Imagine zipping around a compact bike-friendly city with a huge 12,643-foot mountain shadowing you; coffee, farm-fresh food and beer-filling stations just minutes apart. No, you’re not in Colorado; you’re in the Northern Arizona town of Flagstaff.
Long known to adventurers as a road-trip pitstop or the closest airport to Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff has definitely evolved into an outdoors destination in its own right. Consider spending 48 hours here to sample the best of what the area has to offer. Then come back and make it a week.
What to do:
Humphrey’s Peak (Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area) has a 10-mile round-trip trail to the 12,643 ft. summit, starting from Arizona Snowbowl ski resort 14.5 miles northwest of downtown Flagstaff. A little flatter than Humphrey’s Peak is the Arizona Trail. It’s an amazing trail with several options in the area depending on your preferred distance.
You could easily bike from one end of the city to the other on a combination of trails and bike lanes. Many of the most popular dining spots and businesses offer bike parking. Some even offer a discount for customers who arrive on non-motorized 2‑wheels. Here are some places to rent road, cruiser or mountain bikes: Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution, AZ Pedal Tours, or Flagstaff Nordic Center.
The Flagstaff Nordic Center offers mountain bike rentals and coordinates with a shuttle service company to get you out to trailheads. Sunset Trail, just north of downtown, is the launch site for an 8‑mile round trip single-track challenge from Schultz Pass to the summit of Mount Elden. It’s at times steep and technical, and at others, fast and smooth with knockout views.
Flagstaff Climbing offers day passes at both their climbing gym locations, Downtown Crag and Main Street Boulders. The two gyms encompass 9,000 square feet of top rope, lead climbing and bouldering terrain. They can also tip you off to where to go outdoors.
Head north on Forest Roads 245, 171 and 171B (closed in winter) to the Lava River Tube Cave. The climate inside is a steady 42 degree Fahrenheit year-round, but you’ll need headlamps and flashlights, warm clothing/jackets and your own water. The road gates open in late-April, depending on snow/mud conditions.
Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course is an elevated obstacle course set in tall Ponderosa pines out by Fort Tuthill County Park. The course includes rope swings, scrambling walls, hanging nets, wobbly bridges and suspended “surprises.”
Head out to Thorpe Park and Continental Park (Sports Complex E Old Walnut Canyon Rd) or to Arizona Snowbowl Disc Golf course located at an elevation of 9,500 feet. The course starts and finishes at the Agassiz Lodge, with a practice basket just outside the lodge. The course is free, but there’s a donation box on the way to the first hole.
Need to stretch? Check out The Yoga Experience. Located in downtown Flagstaff, their drop-in classes combine elements from the Anusara, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Vinyasa Flow, and YOGAMAZÉ traditions.
Where to do it:
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Just east of Flagstaff, you can literally step back in time, hiking among ancient pueblos and cliff dwellings tucked into the walls just below Walnut Canyon’s Rim. It’s less than 90 minutes to take in the major sites here. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, by reservation only, you can get in on backcountry hikes that visit some of the more remote cliff dwellings. The 3‑hour strenuous Saturday Ledge Hike starts at 10am.
Petrified Forest National Monument
Long daylight hours with some time left to explore? This is one of the few places in the world where you can see Late Triassic period fossils and gorgeous petrified wood. Located near Holbrook, go hike the Red Basin Trail to view 200-million-year-old clam beds, along with rock spires, hoodoos, and petroglyphs—in Red Basin on an 8.5‑mile loop.
Spring is the best time to see this prequel to the Grand Canyon on the Little Colorado River. Located about an hour northeast of Flagstaff on the Navajo Nation just outside Leupp, the 185 ft. waterfall looks enormous when it’s seasonally flowing. The area is still worth seeing even if the falls are dried up. Unless you have a 4WD or are on a mountain bike, though, plan to hike the last half-mile to the overlook and down to the base of the falls.
Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki Pueblo is the largest within this complex. A self-guided trail begins behind the visitor center. This is a great alternative to the Petrified Forest if ruined pueblos are more your thing than fossils or falls.