I’ve passed through Flagstaff, Arizona, several times on the way to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, just 80 miles northwest via U.S. Highway 180. But on a recent trip to Flagstaff, I found out it’s a big mistake to drive through this vibrant, Route 66 town and not stop for a long weekend no matter the season.
With winter just around the corner, let’s explore this season first:
I was hosted by the Flagstaff tourism board, Discover Flagstaff, but all opinions are my own.
Best Things To Do During Winter In Flagstaff
1. Have A North Pole Experience
The Little America Hotel hosts the North Pole Experience beginning in mid-November. This grandkid-friendly event starts with a trolley ride to Santa’s workshop for some hands-on toy making, a visit to Mrs. Claus’ bakery to sample some treats, and a visit with Santa to end the event.
The Little America Hotel is the starting point for the trolley. The updated hotel, spacious rooms, and tasty food served onsite in the Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar mean everyone in the family will enjoy their weekend.
Pro Tip: The North Pole Experience is wheelchair accessible and accommodates those with impaired hearing.
2. Watch A Pinecone Drop
Times Square drops a ball on New Year’s Eve. Flagstaff drops a massive pinecone from the historic Weatherford Hotel, a tradition started in 1999 to celebrate the hotel’s 100th birthday.
Check out the Great Pinecone Drop’s website for details.
3. Play In The Snow
Skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, with an elevation of 11,500 feet, happens not only in winter but in the spring — from November to April. The resort has high-speed lifts and a vertical drop of 2,300 feet.
Want to learn how to ski or brush up on your skills? Arizona Snowbowl’s terrain-based learning is the way to go. You’ll start out on level or small rolling hills, work on essential skills, and graduate to the slopes when you’re comfortable.
For cross-country skiers or snowshoers, head to Arizona Nordic Village. They offer lessons and 28 miles of groomed trails through the forest. Some trails are dog friendly.
Pro Tip: Enjoy a cozy and delicious meal at Josephine’s. It feels like you’re a guest at a friend’s house and he just happens to be a world-class chef.
Best Things To Do During Spring In Flagstaff
4. Learn About Indigenous Peoples
The Museum of Northern Arizona focuses on all aspects of Northern Arizona’s history and culture. Beginning with an overview of the dinosaurs and continuing with the ancient people who settled here, the museum showcases lifestyles through fossils and artifacts.
The museum continues with fine examples of Native American art and handicrafts. You’ll see extraordinary beadwork and handwoven goods, fine art, and contemporary pieces, including a robot called Hopi R2.
Pro Tip: The museum is wheelchair accessible. Plan to spend 1–2 hours here.
5. Hike Wupatki National Monument
Armed with a good picture of ancient life in Northern Arizona, you can head to Wupatki National Monument and see 900-year-old pueblos. The largest, originally a 104-room pueblo, is located near the visitor center and reached via an easy, half-mile loop. The trail is accessible up to the overlook of the pueblo, the ball court, and painted desert.
The 18-to-20-mile ranger-led Crack in Rock hike takes you past dozens of ancient people’s dwellings that are definitely off the beaten path. This is a pack-in, pack-out 2-day hike that’s offered on weekends in April and October when the temperature is perfect for hiking. The hike is strenuous.
6. View The Milky Way
Milky Way season runs from February to October. Flagstaff has the honor of being the first International Dark Sky City, a designation it received in 2001. Lowell Observatory perched atop Mars Hill in Flagstaff is an ideal place to view the night sky. One of the observatory’s claims to fame is Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto here in 1930.
You can peer at the heavens from one of the observatory’s many telescopes. Staff educators will focus on planets or the moon for you. Yes, you can clearly see Saturn’s rings! You’ll also see the Milky Way with the naked eye on nights with a new moon.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Flagstaff
7. Enjoy Flagstaff’s Public Art
For a mural tour, pick up a walking tour map at the visitor center in the downtown’s historic train depot on Route 66. In addition to maps for walking tours and attraction brochures, the friendly staff will help you make the most of your time in Flagstaff. While you’re at the visitor center, watch the elevated model train chug around the depot’s lobby. It’s a reminder of the train’s history of bringing early visitors to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
Public murals and sculptures decorate much of downtown Flagstaff. They run the gamut from an astronaut gazing at the moon on Dark Sky Brewing’s facade to the epic mural that begins with birds in flight, and ends with Rodin’s thinker contemplating life painted on the Orpheum Theater.
