The cultural and historic city of Flagstaff, located in Northern Arizona, got its name after some travellers passing through on America’s 100th Independence Day stripped a pine tree to raise an American flag in celebration.
With year-round entertainment due to four contrasting seasons, Flagstaff is the largest city in Northern Arizona and lies at around 2000m elevation. The mountain town environment makes it a very welcoming spot for Arizonians wanting to escape the heat.
Surrounded by natural attractions, monuments and the worlds largest ponderosa pine forest, it is a prime location for outdoor sports and adventures, from hiking and camping to skiing.
Flagstaff is also home to the Northern Arizona University making it a bit a of student hub. Whether driven by the student population, or other reason, it accommodates a surprising number of microbreweries.
Suppose you’re someone new to the wonderful and picturesque place of Flagstaff and feeling quite overwhelmed by the activities that you should try to make your visit memorable and full of fun. In that case, I’ll be the help you need as I have been wandering Arizona for some time now and can provide you with a fair share of the best things to do in Flagstaff.
1. Historic Downtown and Visitors Center
When I traveled to Flagstaff, the first thing that interests me the most is the history of this beautiful place. I was intrigued and decided to explore Flagstaff’s historic downtown that is centered around the old railroad and station, which is where you will find the visitors center. With this, I know that I will be able to make the most of my visit.
The amount of knowledge and resources available when I entered the center left me speechless. It was crammed with of information on Flagstaff, Route 66, and even places outside of Arizona. I understood that this was the ideal beginning location for my vacation, whether I planned to stay in the area or travel to the stunning Grand Canyon, which is only a two-hour drive away.
I was surprised to find that the visitors center had a direct connection to a fully functional Amtrak ticket office. It was interesting to see the ancient station still being used for its intended purpose in the middle of this old city. I was struck by the way the old and current blended together.
The area was dotted with charming shops, tempting restaurants, and lively bars. Each corner I turned offered a new and exciting experience, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the local culture and indulge in the unique offerings of the establishments I encountered.
Related tour: Flagstaff Segway Tour
2. Wheeler Park
A little distance from the tourist center, I found Wheeler Park, a charming public area tucked away in the neighborhood. The park’s rich green surroundings and many trees contributed to its quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
I quickly came to see that Wheeler Park provided more than simply a tranquil haven. It was a hive of activity and involvement from the local community. It was the perfect place to chill with a good read or enjoy a nice picnic. The regular activities that were hosted in the park all year long were what really captured my attention. There was always something fascinating going on, from energizing park runs to engaging weekend arts festivals like Hullabaloo and Art in the Park.
The park truly transformed with the changing seasons. During the summer months, it buzzed with energy, becoming a lively activity hub for locals and visitors alike. However, in the colder months, Wheeler Park metamorphosed into a mesmerizing winter wonderland. The serene beauty of the park, coupled with the glistening snow, created a magical atmosphere that was simply enchanting to experience.
3. San Francisco Peaks & Arizona’s Highest Point
Just a short distance north of Flagstaff lies the magnificent San Francisco Peaks, a mountain range that was once shaped by volcanic activity. Today, this range proudly boasts six of the highest peaks in all of Arizona.
For nature enthusiasts like myself, the district surrounding the San Francisco Peaks offers a plethora of hiking trails, nearly 30 in total. These trails provide an ideal escape into the embrace of nature, catering to a wide range of experience levels. As I embarked on these trails, I was rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas of the surrounding landscapes, truly taking my breath away.
Another popular route among hikers is the Humphreys Summit Trail, which promises unsurpassed views from the highest point in all of Arizona. As I eagerly set foot on this trail, I knew that a challenging journey lay ahead. The ascent to the summit is regarded as tough, demanding both physical endurance and mental fortitude. However, the rewards at the top make every step worthwhile, as I stood in awe of the unparalleled panoramic vistas that stretched as far as the eye could see.
