8 Great Daytrips to Escape the Phoenix Heat
Flagstaff is a mid-size, high altitude mountain community about 2 hours north of Phoenix. The town is most well-known for being home to Northern Arizona University, as well as its’ close distance to the Grand Canyon (1.5 hrs). Flagstaff is also a popular roadstop for those traveling west on I-40 towards Vegas and Los Angeles.
Of course, it is also a very popular destination with Phoenix locals seeking to escape the summer heat. Flagstaff is one of America’s highest elevated towns at 7000 ft, and thus, summer temps barely climb above the mid 80’s. Compare this to the unending 110+ summer temps in Phoenix and you will easily see why Flagstaff is so popular come summertime. Plus, most Flagstaff trails sit at about 8000-9000 feet, so you will experience even cooler temps while hiking. The summer scenic chairlift ride at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort will take you up to “the coolest spot in Arizona.” This should be a real treat if coming from Phoenix during the summer season.
Flagstaff is located amidst the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, and thus, the views around town are pretty much polar opposite of that which you find in the cacti studded Sonoran Desert. Many of the higher elevated trails feature an attractive mix of pondersoa pines and aspens. The aspens in town turn a brilliant fall color, thus making Flagstaff a prime place for leaf peeping, even rivaling some of the best places in New England. I highly recommend checking out a few trails during Flagstaff’s amazing fall color season – here are my top leaf peeping trails in Flagstaff.
The town is also home to the beautiful San Francisco Peak Mountains, the highest range in Arizona with Humphrey’s standing tall at 12,637 feet. Great views of the peaks are accessible at various locales around town, with the best views enjoyed via a short 2 mile nature stroll at Buffalo Park. The challenging Slate Mountain trail, about 30 minutes outside of town, by far offers the most magnificent views and is definitely worth a trek if you are an avid hiker. The incline is gradual, so the hike does not feel as difficult as it would seem and is much, much easier and more scenic than Humphrey’s Peak.
Also, look into the Sunset-Wupatki Scenic Drive, which connects Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument as there is a really scenic overlook known as Bonito Meadow where you will get a pretty nice view of the peaks and Sunset Crater. Late summer is the best time to visit as the meadow is loaded with colorful wildflowers.
Flagstaff has been nicknamed“The city of 7 wonders” for the 7 gorgeous natural landmarks that surround the town. Of these, Walnut Canyon is the top sight to check out if you are limited on time. This magnificent 20 foot long, 400 foot wide, and 1/4 mile deep canyon can be explored via numerous trails. The Island Trail involves a semi challenging 240 foot step climb, which rewards in return with big views. The trail will also take you past several ancient cliff dwellings occupied in 1100 AD by the Singua tribes.
Being adjacent to the largest Indian reservation in the country (Navajo nation), the Flagstaff region is rich in Native American history with numerous attractions (The Museum of Northern Arizona), ancient petroglyph evidence (check out Picture Canyon Natural Area and Veit Springs), and cultural events celebrating Native American heritage throughout the year.
Other things to do in Flagstaff include strolling the shops and galleries of the historic downtown neighborhood, mountain biking along the 50+ miles of trail known as the FUTS, and checking out the wonderful local coffee scene. Of course, you must also take a drive along the incredible Oak Creek Canyon drive (mentioned above), which starts just 7 miles or so out of town. Check out my list of 50 fun and free things to do in Flagstaff for full details on all the unique things to do in this area.
The restaurant scene in Flagstaff is just mediocre, with the exception of the incredible Delhi Palace, a wonderful authentic Indian restaurant with the best lunch buffet. This was the first Indian restaurant I’ve ever tried, and to this day, I’ve not found one that even comes close. My other top choice would be Salsa Brava, an excellent local Mexican restaurant known for their endless salsa bar and stuffed sopaipillas, a fried pastry popular in New Mexican cuisine. This Rt 66 favorite was even featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. Additionally, here is my full list of the best restaurants in Flagstaff to check out during your visit.
Distance from Central Phoenix: 2 hours and 15 min
Where to eat: Delhi Palace, Horsemen’s Lodge, Salsa Brava, Charly’s at the Weatherford, Downtown Diner, Mix