12 Things To Do in Flagstaff, Arizona

Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in the heart of northern Arizona’s pine forest region, Flagstaff is a popular year-round destination that offers a variety of outdoor recreation, rich history, and cultural attractions. Surrounded by the lush Coconino National Forest and looming San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff provides easy access to natural sites like the majestic Grand Canyon, meteor crater, Sunset Crater Volcano, Walnut Canyon National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument.

From skiing fresh powder at Arizona Snowbowl in the winter to hiking and biking hundreds of miles of trails during the warmer months, Flagstaff is a paradise for adventure seekers.

The city’s pedestrian-friendly historic downtown district features boutique shops, restaurants, local breweries, and a lively arts and entertainment scene. Visitors can explore artifacts and dwellings left behind by native tribes at area ruins sites or learn about planetary science at Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered in 1930.

With its four distinct seasons and optimal elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, Flagstaff offers refreshing relief from the desert heat. Read on to discover the top things to see and do in and around northern Arizona’s mountain town.

Hit the Slopes at Arizona Snowbowl

During the winter, experienced skiers, snowboarders and snow-play enthusiasts flock to Arizona Snowbowl which boasts the largest night skiing operation in the Southwest. This popular ski resort sits atop the majestic 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona. Snowbowl offers 32 trails covering 777 acres of skiable terrain serviced by eight lifts.

The Agassiz lift transports advanced skiers to the resort’s steepest runs while the Grand Canyon Express lift provides access to long intermediate cruising runs. Families appreciate the ski school and kids programs offered at Snowbowl. After an exhilarating day hitting the slopes, skiers can continue the fun by sledding, snow tubing or riding the scenic skyride at Snowbowl.

Tour Historic Downtown Flagstaff

Flagstaff’s pedestrian-friendly downtown district features vintage neon signs, historic buildings and a vibrant mix of restaurants, shops, galleries and nightlife. Start your walking tour along Route 66 to spot iconic remnants of Flagstaff’s railroad and Route 66 heydays. Must-see stops include the 1926 Santa Fe Railway Depot and the Weatherford Hotel which housed the first Zane Grey novel.

Wander through Heritage Square to explore historic buildings and monuments spanning Flagstaff’s early settlement days to Route 66. Family-owned fraternal twin establishments, The Museum Club and Eagle Club, both opened in the 1930s and remain popular watering holes today.

For unique gifts and works by local artisans, browse the many eclectic shops along both San Francisco and Beaver streets. Enjoy people watching at a sidewalk café or taste some of Arizona’s finest craft beers at a local brewpub.

Explore Walnut Canyon National Monument

Only a 20-minute drive east of downtown Flagstaff lies the Walnut Canyon National Monument. Here you can embark on a scenic Island Trail hike along the steep limestone walls to explore the cliff dwellings where the Sinagua people lived nearly 1,000 years ago.

This strenuous 185-step trail passes 25 rooms built under the natural overhangs and loops around a small butte, providing visitors with an intimate look into the ancient people’s lives. A less strenuous Rim Trail also provides spectacular views of the cliff dwelling ruins and canyon below.

Picnic areas dot the canyon rim where you might spot turkey vultures and other wildlife. The visitor center features Sinagua artifacts and displays detailing the geology and natural history of the area.

Stargaze at Lowell Observatory

Founded in 1894 by astronomer Percival Lowell, this renowned astronomical observatory sits atop a hill just west of downtown. Lowell Observatory offers daily tours, exhibits and evening stargazing through its research telescopes – weather permitting. This National Historic Landmark features the 24-inch Clark Refractor telescope used in the discovery of Pluto.

Guests can also view Venus, Mars, distant galaxies and other celestial objects using the observatory’s vintage apparatus and cutting-edge telescopes. Don’t miss the interactive 7-screen Tactile Dome Theater providing glimpses into early universe research. Unique astronomy gifts and educational activities make this iconic site a must-visit on any trip to Flagstaff.

Hike and Bike Hundreds of Miles of Trails

Surrounded by the vast 1.8 million-acre Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff serves as a prime launching point for enjoying some of the country’s most spectacular hiking and biking trails. Tackle sections of the famous 800-mile Arizona Trail, climb the towering San Francisco Peaks, explore nature among the 200-foot ponderosa pines of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness or discover ancient dwellings at Wupatki National Monument.

Mountain bikers shouldn’t miss thrilling downhill rides at Arizona Snowbowl and technical single-track trails in the Fort Valley and Schultz Creek trail systems just north of Flagstaff. Hundreds of miles of mapped bike routes like the 66-mile Flagstaff Loop attract riders of varying abilities to take in the area’s pine forests, meadows and sweeping vistas. Local outfitters provide bike rentals, tours and shuttles for enjoying Flagstaff’s endless multi-use paths to the fullest.

Go Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing

Come wintertime, experienced cross-country skiers and snowshoers take to an extensive network of groomed trails outside Flagstaff offering stunning high elevation vistas and peaceful forest settings for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. For convenient Nordic skiing right in town, the Fort Tuthill County Park trails off I-17 provide family-friendly loops and classic track-setting along their 6.5 miles of trails.

The expansive Arizona Nordic Village trail system 15 miles north of town near Snowbowl features over 30 km of scenic trails ranging from green to double black diamond. Snowshoers delight in tranquil winter hiking and picnicking with panoramic views along the Fort Valley trails off Highway 180 where equipment rentals and warming huts make for easy winter forays. Novice and expert skiers will find ideal gliding among scenic meadows and rolling hills across Flagstaff’s high-altitude Nordic playground all winter long.