Another popular route is Humphreys Summit Trail which unsurprisingly takes you to the highest point in all of Arizona for unparalleled views. It is however regarded a tough one, so be prepared. I recommend exploring the nature with the peaks of San Francisco for a more serene and earthy connection.
4. Arizona Snowbowl Scenic Chairlift
I couldn’t resist exploring another gem on the San Francisco Peaks: the Arizona Snowbowl, an exceptional alpine ski resort that had so much to offer.
As I visited during the onset of autumn, I witnessed a breathtaking transformation of the landscape. Vibrant bursts of colors adorned the surroundings, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle. One of the highlights was taking the Scenic Chairlift, which provided a bird’s eye view of Arizona’s remarkable terrain. On clear days, the view extended as far as the Grand Canyon, truly a sight to behold.
Upon reaching the summit via the chairlift, I encountered knowledgeable rangers who eagerly shared insights on the region’s biology, geology, and history. Their informative talks filled any gaps in my knowledge, enhancing my overall experience and deepening my appreciation for the area.
The Arizona Snowbowl proved to be a multifaceted destination, inviting visitors to embrace the wonders of nature, gain knowledge from passionate rangers, and create cherished memories through various activities and entertainment.
5. Heritage Square
Heritage Square, another captivating destination, offered an array of exciting events such as live music performances, vibrant art festivals, movie screenings, and captivating live shows. It was a hub of cultural experiences that brought the town to life. As a huge fan of festivity and fun moments, Heritage Square made my visit to Flagstaff memorable.
No matter the time of year, Heritage Square always had something incredible happening. The calendar was filled with a diverse range of events, ensuring there was never a dull moment. From music enthusiasts to art aficionados, there was something to suit everyone’s tastes and interests.
Five dedicated people turned their dream of a central gathering space become a reality in 1998. They put a lot of effort into making Heritage Square, a bustling area that promoted intercommunity interactions and cultural festivities. It served as a monument to the strength of group work and the devotion to their community.
I got the chance to help with Heritage Square’s continuous maintenance and growth as a guest. One option to contribute to their project was to buy an inscribed brick that would be placed in the square itself. It was a significant way to contribute to the continued heritage of this beloved gathering spot.
6. Museum of Northern Arizona
No trip to Flagstaff would be truly complete without a visit to the captivating Museum of Northern Arizona. Even on an unexpected rainy day, this museum proved to be the perfect destination, catering to visitors of all ages, including the younger ones.
Stepping into the museum, I embarked on a remarkable journey through the rich history of Arizona. The exhibits beautifully showcased the diverse aspects of this fascinating region, from the mesmerizing world of dinosaurs and captivating geological formations to the vibrant cultures of tribes and indigenous peoples.
Housed within a stunning lava stone building, the museum itself was a work of art. Its unique architecture added to the allure of the exhibits, creating an immersive and captivating experience. As I explored further, I discovered an abundance of knowledge spanning various disciplines, including history, art, and biology. The museum truly was a treasure trove of information, offering insights that deepened my understanding of the region.
One of the highlights was the central garden, a peaceful oasis nestled within the museum grounds. It showcased a captivating array of plants that are typical to the area, providing a glimpse into the natural beauty that surrounds Flagstaff.
7. The Arboretum
I had the incredible opportunity to explore the captivating living museum of Flagstaff’s arboretum. Spanning across 200 acres, this enchanting destination showcased a remarkable collection of over 2,500 high elevation plant species. From gardens to greenhouses and natural habitats, every corner of the arboretum was a feast for the senses.
Upon arrival, I had the option to join an educational tour or venture on my own, following the winding trails that led me deeper into the wonders of the arboretum. One of the highlights was the butterfly house, a favorite among visitors of all ages. It was a magical experience to witness the delicate creatures in their natural habitat and, if lucky, catch a glimpse of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.
