The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Flagstaff

humphreys peak near flagstaff

“The city of seven wonders” isn’t a name given lightly. Flagstaff earned that name through its premium location! The town is located 7,000 feet above sea level in Northern Arizona, so don’t be surprised when you visit and see millions of towering Ponderosa Pines rather than Saguaro cactus. This small mountain town turned bucket list hub for millions is the place to be if you are looking to see what many consider “must-see places before you die.” Flagstaff is centrally located to Sedona, three national monuments (we’ll discuss later), Grand Canyon National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert, and so much more. The area around Flagstaff ranges from desert to a climate similar to that of the arctic tundra. It can offer a taste of the city life with fine dining, as well as more rugged adventure, like summiting the highest peak in Arizona (Humphreys Peak: 12,637 ft).

dramatic sunset near flagstaff, az

History of Flagstaff

Flagstaff dates back to the late 1800s and earned its name in 1876 when locals celebrating the centennial of American independence hoisted a large American Flag to the top of a Ponderosa Pine tree, which became known as the flag staff. This rugged community had a small downtown area that included the Weatherford General Store, Babbitt Mercantile, and just a little bit later, the Monte Vista Hotel. Those original structures still stand today, although the first two have changed to the Weatherford Hotel and Babbitt’s Backcountry Outfitters.

This small town, inhabited by loggers and ranchers, experienced quite a change when the famous Route 66 was built straight through town. Ever since then, tourists have used Flagstaff as a base of operations while seeing some of the best natural places the world has to offer. Flagstaff is the highest elevation city on Route 66, and we are still the only major city to still use Route 66 as a main road! Thanks to this road, the town is what it is today, and millions of people have gotten the opportunity to experience Northern Arizona—truly some of the most beautiful lands on Earth.

route 66 road sign

Flagstaff’s Unique Climate

Flagstaff’s high elevation sets it apart from its neighbors in all directions. The city sits within Coconino National Forest, a 1.8 million-acre area consisting of the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine trees in the world. This also means that unlike your idea of a perpetual summer in Arizona, Flagstaff has four full-fledged seasons! The summers are mild, with the hottest average temperature maxing out at 82 degrees and often accompanied by monsoon rains and lightning storms. Fall brings beautiful colors with large swaths of aspen trees unique to most of the Southwest. Winter brings the snow! The city of Flagstaff is considered one of the snowiest cities in the United States. Spring is a warm welcome and a beautiful sight to see when the wildflowers start to bloom!

sunlight through aspen trees

Best Time of Year to Visit Flagstaff

Much of when you plan your trip will depend on personal preference and the kind of activities you are looking to do. The spring and summer tend to be the busier and most popular times of year for tourists, but our team at Grand Canyon Adventures is partial to the beauty and moderate autumn weather (the Grand Canyon is gorgeous in the fall). However, if you like to ski, winter can be a blast! Each season has its own benefits (and some drawbacks), but no matter what time of year you plan to visit, you can’t go wrong.

layers of rock and foliage in walnut canyon

Where to Eat in Flagstaff

The food scene in Flagstaff is fantastic! There are lots of great unique restaurants to choose from. For a more upscale experience, you should check out places like Josephine’s, Tinderbox, and Teatro. All three have absolutely delicious food. Flagstaff is also known for our nine breweries, most of which are downtown. They all have good food to accompany their tasty beer. Some of my personal favorite breweries/eateries are Lumberyard, Dark Sky/Pizzicleta, and Mother Road. Whenever I travel, I love to check out the local coffee shops. Here in Flagstaff, we have a number of local favorites with some slight rivalries between them. Matador, Macy’s, and Late for the Train are some of my favorites. They offer great breakfast treats and even better coffee. Flagstaff is also home to a few of Guy Fieri’s featured restaurants! Salsa Brava, Fat Olives, and La Bellavilla (Now known as Brandy’s Cafe) all have the Guy Fieri stamp of approval.

Fun Fact: Our tours have lunch catered by Brandy’s Cafe!

heritage square in flagstaff, az

Where to Stay in Flagstaff

Flagstaff has no shortage of places to stay. With over 70 hotels that range from budget-friendly options to high-end accommodations, as well as a few historic gems, you’ll be able to find a place that suits what you’re looking for. If you are looking to accrue some points with your go-to hotel chain, we have Marriott, Hilton, Radisson, and Wyndham hotels. With the rise of Airbnb and VRBO, there are houses for rent in every section of town. If you are looking to bring your favorite furry friend along on your trip, Flagstaff is extremely pet friendly, so you won’t have a hard time finding a place where you can bring your dogs, too!

Local Pro Tip: Bring your dog on a stroll through downtown. They will get a treat in almost every store!

interior of hotel room

Things to Do in Flagstaff

There are many must-do things in Flagstaff for sure. The Lowell Observatory is an amazing place to take advantage of the fact that Flagstaff is the first National Dark Sky city! They have amazing telescopes and a great facility to impress those who love the night sky. The Museum of Northern Arizona is the perfect introduction to all things Colorado Plateau. With displays ranging from dinosaur skeletons to Native art, this place will give you a fantastic intro to the rich history we have here in Northern Arizona! There is also a wonderful art gallery in downtown Flagstaff, The Shane Knight Gallery. This gallery is home to some truly breathtaking photos from the area and is sure to inspire you to have your own western adventure.

