Two travel destinations could hardly be more different than Flagstaff and Page, Arizona.
Flagstaff, at an elevation of 7,000 feet and surrounded by peaks reaching nearly 13,000 feet, is Arizona’s sky island — a breath of fresh mountain air in a state full of scorching deserts and rocky ridges.
Page, on the other hand, lies amidst the starkly beautiful Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and regularly boasts summer highs approaching the 100-degree mark. In contrast to Flagstaff’s pine forests, you’ll find Lake Powell — a sapphire-blue man-made lake beloved for houseboating and red-rock coves — as well as world-famous slot canyons.
What’s so wonderful about these polar opposites is that they are only about 130 miles apart. In a road trip of just over 2 hours, you can drive from Arizona’s mountain gem to its lake jewel.
Of course, what’s in between is pretty grand as well. As you pass through the western portion of the Navajo Nation, you’ll transition from the eerie moonscape terrain near Tuba City to the vast canyons of the Colorado River. And two detour options will get you to both rims of Arizona’s natural wonder of the world, the Grand Canyon National Park.
Spring, summer, and fall are all great times for a road trip from Flagstaff to Page. The only time I wouldn’t recommend the trip is in the dead of winter, when driving conditions can be extreme in Flagstaff, and Page tends to be chilly as well. For me, nothing beats an autumn visit to Flagstaff, when the air is crisp and the aspen leaves are turning gold.
The pine scent alone is enough to alert you that you’re in a special place. Surrounded by nearly a million acres of the massive Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff is a true mountain town, with an accompanying outdoorsy vibe. Everywhere you look, it seems, there are brown signs pointing toward trails that lead into the thick forests of pines, aspens, and junipers.
For adventurous hikers determined to bag Arizona’s high point, Flagstaff is the place to do it. Humphreys Peak is the highest point in the state, at 12,633 feet, and hiking it is a sought-after achievement. Starting near the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort, the trail climbs 5.5 miles and 3,350 feet of elevation gain. The route is steep and rocky, and many hikers begin to feel the effects of the altitude as they approach the windy summit above the tree line. But the sweeping views are ample payoff for the tough climb.
A more gradual option is to approach the summit from the Weatherford Trail, an arguably more scenic route that climbs up the other side of the mountain. Both trails are rated as strenuous and will take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to complete.
Many easy and moderate hikes are available in Flagstaff as well, such as the scenic Campbell Mesa Trail System, which includes five different loop choices of varying lengths.
In the cold-weather months, Flagstaff becomes a winter sports hub, with the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort attracting thousands of skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers. Known as Arizona’s Winter Wonderland, Flagstaff more than lives up to the name with its nearly 100 inches of snow a year.
While you’re in Flagstaff, be sure to check out the historic downtown with its many breweries and cafes, the excellent Museum of Northern Arizona, and the venerable Lowell Observatory, the Home of Pluto. Refresh with a local brew at Lumberyard Brewing Company, a wood-fired pizza at Pizzicletta, or dinner with a song at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue.
Plan to spend at least a day or two in Flagstaff before heading north.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Just north of Flagstaff along Highway 89, you’ll find the first notable stop — Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a distinctive cinder cone volcano that rises to more than 8,000 feet. The monument site includes a network of trails for exploring the base of the crater and the forest around it.
To experience two national monuments in one detour, stay on the paved scenic loop road through the high desert terrain to get to Wupatki National Monument, where the ruins of ancient pueblos dot the prairie. The 36-mile route takes in both monuments.
Plan to spend 2 or 3 hours exploring.Editor’s Note: The National Park Service announced on August 18, 2022 that the Sunset Crater Volcano is partially open with limited services following the Tunnel Wildfire destruction. The Lava Flow and A’a trails are open. The Visitor Center, Lenox Crater and Lava’s Edge Trails, as well as the Cinder Hills Overlook remain closed. For the most up-to-date information, please visit NPS.gov.
