Photo credit: Visit The USA
When you are in the mood for a weekend trip, one of the fastest spots for a quick getaway from the Valley is Flagstaff, Arizona. The town is about a three hour drive north of Scottsdale and sits at a much higher elevation of almost 7,000 feet. While it may only be a short drive away, you will feel like you have been transported much further away thanks to the dramatically different climate and scenery in Flagstaff. While Scottsdale offers you a very dry desert climate, Flagstaff is home to Arizona’s tallest mountain Humphreys Peak and is surrounded by mountains and a ponderosa pine forest.
The city offers a charming, small mountain town feeling with a year-round population of 72 thousand residents. The joy of Flagstaff is that you can truly experience all four seasons, as they get snow in the winter and have mild summers. In the winter, Flagstaff is a great place to ski, and in the summer, it’s a great place to escape to a higher elevation and beat the heat.
Hike Up Humphreys Peak
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Hiking Humphreys Peak is a bucket list item for all adventurous Arizonians. It is rated as a difficult hike, and is lengthy at 10.7 miles. Prepare to be out on the mountain for most of the day if you hike the full trail, and plan on bringing lots of sunscreen, snacks, and water.
It’s worth the trek to the top because it’s the highest peak in Arizona and gives you access to one of the most scenic viewpoints in the area. In fact, on a clear day, you can even see the Grand Canyon from the summit of the trail.
The Humphreys Peak hiking trail is open year round, but there are certain times of year that are better to go than others depending on the weather. Typically the trail can be snowy or icy in the winter months, and it may be too hot to handle during the heat of the summer. Also, if you are driving in to hike from a place with a lower elevation, it’s worth arriving a day or so earlier to make sure you can acclimate to the higher elevation before you hike.
If Humphreys Peak sounds like a more involved hike than you would like, there is no shortage of other hiking opportunities in the city. Some of the other popular trails are Fatmans Loop and Inner Basin Trail, both of which provide a more moderate hiking experience.
Ski at Arizona Snowbowl
Photo credit: Arizona Snowbowl
In the winter, Arizona Snowbowl is the place to be when you are ready to hit the slopes and go skiing or snowboarding. It’s about a seven mile drive north of Flagstaff, and offers a premiere skiing experience. It’s close enough to Scottsdale you could go up and ski for the day if you wanted, but it is also fun to go for a long weekend and get to enjoy the town of Flagstaff as well. Arizona Snowbowl has ski runs for all skill levels, and there are instructors available for lessons if you want to improve your skiing form.
Arizona Snowbowl is worth stopping by in the summer as well, as you can take a scenic gondola ride up the mountain. From your seat in the gondola you get to see amazing aerial views of the forest around the ski mountain. You can also participate in summer tubing, which allows you to slide down the ski mountain in an inner tube while racing your friends. It costs $15 to get a ticket for the summer tubing, and it’s a great daytime activity for your whole family while in Flagstaff.
Stay at Little America
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If you are on the hunt for a place to stay during your trip to Flagstaff, consider the Little America hotel. It is located in a great central location within the city and is close to the hiking trails, skiing in the winter, and many of the restaurants in the area.
The hotel offers wonderful amenities including free parking, free high speed Internet, and a seasonal outdoor pool. The grounds of the hotel are immaculately landscaped, and you’ll love being able to quickly get to all your excursions from this spot.
Explore Historic Downtown Flagstaff
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While in Flagstaff, visiting the historic downtown is a must-see stop. Flagstaff was one of the cities on the famous Route 66, and a visit to downtown offers a peek into the history of the town. While walking through the blocks you can see many of the original buildings, including the Weatherford Hotel from the 1890s.
In addition to the historic buildings, you will also find the downtown streets are a hub of activity, with art galleries, breweries, outdoor shops, and restaurants. Throughout each month Downtown Flagstaff hosts movie nights at Heritage Square, workout classes, and a community market on the weekends.
Visit the Wupatki National Monument
Photo credit: Visit Arizona
During your trip to Flagstaff, you can also take a short drive north of the city to see Wupatki National Monument, a historic preservation site of Native American culture. The pueblo contains over a 100 rooms and is one of the largest dwellings of this nature in the Southwest. The settlement was originally built by the Ancient Pueblo People around 500 AD, and remains well preserved to this day. The surrounding scenery is beautiful, and there are park rangers available to provide more insight into the origins of Wupatki and answer any questions you may have.
See the Stars at the Lowell Observatory
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Flagstaff is also home to the Lowell Observatory, a landmark of the city that has been open since 1894. The observatory is one of the oldest in the United States and is home to the Clark Telescope. The Lowell Observatory is famous for being the place where Pluto was discovered.
This observatory is worth a visit on your trip to Flagstaff as it gives you an opportunity to learn more about the history of astronomy and the current projects researchers are working on today.
The best way to experience Lowell Observatory during the day is by taking the 90 minute Mars Hill Guided Tour. This tour runs daily at 10 am,12 pm, and 4 pm, and costs $49 for adults. On this epic tour you will get to see the 24” Clark refractor up close, learn about the Observatory’s origins, and visit the open deck for solar observing.
For those who are true astronomy enthusiasts and want a more authentic experience, you will want to take the Expanding Universe Guided Tour, which runs for two hours and takes place at night. This tour gives you an opportunity to explore the constellations in the night sky and do some true star gazing yourself with a knowledgeable guide.
The wonderful thing about Flagstaff is that it offers a unique experience during all four seasons of the year. While the town is relatively small, it is definitely not short on activities or fun. Flagstaff is a beautiful mountain town with a rich history where you can enjoy nature and explore the outdoors.