Welcome back, Readers! Today, the third installment of a series we call Back(pack) to Basics with a general guide to Flagstaff, Arizona. If this is your first experience with this series, check out our editions on Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Here, we’re gathering everything you need to know about visiting Flagstaff in a feather-light guide you can stash in your “backpack” of travel info and make plans to check out northern Arizona’s hippest, happenin’ year-round city-slash-college-slash-adventure-town – Flagstaff.
Flagstaff, Arizona is located in the mountains of northern Arizona just 140 miles north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Most visitors come to Downtown Flagstaff, the city center area bisected by Route 66, aka Santa Fe Avenue, and the Amtrak train track running roughly east-west. Downtown Flagstaff has much to offer the visitor. Within about a dozen easily-walkable city blocks, you can stroll to and from a variety of one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, hotels, galleries and outfitters. Downtown Flagstaff is Flagstaff’s most-popular shopping, dining, and nightlife entertainment district; it features an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels nestled shoulder-to-shoulder along streets like San Francisco, Beaver, Aspen, Leroux and Birch Streets.
But that’s just the town. The appeal of Flagstaff extends, amplifies even, as you venture into the great outdoors surrounding the area. This vibrant mountain town has incredible hiking, rock-climbing, winter snow-playing, summer camping, and almost every other kind of outdoor adventure one could want – and it’s all just miles from Downtown Flagstaff.
Lay of the Land
Flagstaff is divided into three basic areas of interest to visitors, as well as a handful of nearby communities you may want to note.
Again, the epicenter of Flagstaff tourism is Downtown as described above. Round almost any corner downtown and you’ll find open-air plazas and charming storefronts, with all the youthful energy of a college town and the laid-back attitude of an outdoor sports playground. Amtrak train passengers will find the Flagstaff train station at Route 66/Santa Fe Ave and Leroux Street.
West Flagstaff is often the first entree into Flagstaff for visitors arriving in Flagstaff via I-17 from the south or I-40 from the west. I-17, at its northernmost point, turns into Milton Road as you enter Flagstaff from the south, and immediately you’re greeted by Northern Arizona University’s picturesque campus and dozens of West Flagstaff’s popular hotels, motels, retail shopping and restaurants. This bustling academic and business community is about 2.3 miles south of Downtown Flagstaff and features familiar hotel chains, big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, and tons of nationally-known restaurants as well as don’t-miss dining unique to Flagstaff.
East Flagstaff stretches out along Route 66 away from Downtown Flagstaff, and features the popular shopping destination, Flagstaff Mall & The Marketplace as well as many of Flagstaff’s most charming bed and breakfasts and inns. East Flagstaff is a terrific choice for visitors because there is a bevvy of bed & breakfasts, inns and hotels as well as locally owned restaurants, shops, theaters, and all the comfort conveniences visitors inevitably need like grocery stores, coffee shops, laundromat, drug stores and banks.
Nearby Areas of Interest
San Francisco Mountains / Humphrey’s Peak- About 25 miles from Downtown Flagstaff and is a 12,633 foot high peak that offers a view for all seasons. During the summer, visitors can take a sky ride up these San Francisco mountains and catch a view of everything from the Grand Canyon to The Painted Desert. Locals enjoy disc golf, hiking, trail running, camping and other outdoor activities. This mountain is also the home of Arizona Snowbowl, Northern Arizona’s most enjoyed ski resort.
Grand Canyon National Park – Flagstaff is the main hub for Grand Canyon south rim tours and accommodations. Being just around 78 miles from the Grand Canyon, visitors from all over the world stay at Flagstaff hotels before making the trek to this Wonder of the World.
Sedona – just a 40 minute drive down Highway 89A will land you in a place that will blow your mind. A sensory overload unlike any other. This popular town sits in a canyon surrounded by breath-taking red rock formations. Sedona tends to attract artists, energy workers, avid hikers, rock climbers and people who just like to look out at pretty landscapes. Yes. There is something for everyone in Sedona. Make sure to stop at Slide Rock State Park – a very popular swimming hole with a natural waterslide, cliff jumping and more – as well as the Oak Creek Vista about half-way up the canyon for a great picture-taking opportunity and a chance to get out of the car and breathe the clean, cool mountain air.
Jerome – This mining town built along a cliff on Highway 89A is one of Arizona’s most treasured points of interest. From bike week to wine week, Jerome promises to offer an eccentric experience out in the West.
