit. Because it is not as popular as other attractions in the vicinity, more locals rather than tourists frequent the trail. This means the vibe is generally quieter. Veit is beautiful anytime of the year but really shines during Flagstaff’s incredible fall season. Mid October the trail is lined with golden aspens which contrast brilliantly with the green ponderosa pines. The loop comes in at just over 2 miles. As the terrain is mostly flat, this another one of the easier trails in town. Also, be on the lookout for ancient pictographs!
6. Arizona Snowbowl
Flagstaff is the place to go in Arizona if you are a skier or snow lover in general. While it is not the largest ski resort in Arizona (that title goes to Sunrise Park in Greer), it is one of the longest running in the West. Featuring over 260 inches of snow per season, 55 trails, Arizona’s only gondola, and a 2300 foot vertical drop, it’s pretty much busy the entire winter season. Not a skier? There’s much more to Snowbowl. From hikes, to scenic chairlift rides, to winter ski biking and snowshoeing, there are options for everyone, all year-round.
7. Lowell Observatory
The city of Flagstaff was recognized as the First International Dark Sky City in 2001. With clear skies most of the year and low light pollution, it’s a wonderful place to stargaze. Besides heading out to the various parks and taking in the night skies, you have the option of stargazing at the Lowell Observatory. Most interestingly, this observatory holds the telescope used to discover Pluto. At the observatory, you will be able to explore exhibits, listen to informative presentations, and see the telescope that Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto. Best of all, you will have access to 6 public telescopes to take in the night skies.
8. Walnut Canyon
History buffs will definitely want to plan for a 10 mile drive outside of town to explore Walnut Canyon. At this national monument, you will be able to explore dozens of ancient Sinagua pueblos. Of particular interest is the Island trail, a 1 mile path that will take you past 25 cliff dwellings. Note that while this trail is short it’s pretty steep and involves a 240 step climb. Walnut is rich in history – the Sinagua tribes lived here from 600 to 1400 AD. Their name translates into “mountains without water.” At Walnut, you will learn how they were able to survive in such a harsh environment. Even if you are not into history, the scenery is quite beautiful.
9. Historic Downtown
Downtown Flagstaff is the place to go to eat, drink, and play. After a long day on the trails or exploring nearby attractions (like the Grand Canyon), you will be ready to kick back a bit. You won’t find many big chains here. Local restaurants, cafes, breweries, and shops populate the Main Street. There is always an event taking place so something new to look forward to no matter when you plan your visit. A few of the top places to check out:
- Old Town shops – Small indoor mall featuring 10 independent shops
- Late for the train – Best local coffee shop
- Crystal Magic – Large selection of healing minerals and gems.
- Monte Vista – Historic hotel with a great coffee/wine bar
- Mix – Delicious make your own salad cafe
- Karma Sushi – Trendy Modern Asian fare
- Mountain Sports – All your outdoor gear and apparel
- Charly’s at the Weatherford – Southwestern pub in a historic hotel. Try the Navajo taco.
10. Lockett Meadow – Inner Basin loop
The Inner Basin trail is the most popular trail in Northern Arizona once the aspens begin to turn gold. Tourists come from all over to enjoy the brightest display of golden aspens in the Southwest. Come autumn, this trail truly is a leaf peeper’s dream destination. It’s the best fall color hike in Arizona, and likely one of the best in the entire country. Although the hike is only 1.7 miles out-and-back, the trek is hard with an elevation gain of over a 1000 feet. The altitude ranges from 8600 to over 10,000 feet! If you are in great shape, do consider adding this one to your bucket list. If not, don’t worry – there are plenty of gorgeous fall color hikes throughout Flagstaff.
More to do in and around Flagstaff
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