7 Stops in Phenomenal Flagstaff, Arizona
Mountain air, glittering stars and national park sites await in this college town.
Located within two hours of six national monuments and Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff, Arizona, is a vibrant mountain town with a charming historic downtown. Here are seven things to do in and near Flagstaff, Ariz.
See the Stars at Lowell Observatory
The first International Dark Sky City in the world, Flagstaff has a long history of looking to the stars above. It was here that Pluto was first discovered in 1930 and every astronaut on the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing trained in Flagstaff.
To do some serious stargazing, head to Lowell Observatory where you can get a closer look at the astros through a wide array of telescopes, take a guided constellation tour or check out the Clark Refractor telescope.
While you can look up at the night sky and get a beautiful view of the stars anywhere in Flagstaff, for the best views and star-bathing experiences (the name Discover Flagstaff has coined for relaxing and immersing yourself in nature under the night sky) head to Buffalo Park on the north end of town, or Lake Mary which is a 20-minute drive southeast.
During the day, explore this unique part of the state by picking up a Lunar Legacy Passport at the Flagstaff Visitor Center at One E. Route 66. It will bring you to the most fascinating places in the area related to the Apollo moon missions including Lowell Observatory, where the moon was mapped and studied via powerful telescopes, and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument where the unique topography helped astronauts train for their missions. Don’t miss hiking on the monument’s great trails. Collect three stamps on the passport and return it to the visitor center for a special lunar legacy souvenir.
Forest Bathe on Flagstaff’s Trails
If you’ve never heard of forest bathing, Flagstaff, Ariz., may be the best place to try it out and have a Zen moment. With no soap or water required, forest bathing, a longtime Japanese tradition, involves immersing yourself in nature to reduce stress and reconnect with yourself, among other health benefits. Surrounded by the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff’s uncrowded trails offer solitude, a lot of trees and outstanding views.
Explore the 2.5-mile Aspen Loop Trail at the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort nestled in the San Francisco Peaks. You can make the hike longer by connecting with the Arizona Trail.
Twenty minutes from town, visit Sandys Canyon Trail no.137 in the heart of the Coconino National Forest to be surrounded by thousands of trees, petrified sand dunes and boulders to sit on and enjoy a picnic lunch. Pick up lunch supplies at Proper Meats + Provisions, a butcher shop which serves artisanal meats sourced from Arizona Ranches, local cheeses, salads, sandwiches and more.
It’s undeniable that visitors have an impact on the natural places they visit, but what if that impact wasn’t all negative? That’s where Pledge for the Wild comes in, a multi-city initiative that Flagstaff is a part of to help protect the trails and natural spaces in the area. Here’s how you can be a sustainable tourist. First, enjoy the area’s trails, being sure to practice Leave No Trace and picking up trash on trails when you see it. Then, text WILD4FLAG to 44321 to donate $1 for every mile you hiked (or the amount of your choosing) to the Flagstaff Trails Initiative, dedicated to keeping Flagstaff’s wild places special.
Explore Six Nearby National Monuments
There are six national monuments and Grand Canyon National Park within two hours of Flagstaff, each offering something different. They’re in a desert landscape filled with ancient cities and an extinct volcano with none of the crowds you’ll find at Grand Canyon. Walnut Canyon and Wupatki national monuments preserve 700-year-old pueblos that were once home to thousands of people.
Head to Walnut Canyon National Monument 10 miles southeast of downtown Flagstaff. The one-mile round trip strenuous Island Trail will take you past 25 ancient cliff dwelling rooms.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a training ground for Apollo astronauts in the 1960s, enables you to walk along the Lava Flow Trail to view the impacts of a volcanic eruption 900 years ago.
Ride a Gondola at Arizona Snowbowl
In summer and fall take a scenic gondola to 11,500 feet at this ski area located in the San Francisco Peaks. It’s a great place to escape the summer heat or the fantastic fall colors and experience the mountains.
At the top, you’ll see the red rocks of Sedona and the walls of the Grand Canyon in the distance. Bring layers, sunscreen and water because temperatures are chillier up high and the sun is extra strong.
Drink Beer to Support Conservation at Mother Road
Grab a table at Mother Road Brewing Co., a Flagstaff favorite for its top notch beer and commitment to the planet. Order a Conserve & Protect Golden Ale, proceeds of which go to Arizona Game & Fish to support local conservation efforts. Mother Road also captures carbon from the brewing process and reinjects it into its beers to help fight climate change. Enjoy barbeque sliders, tacos and other mouth-watering dishes from the on-site food trailer, Roadside Stove. The local beef comes from cows fed with spent grains from Mother Road’s brewing process.
Be sure to download the Brewery Trail Passport at craftbeerflg.com. Collect eight stamps over the course of your trip by visiting the different breweries and turn it in at the visitor center for a commemorative pint glass.
Dance the Night Away at The Museum Club
One of the only original Route 66 roadhouses still standing, this log cabin attracts national acts like Willie Nelson, features two bars and is home to one of the largest wooden dance floors in the state. Check out the various animal mounts hanging on the walls. Before it became a bar, The Museum Club was a taxidermy. It’s located at 3404 East Route 66. Download the Route 66 pedestrian audio tour of Flagstaff and learn other Route 66 secrets at www.flagstaffarizona.org/things-to-do/scenic-drives-day-trips/route-66/.
When you’re ready for bed, lay your head down at High Country Motor Lodge, a modern motel with distinctly vintage vibes where you’ll find retro tape decks alongside luxury linens, beautiful decor and pour-over coffee.
Eat Local in Flagstaff
Opened in 2014, Tourist Home All Day Cafe still has an old outdoor neon sign from the days it served as a hostel for sheepherders, beginning in 1926. Today, this hip counter-service restaurant is a gourmet food hot spot. Have breakfast or lunch, pick up specialty foods and sample the delicious pastries baked fresh daily. Try the quiche followed by the double chocolate espresso cookie. If you sit at the community table, you’re bound to get insider area tips from a friendly local sitting next to you.
For an upscale dinner, head to Atria where award-winning Chef Rochelle Daniel serves a seasonal menu featuring pasta, seafood, steaks and more. The homemade bread is a favorite and the roasted bone marrow shouldn’t be missed.
For more information:
Flagstaff Visitor Center
One E. Route 66
Related: Best Eco-Friendly Vacation Itinerary in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon