It’s no surprise that tourism is one of Flagstaff’s main economic engines. The area is filled with gorgeous mountains, clean air and spectacular scenery. It is conveniently located near many major Northern Arizona attractions, from the Grand Canyon to Sedona to the Painted Desert, and also has museums, galleries and numerous historic sites, making the city a tourism destination for thousands annually.
Drive into town and you are quickly on Historic Route 66–the “Mother Road” made famous by the 1960s television series featuring Nelson Riddle’s iconic song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.”
The city’s Historic Downtown is Flagstaff’s biggest tourism draws. A bustling area filled with fine shopping, dining and exploring is definitely worth a visit. Come to the Flagstaff Chamber for our detailed map of the many businesses jammed into a four-square block area and its adjacent neighborhood, Southside. For a trip back in time, you can visit the Hotel Weatherford and the Hotel Monte Vista, both beautifully restored historic hostelries. At the center of it all is Heritage Square, which during the summer is not only a great place for socializing, but an outdoor movie theater and a concert venue. You can check out the schedule of events at www.heritagesquaretrust.org.
Known as an astronomy and geology hotbed, Flagstaff is home to several stellar attractions including Lowell Observatory, one mile directly west of downtown Flagstaff on Mars Hill. Founded in 1894, making it one of the oldest observatories in the U.S., Lowell is where the first evidence of the expanding Universe was gathered in 1912, where Pluto was discovered in 1930, and where the Moon was mapped in the 1960s for the Apollo program. Lowell is also home to the Discovery Channel Telescope, completed in 2012, the fifth largest in the continental U.S. Daytime tours, telescope viewing, special exhibits, and multimedia shows are available. For a program schedule, call (928) 233-3211.
The Arboretum at Flagstaff is a research station and environmental education center with gardens for the public to enjoy. For more than 30 years, The Arboretum has been educating visitors and local residents about the native plants and natural history of the region. The 200-acre property features 2,500 species of high-elevation plants and flowers and over 100 species of birds in the area. There are guided nature walks through the gardens, youth programming, seasonal wildlife presentations with rehabilitated native animals, annual events and educational programs. The Arboretum is open May through October and is located 4 miles south of historic Route 66 in West Flagstaff. For more information, call (928) 774-1442 or visit www.thearb.org.
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park includes two almost identical homes built in 1904 by Michael and Timothy Riordan. The homes are connected by a rendezvous room and altogether contain 13,000 square feet of floor space and sit atop Kinlichi Knoll in Flagstaff. The Riordan brothers were members of a prominent Arizona family who played a significant role in the development of Flagstaff and northern Arizona and were involved in lumber, railroads, cattle, banking, and politics. The architect for the Riordan homes was Charles Whittlesey, who was also the architect for the historic El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon. azstateparks.com/parks/rima/index.html.
The influence of the southwest and Native American cultures is easily seen in our arts and architecture. Members of the nearby Navajo and Hopi tribes have been trading in Flagstaff for generations, and some of our local galleries have evolved from trading posts of previous centuries.
Most of our southwest history and culture can be found at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA), originally founded in 1928 as the repository for Native American artifacts and natural history specimens from the Colorado Plateau. The museum has seven exhibit galleries, interactive activities, storytellers and cultural interpreters.
The MNA has its own nature trail, a pristine habitat with high desert flora and fauna, and also sponsors “Venture Tours” with naturalists, scientists, authors and artists in the Grand Canyon and Four Corner regions. Venture trips can range from researching dinosaur finds with paleontologists to hiking the Grand Canyon rim with geologists. It also has a Discovery Program that provides weekly summer camps for kids, overnight adventures and other events with professional educators to introduce the arts, sciences, culture and history to students of all ages.
Every year the museum holds its “Heritage Program,” which celebrates the arts and cultures of Northern Arizona and the Four Corners region. Four events are held that provide an opportunity to meet Native and regional artists and cultural interpreters. The Annual Zuni, Hopi and Navajo Festivals of Arts and Culture take place throughout the spring and summer, while the Celebraciones de la Gente is usually during the fall. musnaz.org or call (928) 774-5213.
Flagstaff is the closest border town to America’s largest Native American reservation – Navajoland – and both Navajo and Hopi lands are a close drive from the city. Many tribes once inhabited areas around Flagstaff. Walnut Canyon National Monument, 7.5 miles east of Flagstaff off of Interstate 40 exit 204, is the ancient home of the Sinagua Indians. Gain an understanding of the people and their lifestyle by walking through the informative visitor center. You can walk along the rim of the canyon or descend the 240 steps to the ruins of ancient cliff dwellings built into the mountainside. The Canyon is open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. November to April and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. May to October. Please call (928) 526-3367 for more information.
