Flagstaff is considered by many to be one of the top destinations out West for outdoor recreation. In Arizona, it is by far the best place for year-round outdoor recreation, spectacular scenery, and adventure. Flagstaff is home to the magnificent San Francisco Peaks, which includes the 12637 foot tall Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona. The Peaks are actually a dormant volcano range which last erupted sometime around 1064. There are many gorgeous hiking trails, both on and around the peaks. These spectacular mountains provide a wide range of recreational activities which you will not find elsewhere in the state including hiking & mountain biking in the warmer months, and skiing & snowshoeing in the in wintertime.
While Phoenix sees temps soar into the 100’s on an almost daily basis in the summer, Flagstaff temps rarely stray out of the 80’s, with barely a day over 90. Flagstaff is one of the highest located cities in the US at 7000 feet, meaning the city sees a 4 season climate unlike the hot dry Southern portion of the state. And, the temps are even cooler along the high altitude hikes (about 15-20 degrees so), making the temps just perfect for summer hiking. Arizona Snowbowl is known to be “the coolest place in Arizona.” And unlike Phoenix, there is plenty of snow during the winter months for all sorts of recreation. In fact, it is one of the snowiest cities in the country with over 100 inches per year on average!
Whether you are a Phoenix local looking for a beautiful place to escape the intense heat, or a tourist looking to experience some of the most incredible natural scenery in the state, any Flagstaff hike will do. However, if you are limited on time, some hikes are more stunning than others, and thus, I have created a list of my 12 favorite hiking trails in Flagstaff. Enjoy the list and feel free to share your personal favorites!
1. Slate Mountain
Slate Mountain is the most underrated hike in the area. Although the trail head is located about 30 minutes outside of town along Hwy 180, the drive is well worth it for the solitude and breathtaking views of the San Francisco Peaks that you will experience along the way. The trail is moderately challenging, consisting of a 2.1 mile gradual climb up to an overlook, where you will be rewarded, with what is in my opinion, is the most stunning scenery in the entire Northern Arizona area. Slate Mountain is not the hardest hike in the area, although it is no easy feat either as the hike starts at an elevation of 7300 feet and climbs about 1000 feet to the overlook. It is a gradual climb and not nearly as hard as some other trails.
Take your time on the way up, snap lots of photos, take a rest when you need it, and drink plenty of water and you should be just fine. The lower body workout will be well worth the effort in the end. The 2 mile climb downhill feels like a breeze compared to the climb up and the beautiful scenery continues on with a quiet walk through ponderosa pine forest. I’ve never seen a single hiker on this trail – it’s quiet and peaceful all of the time. I have even seen wildlife tracks which is quite rare for this high traffic area!
A morning spent hiking Slate Mountain is an incredible nature experience like no other in the area: one which highlights the most awe inspiring scenery in Northern Arizona. Hiking Slate Mountain is a must do when visiting Flagstaff, and my number 1 vacation activity for new visitors!
Distance: 4.2 miles round-trip
Best season: Summer
2. Inner Basin
Inner Basin is the area’s most stunning fall foliage hike. Surprisingly, Flagstaff is a hot spot for fall color in Arizona. The fall foliage in Flagstaff is not simply good for Arizona, but rather truly spectacular, with Flagstaff being recognized as one of the top leaf peeping destinations out West. The Inner Basin hike takes you through the heart of the San Francisco Peaks for a scenic, fun, and challenging high altitude adventure of a lifetime. As almost every tree is an aspen compared to the predominant ponderosa found on many of the trails in the lower elevations around town (Flagstaff is located with the country’s largest ponderosa forest), the views are absolutely magical in the fall. As you make your way up the hilly 1.7 mile trail to Waterline Road, you will be surrounded by never ending views of tall shimmering golden aspens.
It is a fall experience like no other in the country. A hike along Inner Basin in the peak of fall rivals the best fall foliage hikes in New England. As expected, with immense beauty comes a price. The wait for this trail on the weekends is often over an hour, so plan your hike on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Don’t worry if you cannot make it out during the week – it is well worth the long wait for a walk along one of the West’s best fall foliage hikes.
Be prepared for a tough journey, as this trail starts an an elevation of 8500 feet and climbs up to 10,000 feet. Fortunately, you do not have to complete the entire trail to immerse yourself in the beautiful golden colors of the season, although if you feel fit & motivated enough, I definitely recommend experiencing the entire trail!
Distance: 3.2 mile round trip
Best season: Fall