Getting to Flagstaff
Most Flagstaff visitors fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport because it is the closest major international airport to Flagstaff. From there, it’s best to rent a car and drive yourself to Flagstaff via I-17, which is about a 2.5 hour drive. There are a limited amount of flights from Sky Harbor Airport to Flagstaff Airport available, but that is an option. There are shuttle companies that offer daily scheduled trips for about $38 per person each way, while Amtrak has a train station in heart of town as does Greyhound bus service.
Flagstaff experiences an influx of Phoenicians trying to beat the summer heat during the months of July – August. Grand Canyon visitors start coming around in May and keep flowing in all the way through October. Then the snow players take it from there during the months of December – February. This town has plenty of hotels, motels, cabins and bed and breakfasts, but it gets booked pretty quickly on holiday weekends, days following a good snow storm or extra hot days in The Valley. Making plans in advance is recommended especially if you, your family or travel friends have accommodation preferences. Even the hostels get booked up regularly!
Hotels and Motels
A variety of hotels and motels are available all over greater Flagstaff. You’ll find both familiar brand hotel chains and independent properties. Prices range from $75 – $250 per night in the peak months and $50 to $200+ per night in the off-season.
Flagstaff is the perfect place to rent a cabin. Flagstaff’s four season weather makes it inviting year round. Cool off and relax in a summer cabin surrounded by wildflowers with picturesque mountains in the distance. Better yet, stay warm by a crackling fire with a cup of hot cocoa after a day of skiing or sledding in the winter wonderland. Cabins tend to be visitors’ first choice in Flagstaff lodging, so book early if possible.
Bed & Breakfasts
Flagstaff’s charming mountain home atmosphere makes it a perfect place to enjoy staying at a bed and breakfast. Rates vary widely based on the size, amenities offered and demand for these charming inns, but you’ll find anything from $125 per night to $350 per night, based on the season and the style, from simple to luxurious.
Flagstaff is certainly pet-friendly. Several Flagstaff bed & breakfasts, inns, cabins and hotels cater to four-legged family members. Check out this list of dog friendly hotels in Flagstaff, which may or may not be complete, so don’t be afraid to call your hotel or bed & breakfast and ask if Spike or Fluffy can come along.
Flagstaff offers a variety of dining options fit for every taste palette. Being that it is a smaller town with a progressive outlook on food sustainability, Flagstaff is a great place to find creative cuisine for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike. From local brew pubs to authentic thai cuisine, visitors will be pleased with the high quality of dining options available.
Here are are few recommendations:
Coffee – Late for the Train & Macy’s European Cafe
Brunch – Martanne’s Cafe, Charly’s at the Weatherford Hotel & La Bellavia Restaurant
Ethnic – Karma Sushi, Pato Thai, La Fonda’s Mexican, Criollo Latin, Pizzicletta Italian
Pubs – Flagstaff Brewery, Beaver Creek Brewery & Lumberyard Brewery
How to See Flagstaff…
“Is everyone here young and cool? Even that old man with a white beard acts like he’s 35.” – overheard at Charly’s Pub at the Weatherford Hotel
It’s true. Flagstaff tends to attract people who are looking for adventure. The vibrant spirit often appears as being young at heart – and it’s everywhere. It can’t be helped. From hiking, snowboarding and rock-climbing to Grand Canyon helicopter tours and Colorado River rafting, it all starts in Flagstaff. How do you want to see Flagstaff?
…on a Bicycle Ride Around Town
If you’re planning on staying in town, a bicycle is the perfect way to get around Downtown Flagstaff. That’s what the locals do! There are bike racks everywhere and nothing is far enough to actually need to hop in a car to get to. In fact, finding a spot to part a vehicle can be quite the chore in this part of town. Rent a bike. You’ll be able to see, experience and interact with more of everything, guaranteed. There are people from all over the world and all walks of life in the mountain town that you won’t want to miss.
…on a Guided Tour
You won’t want to miss a guided tour of Lowell Observatory. This was where the once so-called planet, Pluto, was discovered. Flagstaff’s fresh mountain air and clear skies make it a wonderful place to explore the Beyond. Other guided tours include the Museum of Northern Arizona, which features a wealth of geological and cultural information about the Southwest; then there is the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, a five-acre park showcasing an extraordinary early 1900s mansion owned by the Riordan family who logged Flagstaff in the city it is today.