Just east of Flagstaff on Highway 89 is the Elden Pueblo. This Pueblo is thought to be 800 years old and is still being excavated. Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of artifacts providing a glimpse into the lifestyle of the people who once lived there. Guided tours of the site are available. For more information, contact the program manager at (928) 527-3452 or the Peaks Ranger Station at (928) 526-0866.
Continue 15 miles northeast of Flagstaff on Highway 89 and you will come to Sunset Crater/Wupatki National Monuments. Sunset Crater is part of the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field. It is the youngest, least-eroded and one of the longest-lived cinder cone volcanoes. Public hiking to the top of the crater is closed due to deterioration, but a variety of paths are still open for visitors to walk along the volcanic rock or take a ranger-guided tour. Follow the 36-mile loop through changing scenery into the Wupatki ruins. These ruins have been well preserved and cared for, offering visitors the opportunity to explore them. The areas around the ruins are still being studied in efforts to discover other historical sites and information. Sunset Crater and the Wupatki National Monument are open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. in the winter and 8 a.m.–5 p.m. in the summer. You can find out more about Flagstaff area national monuments by calling (928) 526-1157.
The result of a violent meteorite impact some 59,000 years ago, Meteor Crater, located 40 miles east of Flagstaff on I-40, reaches a depth of 550 feet. It is considered the world’s best preserved meteor crater site. In addition to tours around the crater, and an interactive discovery center, the facility features an Astronaut Hall of Fame. For more information call (928) 289-2362.
The Lava River Cave is a 2/3 of a mile-long lava tube formed roughly 700,000 years ago by molten rock that erupted from a volcanic vent in nearby Hart Prairie. Ample evidence of how the tube was born is written in the rocks of which it is formed. Small wave-like undulations in the floor are the remains of ripples frozen in the last trickle of molten rock that flowed from the cave. Stone icicles hanging from the ceiling show where a final blast of volcanic heat caused the rock to partially re-liquefy and drip. Dress appropriately when you come to visit, with warm clothes and sturdy shoes. The cave is as cool as 42° even in summer and the rocks are always sharp and slippery. Bring two or three sources of light, in case one happens to fail, it can be very dark one mile from the nearest light source. For general information, call the Peaks Ranger Station at (928) 526-0866.
Other great outdoor places to explore in and around the city include Buffalo Park, Mount Elden, and Old Caves Crater as well as the 50 miles of trails that make up the Flagstaff Urban Trail System.
And, of course, no trip to Flagstaff would be complete without visiting the Grand Canyon, just 80 miles outside the city by car (Highway 180 to Highway 64, or Highway 89 to Highway 64) or by train, via Williams on the Grand Canyon Railway (800-THE-TRAIN). There are also private tour companies that provide transportation services to the canyon.
You can design your own tour with help from the experts at the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, (928) 774-4505, or the Flagstaff Visitor Center, (928) 774-9541, where resource materials and recommendations are also available. A variety of escorted tours to numerous northern Arizona destinations with trained guides can enhance your trip. The Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce has listings of tour companies in Flagstaff and Northern Arizona, (928) 774-4505.
The Navajo & Hopi Reservations Tour. In Flagstaff, head north on Highway 89. A mile or so north of the Flagstaff Mall, turn right on Townsend Winona Road, and head east to Leupp Road (Navajo Route 15). Turn left and head northeast 50 miles to the intersection of State Highway 87. Fifteen miles or so after turning left onto Leupp Road you are on the Navajo Reservation. Watch for the small round buildings, called hogans—the traditional Navajo home. Turn left on Highway 87 and head north for 30 miles to the intersection of State Route 264 at Second Mesa. (You enter Hopi Reservation territory once you pass the village of Seba Delkai.) Turn left and head west, watching for the Hopi Cultural Center (928-734-2401) on the right. Here you will find a museum, food, restrooms, galleries and a shop. Inquire as to which villages are open to tourists, what dances are scheduled and open to the public, and where local Hopi craftsmen and artists may be observed working. Do not attempt to visit any village without first receiving permission at the Cultural Center. Photography is strictly forbidden. After leaving the Cultural Center, head west on SR 264 for 17 miles, returning to the Navajo Reservation. Twenty miles further on, just above the junction of SR 264 and U.S. 160 is the town of Tuba City. Visit the Tuba City Trading Post, where you can walk through an authentically furnished Navajo hogan. Take U.S. 160, west to U.S. 89, turn south toward Flagstaff. Total miles: Approximately 245 miles. Allow a full day for this trip.
