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12 Reasons Flagstaff is Gonna Get You

A historic railroad/ski town surrounded by towering pine trees at the base of a towering volcanic mountain is not what typically comes to mind for Arizona. But surrounded by National Forests and Parks with incredible history and outdoor activities, Flagstaff belongs on everyone’s Arizona Adventure List.

1. Ride to the top of the Arizona Snowbowl

Occupying the western face of Humphrey’s Peak, the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort is the oldest continually operating ski resort in the country. During the summer, the site transforms into a scenic playground with lifts providing passengers sweeping views from the top of Arizona’s tallest mountain. Clear days offer views from the famous red rocks of Sedona all the way to the Grand Canyon!

flagstaff snowbowl skilift
Stunning views during the summer on the snowbowl lift.

2. Spy the night sky at Lowell Observatory

As one of the oldest in the US, the Lowell Observatory has taken part in many astronomical milestones since 1894. While most observatories are far outside of town, this home to Pluto’s discovery is a quick drive up the hill from downtown Flagstaff. Plan to arrive in the late afternoon and follow the scale planet path to the historic Pluto Astrograph. Then take in a few lectures, stay for evening stargazing with a laser show and marvel at celestial bodies through the many telescopes on site. Available activities and times vary seasonally and with the weather so check the website before you go. General Admission is $29 for adults and $17 for children, but promotions through Groupon often pop up.

pluto discovery telescope flagstaff
Don’t miss the stunning Pluto Astrograph used in the dwarf planet’s 1930 discovery.

3. Zip through the pines at Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course

Suspended in towering ponderosa pines at Fort Tuthill just west of town lies the largest aerial course in the western US. For $60, Visitors 12 and older that can reach to 71″ can spend as much time as desired on the Aerial course with over 50 obstacles or the Zip course with 32 glides. An equivalently fabulous deal is the $30 course for kids aged 7-11 who can reach to 55″. Reserve times and complete waivers on their website to save time. Also, mountain bikers will love amazing and FREE Fort Tuthill Bike Park to pedal away the day.

flagstaff kids adventure course
Everyone 7+ can play in the trees all day at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course.

4. Explore Sinagua Ruins at Walnut Canyon National Monument

Hands-down my favorite Native American site, Walnut Canyon National Monument reminds me of an ancient metropolis. Our kids loved the exploring the 25 structures along the one-mile island trail but didn’t enjoy the 736 steps quite as much. Signage along the trail immerses visitors in the life of the Sinagua people and points out the dozens of structures layered within the canyon walls. Entry is $25 per vehicle or $45 packaged with Sunset Crater and Wupatki.

5. Crawl into the Earth at Lava River Cave

Located down a long cinder road in the Coconino National Forest lies a massive underground Lava River Cave. The hike starts with fairly strenuous boulder climbing into complete darkness at the floor of the tube. Then, through total darkness the adventure continues another .75 miles at average of 40 degrees year-round. The site is completely free, but also lacks services and staff. Aside from helpful hikers, injuries or lost power could result in a cold lonely wait. So, bring several light sources, warm clothes, know your abilities and pack out anything you bring in.

lava river cave flagstaff
Best part of the Lava Cave is boulder hopping into the darkness.

6. Check out Sunset Crater & Wupatki National Monuments

A short drive north of Flagstaff, these two national monuments are connected on one big loop road. While we’ve only been once, I highly recommend starting at the south entry for Sunset Crater. After a hike or two within the huge cinder fields, the drive down to Wupatki offers an expansive view of the beautifully painted Arizona landscape. While it seems the builders of the pueblos at Wupatki only stuck around for a century, they sure built some impressive structures. Entry is $25 per car or $45 if linked with Walnut Canyon. Fun tip: the Bonito Campground near Sunset Crater Visitor Center is perfect for tent or dry camping.