Cameron And Grand Canyon South Rim
About an hour north of Flagstaff, you will come upon the crossroads outpost of Cameron, a small village along the Little Colorado River that features a trading post, gas station, lodge, and gallery. It’s worth a short stop to peruse the historic trading post’s Native American art and quaint sandstone buildings.
Cameron is also located at the junction of the scenic route that will take you to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. With its rugged terrain and numerous viewpoints, the hour-long drive offers a wonderful introduction to the Grand Canyon. Plan to spend a night or two at the South Rim to take in the splendor of the canyon.
Back on Highway 89, continue north and east for another half hour or so to the small windswept town of Tuba City, located just off Highway 160. There, you’ll find a cluster of gas stations and fast-food restaurants, as well as a charming trading post featuring authentic Native American sand paintings, silver jewelry, and woven blankets. Or for an even more authentic shopping experience, check out the outdoor Tuba City Flea Market that brings together local merchants and food vendors on Friday mornings.
About a half hour southeast of Tuba City, the rugged and remote Coalmine Canyon offers truly unique terrain.
Plan to spend 3 or 4 hours exploring Tuba City.
Marble Canyon And Grand Canyon North Rim
Another spectacular detour is in store for you about 105 miles north of Flagstaff at the intersection of Highways 89 and 89A. Turn west onto Highway 89A toward Marble Canyon for long stretches of lonely highway winding through vermilion cliffs and stunning river views. Be sure to stop at the 1920s-era Navajo Bridge and stroll across the walkway for unparalleled views of the blue-green waters of the Colorado River.
This is also your chance to visit the remote North Rim of the Grand Canyon, located about 100 miles southwest of the Highway 89 turnoff. It’s a long detour, but one that is well worth the time for its unique and less-traveled perspective of the canyon. For a treat, spend the night at one of the rustic log cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge and take in the sunset at the lodge’s expansive patio before doubling back to Highway 89.
Pro Tip: The North Rim is closed from about October 15 to May 15 because of winter weather conditions.
It’s one of the most recognizable sights in Arizona — the elbow-like curve of the Colorado River as it makes a 270-degree turn around a massive rock formation. The Horseshoe Bend site, located just south of Page, has become so popular that a large parking lot was added, protective guardrails were installed, and a fee was imposed.
A 0.75-mile walk will get you to the overlook, where you’ll see the natural phenomenon spread out below. It’s an easy 15-minute hike over an even surface, but it can get hot and windy, so remember to carry water with you.
For more information on visiting this natural wonder, see this page.
Lake Powell is the nation’s second-largest man-made lake (formed by the damming of the Colorado River) and is a playground for water sports enthusiasts of all kinds. Among the most popular boating options is the houseboat — long the mode of accommodation for the families and groups of friends who gather at the lake. Numerous businesses offer houseboat rentals along the lake, including the Antelope Point Marina.
In recent years, Page has gained even more tourist attention for its proximity to the gorgeous sandstone slot canyons located east of town. The Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons — the product of millions of years of erosion — are known for their colorful winding walls and luminous light. Photographers flock to the canyon tours to capture the light beams that shine into the canyons’ openings. The canyons are located on the Navajo Nation, and tours are required for exploring.
Another notable rock formation in the area is the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a 275-foot-wide natural rock bridge that is accessible via private, rental, or tour boat, and by a hike of at least a mile, depending on water levels.
Despite its relatively small population of about 7,500, Page has a broad range of dining and accommodation choices. For casual outdoor dining or fried-chicken picnic lunches, check out the BirdHouse. Or for a rustic-chic spot for bar food and craft beers, head to the State 48 Tavern.
Page offers a number of chain hotels, and camping is available at the Lake Powell Wahweap Marina RV Park & Campground.
Plan to spend two or three days exploring Page, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon.
Pro Tip: Although most of Arizona does not use daylight saving time, one exception is the Navajo Nation. Along the way from Flagstaff to Page, expect to transition into and out of the daylight saving time zone as you enter and leave the Navajo Nation. Neither Flagstaff nor Page will be on daylight saving time in the summer, but Tuba City and Cameron will be. Don’t be surprised if the clocks on your cell phone and car switch back and forth as you drive.