Other tours that depart from Flagstaff are tours to the Grand Canyon. Many tours to the Grand Canyon leave from Flagstaff since it is the biggest city near the canyon. Visitors often take helicopter tours, jeep tours, bus tours, river trips or guided hikes. See Flagstaff.com‘s tour guide to get more information and pricing.
…On Foot (Hiking)
Flagstaff offers both easy and challenging hiking, and the reward for those willing to make the effort is a chance to marvel at the beauty of Flagstaff from above,
Must-Do – Humphrey’s Peak
Humphrey’s is located 14.5 miles northwest to Flagstaff, Arizona. Take US 180 north for 7 miles, then Snowbowl Road (FR 516) for 7.4 miles to the Snowbowl lower parking lot. Find the Humphrey’s trailhead at the north end of the parking lot. All roads are paved.The trail is very well marked until you reach the saddle. The first 3 miles the trail gradually climbs the mountain, then the last 1 3/4 miles it gets steeper and more difficult. There are posts added on the last 3/4 of a mile to help mark the trail. It is very rocky and loose above 12,000 feet. The trail ascends 3 false summits before reaching the true summit. The trail is moderate to difficult, but anybody in some sort of shape can make it without consideration to elevation sickness. Total mileage is approximately 4 3/4 miles.
Trail Length:4.5 miles one way.
Elevation Range: 9,300 to 12,633 feet.
Elevation Gain: 3,333 feet.
Summit Peak: 12,633 feet.
Trail Rating: Strenuous.
Hiking Time: 3 hours one way.
Hiking Season: Late spring to fall.
Winter Permits: Required
Camping:No camping above tree line.
Local Favorite – Mt. Elden Trails
The summit of Mt. Elden is a 9,299-foot peak on the north edge of Flagstaff. You can hike any of several good trails or drive up a rough road. Wildflowers, a variety of forests, and panoramic views reward those who ascend even part way. A fire-lookout tower marks the summit. Climb the tower, if it’s open, for the best views. On a clear day you’ll see much of north-central Arizona: Oak Creek Canyon and Mormon Lake to the south; the Painted Desert to the east; Humphrey’s Peak, Sunset Crater, and other volcanoes to the north; and Bill Williams Mountain to the west. Flagstaff lies directly below. An eruption of thick, sticky lava created Mt. Elden.
The hiking season runs from May to October, a bit longer for the drier eastern slope. You’ll need to carry water. Allow at least half a day for a hike to the summit and back; elevation change is 1,300–2,400 feet, depending on the trailhead. Horseback riders and mountain bicyclists can use most of the trail system.
The Pit (Le Petit Verdon) is one of Flagstaff’s most accessible rock climbing areas for people of all skill levels. Most of the routes are sport but there are a handful of trad routes.
Take I-17 towards Flagstaff. Take the Lake Mary Road Exit. Turn right onto Lake Mary Road, then follow this road approximately 6 miles down. On your left, you will see “Canyon Vista” campground. This is where we are camped at the trailhead to the Pit. Park in the parking lot, trail starts at the end. Go down the small trail, take a right at the fork. You can see the crag from the parking lot and trail. Follow the trail to the other side, there you will see the bolts and pitches.
Flagstaff Temperatures and Precipitation:
Flagstaff receives an average annual snowfall of 99.5 inches based on the 1st day of each month
Flagstaff Average Clear, Partly Cloudy and Cloudy Days by Month Annual Total
Number of Clear (Sunny) Days
Number of Partly Cloudy Days
Number of Cloudy Days
(0 – 30% cloud cover)
(40 – 70% cloud cover)
(80 – 100% cloud cover)
So, there you go! That’s our primer all the basics of visiting Flagstaff. Did we leave anything out? What else would you like to know? Feel fee to comment and we will reply!
Bio: Bio: It’s not like the film “Heathers,” but the authors of ArizTravel do have the same first name, Christina Hecht and Christina Zubieta (Chrissy). They maintain six Arizona travel websites, and one day, Christina H realized that many of the questions people were asking through the sites had answers that anyone visiting Arizona could benefit from. Thus, the birth of the blog. The Christinas earn a living from selling advertising on their sites, but they accept no compensation or freebies for blog postings. Christina H enjoys being a tour guide. She’s really proud of her ability to find the back roads to almost anywhere she goes. And Chrissy Z’s spirit of adventure is borderline crazy. So you have one Christina to get you going in a great direction and the other to help you explore.