At 7000 feet elevation in the Northern Arizona high country, Flagstaff sits picturesquely nestled between elderly Ponderosa Pine forests, and the ancient San Francisco Peaks. Surrounding a scenic stretch of Route 66, Flagstaff profits from pluralistic citizenry and diverse cultural influences–including Northern Arizona University and its collegiate atmosphere, as well as the down-home folksy feeling only an old logging and mining homestead provides.
With numerous hiking and biking trails, as well as a diverse array of outdoor activities year round, Flagstaff has gained the well-earned reputation of an adventure seeker’s vacation destination; for both native Arizonans and visitors the globe over.
This includes Olympic athletes of all nationalities–who train in Flagstaff’s elevation year round, in order to enhance their performances at lower sea levels. However, anyone looking for a wonderful outdoor experience will benefit from some of the more slow paced, but still fun and exciting attractions. Although one could easily get lost for weeks in the beautiful mountain air, even a three-day stay in and around the Flagstaff area is more than enough time to elevate ones spirit to the awesome high country.
Day 1-Stargazing Downtown
Once you get into town, check yourself into the haunted and historical Hotel Monte Vista. Located in the heart of Flagstaff’s downtown retail and restaurant district, the Monte Vista, or ‘MonteV’ as the locals say, has been standing beautiful since 1926. In its 86 years of service, the Monte Vista has hosted everyone from bank robbers to Hollywood stars. After dropping your bags and stepping out onto the street, feel free to enjoy some leisurely sightseeing and shopping at one of the many boutiques, shops, bars and galleries comprising the downtown area.
For dinner, book reservations at the 1899 Bar and Grill, Flagstaff’s newest and choicest dining venue for steaks, chops, seafood, poultry and spirits. Located on Northern Arizona University’s campus, the 1899 is managed and staffed by university culinary and hospitality students and faculty. Their hands-on, proud ownership results in extremely reasonable prices for gourmet meals far exceeding the expectations of even the most discerning pallet.
After your heart’s content of food and drink, take in the stars at the world famous Lowell Observatory. Just a short and winding drive another 200 feet upwards, and only a few minutes from downtown; the Lowell offers unparalleled views of clusters and constellations via the same telescope Percival Lowell used to sketch the planet Mars. Be sure to bring your jacket though, the wind blows cold where heaven meets the Earth, even in the summertime.
Day 2-The Canyon Grand and Wide
Don’t spend too much time with your head in the stars, as day two begins early. Located about a two hour drive from the Flagstaff sits one of the seven natural wonders of the modern world–the Grand Canyon. Its 1.2 million acres house a diverse array of wildlife, rafting on the Colorado River that cuts through the canyon floor, hiking trails along and down into the exterior, donkey riding tours, and overall views unrivaled the world over. If you only have one day to spend there, head to the South Rim and check into the El Tovar Lodge.
Offering unobstructed views of rock formations including the Temple of Isis, Buddha and Shiva, the Tovar is quite popular among tourists, so be sure to book in advance. From there, you can either leisurely stroll the rim area and enjoy the natural rock formations and walking path of geological strata, or wander over to the recently opened Sky Bridge to feel like you are walking on air–with nothing underneath but see-through paneling and a long way down.
For dinner, enjoy fine dining at the Tovar, or in any one of the restaurants at the adjacent resorts within the park. Rain or shine, summer or winter, the Grand Canyon is truly an experience everyone should have at least once in their lives; and many more than that if they are lucky.
Day 3-One Last Kiss Goodbye
Get going early again, in order to make the most of day three. Head out of the park and back toward Flagstaff, and don’t forget to stop off for a scenic chairlift ride at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort. Summer or winter, Snowbowl caters to outdoor adventurers who crave scenic views and the tranquil bliss while sitting atop the world–or so it seems from the comfort of your gondola. You can also enjoy hiking, disc golf or a simple but fine snack with a view in the Peak Side Café.
In the non-snow months, Snowbowl is only a 45-minute drive from downtown Flagstaff. But in the winter, driver beware with tire chains affixed. The roads will be packed and slippery, courtesy of the overwhelming abundance of hooky-playing college students and visitors statewide–flocking to one of only three ski resorts in the territory.
As you make your way back through Flagstaff proper and toward the I-10 freeway, leading to either the local airport or back down to Phoenix and the desert, be sure to stop off for a last meal at Louie’s Chicken Shack. Owned and operated by a Northern Arizona University alumnus, Louie’s serves up a heapin’ helping of some ‘South in ‘Yer Mouth’ in the high country forest. From homemade chicken and waffles to the mac-n-cheese and Kool-Aid, Louie’s is a Flagstaff favorite, and supports local athletics and community programs collegiate and non alike.
Flagstaff Stays With You Long After You Leave
Take it from this former native who still dreams of it every night–no matter whether your stay is three days, weeks, months or years, Flagstaff becomes you faster than you will know. And as you make your way back down to the heat, hustle and bustle of Phoenix or wherever you call home, you will already be dreaming of Flagstaff too, and anxiously planning a return engagement.
Flagstaff can be reached from Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport via van shuttle, bus, train or rental car in approximately two hours. Additionally, Flagstaff’s airport, a quaint but full service one terminal hub for US Airways ‘puddle jumping’ services, connects to Sky Harbor, LAX and several other airports in the American southwest. Temperatures range from as low as the teens in the wintertime, to the 70’s and 80’s during summer’s height.