Located just a few miles from the town, the arboretum was a haven of natural beauty and educational opportunities. Its open season ran from May to October, offering ample time for visitors to immerse themselves in its splendor. I was fortunate enough to visit during a special event, such as a plant sale, concert, or festival, which added an extra touch of excitement and vibrancy to my experience.
8. Walnut Canyon National Monument
Just east of Flagstaff, I discovered the captivating Walnut Canyon, named after the abundance of Arizona walnut trees and other walnut species that thrive in this area.
As I ventured into the canyon, I was greeted by a rich tapestry of nature. The diverse ecosystem supported approximately 400 plant species, each contributing to the vibrant beauty of the surroundings. Additionally, Walnut Canyon was home to a fascinating array of wildlife, further enriching the experience.
The national monument boasted several trails, each offering its own unique charm. However, the most intriguing trail was undoubtedly the loop trail that descended into the heart of the canyon. This trail provided an opportunity to explore 25 ancient limestone cliff dwellings left behind by the Sinagua people.
Exploring Walnut Canyon allowed me to immerse myself in the beauty of nature while uncovering the secrets of a civilization that once thrived there. The awe-inspiring limestone cliff dwellings offered a glimpse into the lives of the Sinagua people, leaving me with a profound appreciation for their history and the enchanting landscapes they once called home.
9. Lowell Observatory
The people of Flagstaff had a deep connection with Pluto, and the news of its reclassification as a dwarf planet was met with a tinge of sadness. However, the observatory continues to serve as an exceptional place for individuals to expand their knowledge of the universe, delve into the wonders of discovery, and peer into the vast expanse of space.
What fascinated me even more was the city’s commitment to reducing light pollution. In 1989, Flagstaff implemented a code aimed at minimizing artificial light to enhance the efficiency of telescopes. This thoughtful approach not only benefits the observatory but also creates ideal conditions for stargazing throughout the city. It meant that anywhere I found a spot in Flagstaff, I could indulge in awe-inspiring moments while admiring the beauty of the night sky.
The experience of visiting the Lowell Observatory was wonderful. It gave me the chance to see how committed scientists and researchers are to solving the universe’s secrets and to appreciate how hard the city works to keep the sky clear so we can see the stars. It served as a sobering reminder of our smallness in the great cosmos and a call to discover the wonders of the universe that are all around us.
10. Meteor Crater
Imagine standing at a place where the Earth’s ancient past collides with the cosmic wonders of the universe. Meteor Crater in Arizona is a testament to this extraordinary encounter that occurred approximately 50,000 years ago, when woolly mammoths freely roamed the Colorado Plateau.
As I gazed upon the mile-wide crater, I couldn’t help but be captivated by its sheer magnitude and the immense power that created it. The impact of a meteor left this awe-inspiring mark on the landscape, forever etching a reminder of our planet’s dynamic history.
Furthermore, I had the opportunity to explore the rock shop on-site, which held a treasure trove of intriguing minerals, crystals, quartz, and petrified wood. It was a chance to bring a piece of this remarkable place home with me and preserve the memory of my visit.
Meteor Crater was an incredible journey through time, where I witnessed the aftermath of a celestial collision and delved into the captivating world of meteorites. It was a place that not only allowed me to marvel at the forces that shape our planet but also offered a rich educational experience that left me in awe of the vastness and intricacies of the universe.
11. Riordan Mansion State Historic Park
Step back in time to the early 1900s when two magnificent mansions were built in Flagstaff. These historic gems, constructed in the distinguished American Arts and Crafts style, were commissioned for the Riordan brothers and their wives, who were at the helm of the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company.
The Riordan family left an indelible mark on the city, their contributions ranging from the establishment of the first electricity company to active involvement in banking and politics. Their influence resonated throughout the community, shaping the development and progress of Flagstaff.
Today, a tour of the Riordan Mansion offers a captivating glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the era. Walking through the meticulously preserved rooms, I found myself transported back in time. The mansion showcased the family’s original furniture and personal belongings, allowing me to immerse myself in their refined world. Additionally, the tour provided valuable insights into the family’s history as well as the broader historical context of the area.
