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Jam packed with attractions highlighting the area’s natural beauty, Flagstaff is a unique vacation destination in Arizona. While the Grand Canyon garners the bulk of the attention of visitors in the area, those interested in geological wonders and small town charm will be delighted to explore the diversity of Flagstaff’s attractions. With blooming spring and summer colors to snowy winters and autumn outdoor adventures, Flagstaff offers an array of activities to enjoy throughout the year. From the hiking opportunities in the Coconino National Forest to the 300,000-ton fragment at Meteor Crater and stargazing at Lowell Observatory, here are some of the best things to do in Flagstaff, Arizona.
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The world’s best-preserved meteorite impact site on Earth, the Meteor Crater is a fascinating attraction for all ages. Nearly one mile across and 2.4 miles in circumference, it is an astonishingly 550 feet deep and the breathtaking result of a collision between an asteroid traveling 26,000 miles per hour over 50,000 years ago. Equipped with telescopes, visitors can view the distant rock walls or hike the trail around the rim on a guided tour. Discovered in the 19th century, the largest surviving fragment can be viewed here weighing 300,000 tons. In addition to the crater, visitors will find outdoor observation trails, indoor viewing, a movie theater and a gift shop filled with unique souvenirs.
A U.S. National Monument listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Walnut Canyon National Monument is an impressive place to visit, to say the least. One of Flagstaff’s most popular attractions, you’ll find it located southeast of the downtown area. The Sinagua is a pre-Columbian group that lived in the valley and were responsible for building the famous Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot. After getting educational material from the Visitor Center, visitors will find a scenic trail that leads them to the canyon’s rugged edge with sweeping panoramic views of its floor, as visitors pass by 25 unique Sinagua cliff dwelling rooms where they can get up close and personal with every nook and cranny. Visitors can also explore the on-site museum for a fascinating insight into the area’s history.
Home to an array of Native American ruins, the Wupatki National Monument is a U.S. National Monument nestled on 35,000 acres of desert land. Originating in 1924, it wasn’t until 1966 that the monument was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Here visitors can browse the ruins of ancient Native American pueblos and catch a glimpse of the famous landmarks such as Crack-in-Rock, Wukoki, and Wupatki. Translating to “small house,” Wupatki is a breathtaking multi-story pueblo with over 100 rooms. Visitors who stay to explore the area will also find other captivating features, including a ball court and an ancient community room.
One of the most impressive and oldest observatories in the United States, Lowell Observatory dates back to 1894. A designated U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1965, it was in 1930 that Clyde Tombaugh had a historic breakthrough when he discovered the dwarf planet Pluto using the telescope found at Lowell Observatory. Now used for public education, visitors can see this famous artifact that changed the course of history. Offering guided tours throughout the day, visitors can learn about this famous attraction and its significance in the field of astronomy. Come here in the evening for a truly memorable experience, where visitors can observe the majestic, glittering night sky using one of their expert telescopes.
An impressive two million acre national forest, Coconino National Forest was originally established in 1898 as the San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve. Officially a U.S. National Forest in 1908, visitors can now explore the area’s abundance of diverse landscapes and indulge in a variety of outdoor adventures. Here visitors are spoiled for choice with alpine tundra, desert landscapes, flatlands, mesas and awe-inspiring volcanic peaks. Perfect for hiking, swimming, and fishing, visitors should also bring their camera’s to capture the area’s treasures found on a multitude of scenic drives that are lined with colorful rocks and unique formation views they will want to keep as souvenirs.
For a day of relaxation and beautiful landscapes, head to The Arboretum at Flagstaff. Spread across 200 acres, visitors will find a vibrant range of flora and fauna, with 2,5000 species of plants that are native and drought-tolerant. Representing those typically found in the desert terrain of places like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, visitors can browse the variety of plants in greenhouses, gardens and natural habitats. Sitting 7,150 feet in elevation that was originally a forest and ranch, it is one of the country’s highest public gardens with an abundance of horticultural collections and rare plant specimens, all nestled amongst charming historic buildings and a vast expanse of natural beauty.
A unique lava tube located in the Coconino National Forest, the Lava River Cave is worth a mention on its own for its mesmerizing qualities. Discovered in 1915 by a lumberman, the Lava River Cave is the longest cave in Arizona with a length of 0.75 miles. In addition to being a memorable travel experience, it is also an educational one, as visitors are able to gain knowledge of the area’s history and how it relates to the biology and geology of caves in general. Perfect for travelers who are looking for a bit of once-in-a-lifetime adventure, since there is no front door to the attraction, visitors will discover a hole that they must climb through in order to explore the natural wonder.
The highest mountain in Arizona, the summit of Humphreys Peak sits at 12,633 feet. A 9.5 mile moderately trafficked trail, visitors will find beautiful landscapes while hiking, but it is not until visitors reach the summit that they are truly rewarded with the most magical views of the area. On a clear day, adventurous hikers will be able to soak in views of the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the picturesque White Mountains in all its glory. Primarily an area for hiking, walking and nature trips, the best time to explore the trails here are during late spring and early fall.
An impressive museum dedicated to preserving and exhibiting fascinating Native American artifacts, the Museum of Northern Arizona is a must-see for those interested in exploring the area’s rich history. Browse objects from the Colorado Plateau, or read the captivating background behind an array of collections highlighting the anthropology, art, biology and geology of the area. Founded in 1928, this historic gem is worth a day of touring the facility to get a taste of the finest artwork in Flagstaff. Soak up the local culture and capture the museum’s famous artwork and photographs, or attend one of the many workshops and programs held here throughout the year.
The area’s most popular alpine ski resort, the Arizona Snowbowl sits atop the towering San Francisco Peaks. Running since 1938, this 777-acre resort boasts five lifts and a 2,300-foot drop that is the largest in the state. In the winter, the cool pines and snowy peaks are perfect for a day of skiing down the slopes. Don’t fret if you come to Flagstaff over the summer, as the area boasts an array of activities to enjoy in warmer temperatures. Ride the Scenic Skyride chairlift, where on a good day, you’ll be able to capture stunning views of the Grand Canyon situated 70 miles away, while visitors can also indulge in a day of hiking the area’s scenic trails to Humphreys Peak.
Less than an hour drive away from Flagstaff, visitors shouldn’t miss out on a chance to take a day trip to nearby Sedona. A combination of art, hiking and scenic vistas, Sedona offers a gorgeous blend of natural beauty with its glowing red-rock formations it is known for. With serene vibes and a charming atmosphere, visitors who are adventurous might enjoy hiking the red-rock buttes at Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Bear Mountain, and Courthouse Rock, while shopping enthusiasts might like to spend a day at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village and browsing the art galleries and shops along Highway 89A.