Outdoor Recreation in Flagstaff

Flagstaff is truly known for its access to the outdoors. Access to hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, off-roading, kayaking, skiing, snow-shoeing, and snowmobiling are all just minutes away. Forest access is less than 15 minutes from downtown Flagstaff. The unbelievably gorgeous Verde River is less than an hour away and provides a fun introduction to kayaking rapids for those looking to try out this sport. Some of the most popular and famous hiking trails are the Humphrey’s Summit trail, Aspen Corner Trail, Fat Man’s Loop, and Mt. Elden Lookout Trail. In the winter, most of the forest roads become only accessible by cross-country skis or snowshoes, but year round these roads can take you to some unforgettable locations.

aerial view of a snowy ski area

Visit the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff

One of Flagstaff’s biggest draws is of course the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff is the closest city to this landmark, making it a fantastic place to set up base for a trip to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. With the entrance of the national park located just an hour and a half from Flagstaff, it makes for a great day trip/s to sightsee, hike, or catch a helicopter ride. We highly recommend spending a full day at the Canyon. On our day tours of the Grand Canyon, we depart at 8:30 AM and don’t get back to Flagstaff until 5:30 PM. This ensures we see the entire South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is accessible without a guide, but there is so much to see and so much to learn that it is easy to get overwhelmed. We recommend taking a tour, whether that be with us or with another company, as it’s one of the best ways to see the Grand Canyon without missing anything important. Our most popular tour is a Flagstaff to Grand Canyon tour that is the perfect overview of this iconic site. If you decide that you would like to check out the Canyon on your own, be sure to explore beyond the Grand Canyon Village. The east side of the South Rim provides some of the most amazing views and are not to be missed. Our tours take you on a loop—entering from the east and exiting to the south or vice-versa. We include stops at the Cameron Trading Post, the Desert Watchtower, Moran, Lipan, Grandview, Yavapai, the village, and often others! For some more information on exploring the Canyon on your own, including helpful tips of when to arrive, check out this awesome New York Times article we were featured in.

person hiking in the grand canyon in soft light

Top Attractions in Northern Arizona

While the Grand Canyon should definitely be at the top of your bucket list, there is so much more to see beyond this area. Northern Arizona is full of incredible places to explore and beautiful sites to behold.

Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend

A couple other must-see locations in Northern Arizona that I mentioned previously are Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, both located in Page, Arizona, just a few minutes apart from each other. These destinations are further from Flagstaff but definitely worth the trip. Not often do people have a chance to look down on a 1,000-foot vertical cliff overlooking a scenic river scene, but that is exactly what you’ll get when standing on the rim of Horseshoe Bend! If planning to visit Horseshoe Bend, it can help to do your research ahead of time to ensure you can make the most of your trip. The world-renowned Antelope Canyon is talked up by millions of people from all over the world, and yet I have never had a guest disappointed when emerging from the narrow slot canyon walls. Everyone who goes in is expecting something amazing, and all who come out are blown away by how amazing it really is! It is truly a unique location. Taking an Antelope Canyon tour with us means you will spend the day with one of our amazing guides learning about Native history, geology, and hear amazing stories about the area. You’ll get a chance to see both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon and have lunch overlooking Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam (sister to the Hoover Dam).

looking up at the orange, glowing curves of antelope canyon

Petrified Forest & the Painted Desert

Just about an hour and 45 minutes east of Flagstaff, you’ll find Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. Heading east from Flagstaff, you’ll experience a completely different environment and see some truly extraordinary views. Petrified Forest is home to native petroglyphs, great walking trails (where even your dog is welcome—rare in a national park), and of course some extraordinary examples of petrified wood. Being able to check out the Painted Desert while you are there is icing on the cake! The spectacular views of multicolored desert are quite the sight to behold and make for some great photos. Did I mention you can bring your dog?

view of painted desert, az

There are three national monuments that all reside within just 30 minutes of Flagstaff. At Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument, you’ll find yourself walking where the Native people have walked for thousands of years. At Sunset Crater National Monument, you’ll gain insight into the youngest volcano in the area and have the chance to explore a lava field in the middle of a forest. Each of these locations offers some great walks and hikes, so if you are looking for some unique hiking with interesting history, these are the places for you!

There is certainly no shortage of activities to take on in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas! A lifetime in Flagstaff isn’t enough to explore everything—let alone a week or weekend. That’s why you need to make the most out of your trip to Northern Arizona, and staying in Flagstaff ensures you are spending less time traveling and more time at some of the amazing places you came to see. When you decide to come visit Flagstaff, be sure to give Grand Canyon Adventures a call, whether you plan to take a tour or not. We love to give advice and share our knowledge with those who share our love for the outdoors! If you are interested in taking a tour, you can book over the phone or online. We recommend doing so plenty of time in advance, as our tours do sell out. We look forward to exploring these incredible landscapes with you!

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