A key point of interest is the restoration of the unique photographic windows situated in the conjoining room of the mansions. The original negatives were tracked down in order to reproduce the effect on the windows in their full, original beauty.
12. The Geekery
While Flagstaff boasts a plethora of outdoor and adventure opportunities, the weather can be a bit unpredictable compared to the sun-drenched skies of the rest of Arizona, where you can rely on 300 days of sunshine a year.
For those occasional rainy days, it’s always wise to have some indoor options in mind. That’s when the Geekery gaming experience comes to the rescue.
Beyond its inviting atmosphere and welcoming community, the store boasts an impressive selection of games available for purchase. Exploring their shelves, I discovered a wide variety of options that catered to different interests and preferences. It was a delight to browse through their collection and stumble upon exciting and new games to try.
The Geekery isn’t just a place for teenagers to hang out; it’s a hub of fun and entertainment for all ages. It provided a haven where I could escape the rain and embark on thrilling gaming adventures. Whether I was a seasoned gamer or a curious newcomer, the Geekery offered a welcoming space where I could connect with fellow gamers and explore the ever-evolving world of gaming.
13. Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course
Whether you’re looking to challenge yourself physically or simply seeking an exhilarating adventure, FLG X offers a wide range of fun and thrilling obstacles designed to test your limits. As you navigate the course, you’ll be surrounded by the breathtaking natural beauty of the park, adding an extra element of awe to your experience.
Prepare for an unforgettable day filled with laughter, adrenaline, and unforgettable moments. FLG X is ready to welcome you to their high ropes and zip line course, offering an adventure that will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and a rush of excitement. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to create lasting memories in the heart of Arizona’s lush wilderness.
This activity is highly recommended to thrill-seekers like me looking for a fun way to boost and pump their adrenaline.
14. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
The moment I set foot in the captivating landscape surrounding Sunset Crater, I knew I was in for a remarkable adventure. This unique terrain offers a variety of intriguing trails that wind through the aftermath of three distinct lava flows, each leaving its mark on the volcanic landscape.
Sunset Crater derives its name from the stunning pinkish-red hues that adorn its rim, an awe-inspiring reminder of the volcanic eruption that occurred here 900 years ago. As I stood at the edge of the crater, I couldn’t help but be humbled by the immense power that shaped this land so many centuries ago.
For those seeking a different vantage point, there are also indoor viewpoints that allow you to witness the transformative effects of the eruption from a sheltered space. It’s a fantastic way to observe the volcanic remnants and gain a deeper appreciation for the forces that have shaped this remarkable landscape.
15. Lockett Meadow
My journey begins at the meadow, where I am greeted by a vibrant display of flowers in the spring and a lush greenery adorned with fresh leaves in the summer. However, it is in the fall that the meadow truly comes alive, transforming into a mesmerizing tapestry of vivacious yellows as the leaves of the ash trees change color. The sight is nothing short of awe-inspiring, leaving me in a state of pure wonder.
As I embark on the Inner Basin Trail from Lockett Meadow, I am treated to a symphony of stunning views that accompany me throughout the hike. Towering above the surrounding landscape are the majestic San Francisco Peaks, serving as a majestic backdrop to the stands of graceful aspens. These towering trees create occasional clearings, which not only offer a sense of tranquility but also attract a variety of wildlife. It’s a wildlife enthusiast’s dream come true, with the possibility of encountering some of nature’s most captivating creatures along the way.
Lockett Meadow in the Coconino National Forest has become a place where I can escape the demands of everyday life and find solace in nature’s embrace. Its ever-changing beauty, from the colorful blooms of spring to the golden hues of autumn, provides an endless source of inspiration and awe. I invite you to join me on this remarkable journey and discover the magic of Lockett Meadow for yourself.