7. Catch the elusive roar of Grand Falls

While technically taller than Niagara Falls, travelers must time visits to ensure they catch water actually flowing. Slowed to a trickle most of the year, the Little Colorado River periodically becomes gorged with snowmelt from the White Mountains or rainfall to the east. Free to visit, there’s no Maid of the Mist tour for these falls, just a rough country road and a short hiking trail. While we’ve never timed our adventures to see it, word on the street is March and August are pretty good bets and sunrises are stunning.

grand falls flagstaff
Full of silt from the nearby desert, the Grand Falls outside of Flagstaff is sometimes called Chocolate Falls.

8. Ramble through the pines on horseback

Hiking is definitely a good time, but there’s something special about taking a horseback ride through the pines. While I’m sure some of the stables a little closer to Flagstaff like , are great, I can only vouch for our experience with High Mountain Trail Rides at Mormon Lake. Just an hour outside of Flagstaff, these guides took amazing care to match each of the kids over age 7 with the perfect horse. At $60 per person, I can’t recommend the service and location enough.

horseback riding flagstaff
There’s no better way to enjoy the pine than on horseback.

9. Grab some grub and stroll the Historic Downtown

Downtown Flagstaff is everything a western downtown should be. Century old buildings house modern boutiques and restaurants worthy of an afternoon stroll. If in town for New Year’s, don’t miss the famous Pinecone Drop at midnight. Parking can require some tenacity on busy days with winter weather. Diablo Burger and Flagstaff Brewing Company always have a delicious menu. We can’t ever walk past the Sweet Shoppe Candy store without some fudge.

downtown flagstaff
Pinecone perched atop the Weatherford hotel awaits New Year’s in Downtown Flagstaff.

10. Visit the North Pole during the Holidays

Running seasonally out of Little America, the North Pole Experience begins with a Golden Ticket for a magical bus ride. True Believers in Santa are transported through a porthole to the North Pole and granted access to Santa’s Workshop. After helping elves make toys, viewing the present wrapping machine kids are treated to cocoa, cookies and dancing with Mrs. Claus. Then they can write a letter to Santa in the Elf Classroom and see Santa’s sleigh. Finally, families are welcomed in to meet with the man in red, then taken on a bus through the poral back to Flagstaff. Quick tip: Grab the ornament at the giftshop before the bus ride for kids to get autographs along the way. They’ll talk about the trip every year while decorating the tree. Ticket prices vary, but November and weekday trips are always cheaper.

north pole experience flagstaff
Perfect family santa photos are part of the deal at the North Pole Experience.

11. Spend the night under the stars

With thousands of dispersed camp sites throughout Kaibab and Coconino National Forests that flank Flagstaff, a free night of camping is easy to find. However, if looking for reserved sites with hookups or cabins just minutes from town, the Flagstaff KOA is our favorite stop. Whether digging in the dirt and playing pinecone baseball or jumping on a bouncy pillow and chasing around the playground, family camping trips are always a win!

boy and dog in dirt
Best buddies love the mountain dirt

12. So close to more amazing Arizona Adventures

Sitting at the state’s literal northern crossroads, Flagstaff is provides a perfect springboard for more stunning southwest sites.

  • Grand Canyon South Rim is about an hour drive North through the gorgeous Kaibab National Forest and a must see Wonder of the World.
  • Williams retains its Route 66 charm while boasting as the gateway to the Grand Canyon with a fabulous train and alpine coaster.
  • Sedona is a world-famous hiker’s paradise with stunning red rocks, vibey vortexes and delicious restaurants along Oak Creek.
  • Page sits on the southern shore of Lake Powell with some of the most photographic canyons in the world.
  • Winslow & Holbrook each have sweet mementos of their Route 66 past with world famous natural marvels.
  • Camp Verde is an easy stop for some history, snacks and a snap with the World’s Largest Kokopelli.
grand canyon arizona
With 2 ways to get to a Wonder of the World, Flagstaff is a great jumping off point for the Grand Canyon.

Eternally on the hunt for the science in every adventure.

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