At the base of the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff sits at the highest elevation in the state. In stark contrast to much of Arizona, which is covered in desert, forests surround the city on all sides. Most of its trees are evergreen, but large colonies of poplars add color to the surroundings.
This makes Flagstaff a perfect year-round destination and a favorite of Phoenix residents in the summer. But it’s fall that best brings out its natural beauty, with its stunning fall colors rivaling those of the country’s most popular fall foliage destinations.
Things to do in Flagstaff
Visiting Flagstaff in the fall should focus on walks through the aspen colonies, but the city has so much more to offer. From a stroll through historic downtown to a chairlift ride to the top of the San Francisco peaks, visits to surrounding national parks, and peering through telescopes at Lowell Observatory, you’ll find plenty to do on your weekend. autumn in the city. .
1. Scenic drive to the Arizona Snowbowl
One of the easiest ways to experience the stunning colors of the aspens in Flagstaff is to drive to the Arizona Snowbowl. As you ascend, you will begin to notice patches of pale yellow and gold aspen intertwined with the deep green of ponderosa pines.
Halfway through, stop at Aspen Corner to experience a dense colony of aspen trees that put on a dazzling display right off the trail. Take a walk here and enjoy the crisp fall air and beautiful display of golden aspens.
2. Hike through two Aspen colonies
Continue further up Snowbowl Road and stop at the lower parking lot before entering the ski area. Here you will find two paths on opposite sides of a meadow.
Start with the Aspen Nature Loop Trail, which winds through a colony of aspen trees displaying pale yellow foliage intertwined with the green of ponderosa pines.
Across the meadow, you’ll notice another colony of deep-gold quaking aspen. This hue is so different from the neighborhood you just walked through that you’d think fall came another time just a few feet away. Enjoy the amazing variation between the two distinctive colonies of aspen trees.
3. Enjoy the Ponderosa Pine Forest on the Kachina Trail
Walk (or drive) across the road to the highest parking lot, where you’ll find the Kachina Trail trailhead. Here, the fragrant ponderosa pine forest will envelop you as you make your way along the trail. Enjoy them and look for colonies of aspen trees further down the trail. You will notice that the aspens are still lime green or a pale greenish yellow. With their white bark and shiny leaves, they put on a different show than other trees at lower elevations.
Although the entire Kachina Trail is a 10-mile round trip, you can enjoy the beauty of this forest within a mile.
4. Take the scenic chairlift to the Arizona Snowbowl
As you head up the hill, take the scenic chairlift to the Arizona Snowbowl, the ski area for which Flagstaff is famous. Don’t forget to bring a warmer jacket and scarf with you, as it gets much colder at the top of the mountain. Along the way, take in views of the surrounding mountains displaying their fall colors, from deep greens to golden yellows and browns and everything in between. Take a short walk to the top and enjoy the views.
5. Drive to Lockett Meadow
The best place to enjoy miles and miles of golden aspens in the fall is Lockett Meadow. Over the years, I have seen few places with the same concentration of aspens displaying their spectacular fall colors. You can walk for miles in these amazing forests or just sit in the meadow and enjoy the spectacle of colors.
Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need a high-rise vehicle to get there. The dirt road leading to it is narrow and steep, with curves where you can’t see oncoming traffic. The place deservedly remains one of the most popular places in the city to enjoy the fall colors. If you drive an SUV or something similar, you can’t miss it.
6. Visit the Museum of Northern Arizona
While in Flagstaff, take the opportunity to visit the Museum of Northern Arizona to learn about the history of the Colorado Plateau. Permanent and seasonal exhibits explain the geological history of the region, its landscape, and the canyons scattered throughout it, made visible by the lack of vegetation and arid climate.
In addition to geology, exhibits also highlight the region’s human history and help you understand the area’s native cultures. If you are there at the right time, you can experience a festival of one of the 10 tribes that live in the region, with traditional dances, native food, talks and art performances.
7. Stroll through Historic Downtown Flagstaff
You can’t miss a walk through historic downtown Flagstaff, centered around the old train station and also home to the Flagstaff Visitor Center. Start your tour here, pick up a brochure, shop for souvenirs, and visit the Amtrak ticket booth, which is still in use. If you spend some time here, you will most likely see a train go by.