Sunset Crater/Wupatki National Monument. From Flagstaff, follow Highway 89 north approximately 15 miles to the Sunset Crater turnoff, turn right (east) and enter the park (fee required). Here you will find strange rivers of lava from an eruption, which occurred 900 years ago, but what looks like could have taken place yesterday. There are numerous trails and viewpoints along the way, but visitors are cautioned to remain on established trails to avoid being injured on the sharp and brittle lava flows. Immediately east of the flows is the impressive and well-formed Sunset Crater, so named by John Wesley Powell for its red-orange hue near its peak.
From Sunset Crater, continue north on the same road to Wupatki National Monument. In this park are several well-preserved Indian pueblo-style ruins, and a unique and rare “ballcourt.” There is a Park Service Station and Interpretive Center, which explains the history and geology of the area. The self-guided trails are easily accessible to visitors for close-up inspection of the sites. From Wupatki, continue on Highway 89, turn left (south) and return to Flagstaff. Total miles: Approximately 70 miles. Allow one-half day for this trip.
Grand Canyon Tour. World-famous Grand Canyon is located just 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff. By train: Catch the Grand Canyon Railway at Williams. Daily trips to and from the Grand Canyon on renovated historic steam-engine trains are not only fun and eco-friendly, but are also a good way to avoid traffic delays during peak seasons. By car: Follow Highway 180 north to the junction of Highway 64, then continue north to Tusayan and the park entrance. At Tusayan, you will find helicopter and airplane tours of varying lengths and routes, as well as spectacular Grand Canyon movies and guest concessions. Just north of Tusayan is the park entrance (fee required) and Grand Canyon Village. At the Village, you can visit museums, take self-guided or guided rim walks, or hike down into the Canyon itself via Bright Angel or Kaibab Trails. Hikers should remember that the canyon trails can be quite strenuous, and you should allow twice as much time coming out as going in. Mule pack trips and overnight hike trips are available but require advance reservations. Contact the National Park Service at (928) 638-7888 for details. From Grand Canyon Village, follow Highway 64 toward Cameron. Along this scenic route are numerous rim viewpoints and, as you descend from the Coconino Plateau, spectacular views of the high desert regions of the Navajo Reservation and the Little Colorado Valley. At Cameron, you will find visitor services and Native Americans trading at the Historic Cameron Trading Post.
From Cameron, head south across the reservation on Highway 89 and into the cool Ponderosa pine forest surrounding Flagstaff. Total trip miles: Approximately 185 miles. Allow a full day for this trip.
Meteor Crater/Petrified Forest/Painted Desert Tour. Take I-40 east from Flagstaff to Exit 233 for Meteor Crater. The result of a violent impact some 50,000 years ago, the crater reaches a depth of 550 feet and is among the best preserved impact craters in the world. The Apollo Astronauts did lunar training here. On-site is an Astronaut’s Hall of Fame, the Museum of Astrogeology and a visitors center. There is an admission fee. Return to I-40, head east 75 miles and exit at #311 to visit the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert sightseeing road is five miles long and the Petrified Forest Road is 20 miles long. Admission is required. Both parks have visitor centers, ranger talks and conduct tours. Return to Flagstaff via I-40 west (110 miles). Total trip miles: 275 miles. Get an early start and allow a full day.
Oak Creek/Red Rock Tour. From Flagstaff, take Highway 89A (located at Airport turnoff, Exit 337, on I-17 south of town) and head south. Approximately 13 miles south, the road leaves the lush pine forests of the high country and twists and turns down through geologic time to the spectacular inner regions of Oak Creek Canyon. The road follows the course of Oak Creek past famous Slide Rock State Park and Indian Gardens, then into the town of Sedona and, just beyond, the Verde Valley. In Sedona you will find numerous shops and galleries in a dramatic red rock setting. Continue southwest on 89A to the town of Jerome. Once a booming mining town, Jerome is now but a ghost of its former being. Perched precariously on the edge of Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley, Jerome today is a haven for artists and a living museum to early industrial activity. Returning north on 89A, be sure to visit the well-preserved Indian ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument.
Near Cottonwood, take the Highway 260 cutoff to I-17 and Camp Verde. At Camp Verde you will find the restored U.S. Calvary Fort of Fort Verde State Historical Park and, nearby, the ancient and well-preserved cliffside ruins of Montezuma National Monument.
After Montezuma, return to Flagstaff by following I-17 north. Total trip miles: Approximately 145 miles. Allow a full day for this trip.