Flagstaff

Flagstaff, Arizona summer wildflowers

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.

The beautiful Kachina Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
The Kachina Trail is a beautiful high altitude trail at Snowbowl. The full out-and-back is pretty long, however, you can simply go out as far as you like.
The beautiful Inner Basin trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
The Inner Basin hike takes you through the heart of the San Francisco Peak. You’ll climb over 1000feet in elevation (up to about 9500ft), strolling through groves of tall aspen trees. This hike is particularly scenic during the fall foliage season!
Aspen Nature Loop in Flagstaff, Arizona
Beautiful aspens line the Aspen Nature Loop Trail – an easy loop hike of just under 2 miles. Great mountain views too!
Summer chairlift ride at Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff, Arizona
The chairlift ride at Snowbowl takes you soaring past the pines

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.

Serene mountain views at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, Arizona
Buffalo Park is perfect for a stroll anytime of the year. Bike riding, walking, and jogging are great during the spring and summer months, while snowshoeing and cross country skiing are popular in the winter.
Amazing views of the Peaks from the Slate Mountain trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
For the most dramatic views of the Peaks, consider hiking the amazing Slate Mountain trail, just a half hour outside of town.

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.

Summer wildflowers at Bonito Meadow in Flagstaff, Arizona

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.

The Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona
The views along the Island Trail are really stunning
Ancient Singua cliff dwelling at Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff, Arizona
One of numerous cliff dwellings you will see on the Island Trail.

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.

Picture Canyon in Flagstaff, Arizona
PIcture Canyon is home to over 150 pictographs from the Singua who lived in the region from 1000-1200 AD. This is a pretty interesting place to check out if you are interested in history and have extra time available.
Ancient pictographs along the Veit Springs trail in Flagstaff, Arizona
The short, easy Veit Springs trail along Snowbowl Rd is home to a few hidden pictographs, which can be explored via a short detour from the main trail. These ancient drawings are of unknown origin.

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 historic Hotel Monte Vista in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona
The historic Monte Vista hotel, built in 1927, is the centerpiece of the downtown. It is one of the most haunted hotels of Rt 66 and guests have reported seeing the same ghosts for decades! Even John Wayne was reportedly visited by a paranormal spirit while staying here!
Great Americano at Late for the Train in Flagstaff, Arizona
Late for the Train serves the best espresso drinks in town. Their beans are dark, yet not bitter
Fort Tuthill Park bike path in Flagstaff, Arizona
A beautiful section of the Flagstaff Urban trail system at Fort Tuthill – this section is about 2.5 miles each way, so a nice distance for a moderate run or bike ride.

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.

Lunch buffet at Delhi Palace in Flagstaff, Arizona
From never trying Indian food to one time a week visits – courtesy of the extremely delicious food at Delhi Palace. The lunch buffet is simply amazing!
What Guy Ate at Salsa Brava in Flagstaff, Arizona
Stuffed Chicken Sopaipilla and Fajitas at Salsa Brava – what a treat!

Distance from Central Phoenix: 2 hours and 15 min

Top things to do: Hiking at Arizona Snowbowl, Walnut Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, Inner Basin trail, See a show by the wonderful Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra

Where to eat: Delhi Palace, Horsemen’s Lodge, Salsa Brava, Charly’s at the Weatherford, Downtown Diner, Mix