Pro Tip: First Friday ArtWalks happen year-round downtown. Galleries host local artists and their finished pieces. You’ll be able to watch the artists at work on the first Friday of each month.
8. Enjoy An Evening Of Entertainment
Restaurants, coffee shops, locally owned stores, and more public art surround Heritage Square. This local gathering spot hosts summertime outdoor movies that are family-friendly. Nearby, the historic Orpheum Theater serves as a music venue and movie theater.
Pro Tip: For a look at upcoming events, check out downtown Flagstaff’s Calendar of Events.
9. Take A Segway Tour
I imagined this would be a scary experience. Not so! It is surprisingly easy to do and a whole lot of fun. After a lesson on starting, maneuvering, and the all-important stopping, our group practiced first in a parking lot and then hit the streets. Blake Nabours, the owner of AZ Segway and Pedal Tours, led a tour of Flagstaff as we cruised past landmarks, visited the Northern Arizona University campus, and toured the revitalized downtown.
AZ Segway and Pedal Tours also offers ghost tours on Segways, by bicycle, or on foot.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a convenient place to stay downtown, head to the Residence Inn by Marriott. This pet-friendly hotel has super-clean, spacious suites. Sure, you can fix your own meals here, but walk over to the Tinderbox Kitchen for contemporary, fresh-made, mouth-watering meals.
Best Things To Do During Fall In Flagstaff
10. Take A Fall Foliage Tour
Aspen trees light up the landscape each autumn with shimmering gold leaves. Several scenic drives or hikes around Flagstaff will get you in the mood for Fall. For a birds-eye view of fall foliage, you can take the Arizona Snowbowl gondola to the top of the mountain and see islands of gold among the evergreen trees.
The Arboretum at Flagstaff is also ideal for leaf peeping. It’s open from May 1–October 31. Docents lead tours daily.
Pro Tip: With leaves changing earlier at higher altitudes, Discover Flagstaff has a handy LEAFometer on their website with additional suggestions of the best autumn leaf drives and hikes.
11. See Fall Colors At Walnut Creek Canyon
Walnut Creek Canyon National Monument is the second national monument in the area. This one is home to ancient cliffside dwellings scattered among pine and deciduous trees. Here you’ll not only see how people lived years ago, but you’ll also see a spectacular fall color show.
You can view both the dwellings and changing leaves from a scenic overlook. If you’re up for a hike with several hundred steps, tackle the strenuous, 1-mile Island Trail for an up close view of 25 of the park’s dwellings over 700 years old.
The easier, 0.7-mile Rim Trail with views of the dwellings from above is paved up to the first overlook.
12. Follow In Astronaut Footsteps
Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he trekked on lava fields at Sunset Crater National Monument, Flagstaff’s third National Monument. You, too, can hit the trails that traverse lava flows. The A’a trail is a fairly easy 0.2-mile loop that gets you on the actual lava spewed from the volcano 900 years ago.
The Bonito Vista Trail is a wheelchair-accessible, paved 0.3-mile trail that offers views of the Bonito Lava Flow and other volcanoes in the area. For more information on trails, visit the park’s website.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.
13. Have A Brew
A growing number of microbreweries call Flagstaff home so you won’t run out of craft beer to sample while you’re in town. If you’re visiting in early October, Flagstaff Oktoberfest takes over Wheeler Park downtown. With plenty of beer, brats, other tasty food, arts and crafts vendors, and live entertainers, the event is a great way to sample Flagstaff’s microbrews.
Pro Tip: Flagstaff’s elevation is 7,000 feet. For anyone living at lower elevations, especially at sea level, you’re likely to notice some shortness of breath, fatigue, increased heart rate, and headaches. Take it easy, don’t push yourself too hard, and seek medical care as needed. Drink plenty of water and drink alcohol in moderation. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen. You’re that much closer to the sun!
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