When most people think of Arizona, they think of dry desert hills full of saguaro cacti and sweltering summer heat. However, the small city of Flagstaff, Arizona, turns these expectations around with its towering pine trees and surprisingly cool temperatures. Located just over two hours from Phoenix, this quirky mountain town offers some of the world's best outdoor recreation opportunities as well as a thriving entertainment scene and interesting museums. There are some amazing to do when visiting Flagstaff, whether you're there for a quick weekend getaway or a longer mountain vacation.
Considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this massive canyon is a must-see attraction in northern Arizona. It is located just over an hour from Flagstaff, so it's close enough for an easy day trip. Simply stopping by and peering over the rim is an amazing experience, and you can also explore miles of trails along the rim and in the canyon itself. Many Flagstaff-based companies also offer guided tours if you prefer a more structured experience.
Hiking the trails of Walnut Canyon feels like stepping back in time. This beautiful area is home to a remarkably well-preserved pueblo that was once inhabited by the ancient Sinagua people. The trails are marked with educational exhibits to help you learn more about the history and geology of the area. Most of the trails are fairly short, but they can be strenuous so be sure to wear appropriate hiking clothes and bring plenty of water.
Stargazers will love a trip to the famous Lowell Observatory, which is where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Exhibits and guided tours teach visitors about this amazing discovery as well as the other work done at the observatory, and it also holds frequent special events where you can enjoy a little hands-on experience with telescopes. This trip is suitable for all ages, with plenty of exhibits kids and adults alike can enjoy.
Get up close and personal with Arizona animals at Bearizona Wildlife Park. The main attraction is a three-mile drive through the free range part of the park, where wolves, bears and other large animals wander right by your car. Afterwards, explore Fort Bearizona, which houses smaller animals including river otters, birds of prey and bobcats. There's even a petting zoo for younger kids.
If you feel like doing some shopping or dining, check out Flagstaff's Historic Downtown and Railroad District. At first glance, this area looks like it could be straight out of the Old West with its brick buildings adorned with old-fashioned signs and awnings. However, it is home to unique, locally owned boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Keep an eye out for special events like art shows, farmers' markets and street festivals, which occur frequently during summer months.
If you're in the mood for adventure, Flagstaff Extreme is the place to visit. This challenging attraction offers ropes and obstacle courses to test your courage, strength and stamina. Many are located high in the trees to add a little extra tension, but don't worry--you'll be safely clipped into a harness in case you fall or get stuck. Wear comfortable clothes and bring clip-on water bottles to keep your hands free. Kids who are seven years old or older are welcome, but it isn't suitable for younger children.
You may not think of skiing when it comes to planning an Arizona vacation, but Flagstaff's high elevation gives it plenty of powder for skiers and snowboarders to enjoy. The Arizona Snowbowl offers plenty of runs suitable for all ages and skill levels, so it's a great choice for the whole family. If you're visiting during the summer, you can still hike the trails and enjoy the scenery from the chair lift.
Get a deeper appreciation for the remarkable cultures and amazing natural formations that make up northern Arizona at the Museum of Northern Arizona. This unique museum features exhibits on modern and historical Native American cultures, the early commercial development of the area, and the geological features that make up the Colorado Plateau, as well as rotating temporary exhibits relevant to the area.
Sedona may be famous for its red rocks, but Flagstaff has plenty of them as well and there's no better place to see them than Wupatki National Monument. While you explore the colorful scenery, keep an eye out for the ancient pueblo ruins dotting the area. This national monument offers regular guided tours for a more educational experience. Many of the trails have little shade, so be sure to put on plenty of sunscreen and wear hats and other protective gear.
When you explore the ancient lava flows and towering cinder cone of Sunset Crater, it can sometimes feel like you've stepped into another world. The tough black lava rock can be hard on your feet, so wear hiking boots or sturdy shoes if you plan to explore the more difficult trails. However, there are several easy and wheelchair accessible trails that still give an excellent view of this stunning geological formation.