Visit Historic Route 66 Sites

As one of America’s original east-west highways connecting Chicago to Los Angeles, Historic Route 66 passes straight through the heart of Flagstaff. From its designation in 1926 through the late 1970s, Flagstaff remained a popular stopover for weary Route 66 travelers and pioneer tourists exploring the Grand Canyon and the Southwest.

Today visitors can recapture the nostalgia of Route 66’s glory days by driving remaining segments running parallel to Railroad Springs. Vintage neon-lit motels and diners line Route 66 like the eclectic Galaxy Diner known for its extraterrestrial décor and generous portions. Snap selfies in front of the iconic Giant Kokopelli statue near city hall or beside the 50-foot snowcapped mountains mural downtown. Route 66 buffs should tour the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park to glimpse early 20th century opulence or visit nearby Meteor Crater where NASA astronauts once trained.

Tour Wupatki National Monument

Just north of Flagstaff lies the unique geologic landscape surrounding Wupatki National Monument. Home to Native American tribes like the Sinagua and Ancestral Puebloans over 800 years ago, visitors can today explore a variety of archaeological sites left behind such as 100-room Wupatki Pueblo, the blowhole, the citadel and Lomaki Ruin.

A short yet steep hike into 55-foot-deep Box Canyon rewards visitors with petroglyphs and panoramic views. Trek the scenic 36-mile loop road by car, bike or snowshoe to discover ancient hamlets, artifacts and petroglyphs seemingly hidden under sand and desert varnish. Displays inside the visitor center showcase intriguing pottery, tools and artifacts left behind long ago. Rangers lead guided tours seasonally shedding light on the history and geology behind this Native American cultural site near Flagstaff.

Tour Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater sits just 35 miles east of Flagstaff off I-40 exit 233. Fifty thousand years ago, a fiery meteor crashed here forming a 550 foot deep, mile-wide crater that remains nearly perfectly preserved. Today Meteor Crater serves as a private research facility with guided rim tours, interactive displays, exhibits and offerings for students and geo-science lovers.

Visitors can trek down the observation trail into the crater or view this impressive hole in the earth from the elevated lookout points along the rim trail. Inside the interactive Discovery Center, 3D computer animation and IMAX movie visuals recreate the meteor’s impact and examine ongoing studies occurring at Meteor Crater including Apollo astronaut training during the 1960s. This one-of-a-kind crater is a must-visit just off Interstate 40.

Tour Lava Tubes at Sunset Crater Volcano

Rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscapes, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument formed when the nearby Peaks erupted, spewing fiery lava across northern Arizona over 800 years ago. Today, a one-mile self-guided loop trail winds through the Bonito Lava Flow trailing past lava bombs, volcanic craters and multi-hued cinder hills providing peeks into the geologic and human history surrounding this dramatic landmark.

More adventurous travelers can spelunk into the chilly subterranean ice caves of Lava Tubes including 800-foot Caves Trail. Sunset Crater’s visitor center screens geology videos detailing volcano ecology and displays ancient artifacts left behind by native tribes once calling this region home. The scenic loop drive accessing Sunset Crater also provides pullouts for viewing the San Francisco Peaks and the painstakingly restored 900-year-old Wupatki pueblo.

Tour Local Wineries and Breweries

In recent years, Flagstaff has emerged as northern Arizona’s craft beverage hub featuring award-winning suds and vintages. Beer aficionados can sample IPAs, porters and unique experimental small batches crafted on-site at breweries like Historic and Mother Road – named for Iconic Route 66. Oenophiles should explore Flagstaff’s wine trail highlighting elevated vineyards producing varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay nurtured by the area’s high desert climes.

Tastings and tours at local wineries like Page Springs and Saeculum Cellars provide glimpses into the wine-making and bottling process used for their Arizona fine wines. Don’t miss seasonal events like the annual Flagstaff Craft Beerfest and Harvest Fest celebrating Flagstaff’s frothy brews and flavorful wines.

Attend Local Festivals and Events

All year long, Flagstaff plays host to a fun lineup of cultural events, foodie celebrations and outdoor festivities. Annual events include the Route 66 Festival, Pinecone Drop New Year’s Celebration, Great Flagstaff Chili Cook-Off and Gem and Mineral Shows displaying Arizona’s finest natural specimens. During summer months, families flock to youth-oriented celebrations like Fourth of July festivals and bashes spotlighting superheroes and science fondly known as Flagstaff’s Geek Out.

Come October, Flagstaff pays homage to its railroad roots with Railroaders Festival featuring train heists, crafts and historical reenactments. The lively Flagstaff summer series brings free movies and concerts downtown while the NHRA Arizona Nationals offer thrilling drag racing action. Visitors planning their Flagstaff travels around one of the city’s premier events won’t want to miss the spirited fun and entertainment these iconic gatherings bring all year long.

Conclusion

Boasting striking natural scenery, four distinct seasons, premier ski slopes and abundance of multi-use trails for hiking and biking, Flagstaff offers year-round outdoor recreation set against an action-packed culinary and cultural scene. This northern Arizona destination provides visitors ready access to top state attractions like the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon along with ancient Native American sites, volcanic craters, lava tubes and a world famous meteor crater.

Flagstaff’s pedestrian-friendly historic downtown overflows with locally owned boutiques, eateries and brewpubs beckoning visitors to kick back after adrenaline-pumping adventures exploring the region’s pine forests, mountains and trail networks. With so many sights to experience and activities to relish, Flagstaff makes an ideal destination for singles, couples and families seeking memorable escapes.

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