Cross the street for a leisurely stroll through historic buildings that have been converted into boutiques, galleries, clothing stores, cafes, and restaurants.
8. Take a tour of the Lowell Observatory
At the end of the day, visit the Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill. Get there at sunset for a chance to take a walk up the hill, and then visit the observatory where Pluto was discovered.
Take the guided tour of the center to learn about its history and stop by the historic Clark 24-inch refracting telescope built in 1896 and still in use today. You will learn about the discovery of Pluto and get to see the Pluto Discovery Telescope.
9. Visit surrounding national parks
Flagstaff is surrounded by some incredible national parks that you can’t miss, all just a short drive from the city center.
Stop at Walnut Canyon National Monument and walk through ancient cliff dwellings along the side of the canyon named for the wild walnut trees that grow at the bottom. Or just take a leisurely stroll along the paved rim trail.
Visit the beautiful Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, which showcases the youngest cinder cone in the surrounding volcanic field. Hike across black sand or lava rock, enjoy the surrounding ponderosa pines, and learn firsthand about the region’s geology.
Continue driving along the Sunset Crater Scenic Loop to Wupatki National Monument. Walk among the ruins of ancient structures, some of them up to four stories high.
Editor’s Note: As of April 19, 2022, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is closed due to the Tunnel Fire. Visit NPS.gov for more information.
The Best Restaurants In Flagstaff
Spending a weekend in Flagstaff also means enjoying its culinary landscape. Here you will find excellent food at any time of the day and for all tastes and budgets, from high-end gourmet restaurants to small establishments.
Here are some of my favorites.
Firecreek Coffee Company
If you’re like me and hotel morning coffee isn’t enough for you, you must try the espresso at Firecreek Coffee Company in historic downtown Flagstaff. And you don’t have to order the espresso, either: from the perfect cup of cappuccino to gourmet lattes and blends, you’ll find something to satisfy your coffee craving. Pair it with one of their freshly baked pastries or stick around for a full breakfast.
In our search for the best pizza in town, we found Pizzicletta a few years ago. Baked with fresh ingredients, its thin, crispy crust makes one of the best Margherita pizzas I’ve ever had, anywhere. Although pizza is their specialty, they also have other Italian dishes. And if you fancy a dessert, be sure to try their homemade ice cream.
You’ll find Pizzicletta on a corner of Phoenix Avenue in a small, unassuming brick building.
Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar
For a satisfying meal after a day of hiking in the woods around Flagstaff, dine at Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar, where you’ll delight in fresh, farm-focused meals. Big on sustainability, Brix uses fresh ingredients from local farmers and ranchers. You will find seasonal dishes that will delight meat lovers and vegans. Ask your waiter for recommendations.
You’ll find Brix on San Francisco Street, just a few blocks from downtown Flagstaff.
Best Places to Stay in Flagstaff
Considering it’s the most popular destination in Northern Arizona and a college town, Flagstaff has no shortage of accommodations.
If you want to feel like a part of history, stay at the Weatherford Hotel in downtown Flagstaff, built in 1897. The building may be old, if you like historical places, you’ll love walking the halls, but the rooms are all comfortable, with modern conveniences.
Little America Hotel
For a quiet night in luxury, it doesn’t get much better than the Little America Hotel on Butler Avenue. Surrounded by a pine forest, it feels like a small town, with winding roads and more than 200 rooms. With the Silver Pine Restaurant on site, offering both indoor and outdoor seating, you don’t even need to go out for dinner.
But if you’re on a budget or just want a bed to sleep in, you’ll find a great selection of hotels on Lucky Lane between the highway and the train tracks. The noise at most of them can keep you awake: trains run all night, not to mention trucks on Interstate 40. Despite this, the new La Quinta Inn, down the row, offers a quiet stay.
No matter what you do in and around Flagstaff, but especially when you walk at higher elevations, you can experience altitude sickness. Make sure you drink plenty of water and take it easy.
And while you’re in this beautiful area, there’s plenty more to do (in the fall and on other days). To consider: