Once you’ve lived in a city long enough, it’s easy to dismiss the activities that others come from all over the world to enjoy as “for tourists.” At some point, it’s easier to find excuses than to go and check.
I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me 10 years to visit the Museum of Northern Arizona, and it wasn’t until outside guests came to visit me that I finally did a trip to Lowell Observatory. Let me tell you, I kicked myself after the fact. The experiences were better than I could have imagined, and if I hadn’t spent the past decade making excuses, I would have enjoyed them much sooner (and probably more than once)!
For World Tourism Day, I’m here to tell you to stop with the excuses and, as Nike would say, JUST DO IT. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and we are so lucky to call this magical place home. We are even more fortunate to have a variety of activities and day trip options just a short drive away. To help you be a better tourist in your own city, I’ve put together a checklist of all my favorite things to do in Flagstaff. If there’s any on this list that you’ve postponed, consider that’s the boost you need to get there.
1. Go see (and hike) the Grand Canyon
Did you know that less than 1% of the Grand Canyon’s five million annual visitors walk below the rim? As someone who has visited the canyon more than half a dozen times before hiking, take my word for it: it’s worth it. It is truly difficult to fully grasp the scale and scope of the Grand Canyon’s true grandeur from the rim. So, plan a trip to do the hike. (Day hikes do not require a permit.) The most popular hike is Luminous Angel Trail, which offers spectacular views, shade and bathrooms every mile and a half. If you’re not ready to commit to a full 15.3 mile hike, Oh Ah Dot on the South Kaibab Trail is a much more manageable 1.8 mile out-and-back trail that takes you just far enough below the rim to appreciate the Grand Canyon in all its glory. Don’t forget to pack more water than you think you’ll need – even the shortest hike is classed as a moderately difficult route, and with little shade it can be very draining.
2. Spend a (preferably cloudless) night at Lowell Observatory
This astronomical observatory where Pluto was discovered is out of this world! OK, maybe not literally, but it provides the tools to get a glimpse of it. This Flagstaff staple has been around for more than 125 years for good reason: it’s packed with information, interactive exhibits, speaking opportunities, and telescope viewing. There really is something for everyone, and if you’re like me, you’ll be so excited about space, stars and galaxies after your visit that you’ll be itching to go back. Do not forget your ID during your visit in order to benefit from the local discount. J
More! Construction is underway on a 40,000 square foot facility it will be SIX TIMES the size of Lowell’s current visitor facility and will feature an outdoor planetarium (with heated seats), a rocket launch station for children and the Theater of the Universe! For me, I can’t wait.
3. Walk through Bearizona Wildlife Park
Bearizona is not your typical zoo. This 160-acre driving experience lets you get up close to wolves, bears, bison, mountain goats and more in their natural environment. (My colleague would tell you there’s nothing more exhilarating than having a 400-pound black bear on the hood of your car.) Plus, most of the animals you’ll see are rescues that otherwise , would not survive in the desert. (Just read The NAU Review touching story of Lucky the momentum.)
4. Visit Meteor Crater
Did you know that meteor crater is the best-preserved meteorite impact site on Earth? It is so well preserved, in fact, that astronauts train there before visiting the Moon. The Great Depression is impressive on its own, but also on site is the Meteor Crater Museum which is full of historic photos, stories and exhibits.
5. Take a day trip to Sedona
Less than an hour’s drive from Flagstaff, Sedona is known for its red rock buttes, magnificent views and steep canyon walls. Whether you’re spending a hot day at Oak Creek, taking in the stunning views from Cathedral Rock (my favorite hike in Sedona), or mountain biking the abundance of singletrack, it’s well worth a visit. Plus, with tons of local cafes, restaurants, and shops in Uptown, it’s easy to spend an entire day enjoying the vibrant arts community. Because there has been an increase in tourism in recent years, it is best to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
6. Visit the Museum of Northern Arizona
If you are interested in the history of northern Arizona, you should plan a visit to the museum. One of my favorite things about this museum is that the exhibits on display are constantly changing, so you can come back several times a year and have a completely different experience. I was lucky enough to visit during the ‘The Force Is With Our People’ exhibit, and as someone who enjoys ‘Star Wars’, it made learning about this area and land so much fun.
7. See Wupatki National Monument
This Archeological site, rich in Native American history, shows remnants of Pueblo communities that date back to the early 1100s. For photography enthusiasts, visit the monument by night. The ruins make a beautiful foreground and the remote location ensures that light pollution won’t get in the way of your star shots.
8. Hike the lava tubes
If you’ve never done an underground hike, now’s your chance! These lava tubes north of Flagstaff have an epic adventure – they are about a mile long, dark and cold and will make you feel like you are in a different world. It should be noted that the terrain is very rocky and you have to crouch and slide over rocks and boulders. Be sure to pack a jacket no matter what time of year you go – temperatures in the cave range from 35 to 45 degrees – and wear durable hiking shoes. And, without natural light in the cave, it is recommended to bring three light sources to a person, one of which should be a headlamp. It will allow you to keep your hands free to maneuver the terrain.
9. Take photos at Grand Falls (aka Chocolate Falls)
This Instagram-worthy waterfall is stunning and well worth the effort. Before visiting Grand Falls, make sure it’s running – it can range from a dry trickle to cascading drops. (Primary viewing times are after the spring snow melt and throughout the monsoon season). The view from the top is spectacular, but you won’t fully grasp the magnitude of the falls until you’ve trekked through the canyon. If you plan to hike, be sure to wear good shoes. It’s an easy and short hike, it tends to get quite muddy (where does the chocolate in the name come from). Don’t forget your camera and head out at sunrise or sunset to get the award-winning shots.
10. Visit Riordan Mansion
Conveniently located just west of Northern Arizona University, this state historic park, which dates back to 1904, offers a glimpse into the family life of Flagstaff entrepreneurs, the Riordan brothers. Much of Flagstaff today, including NAU, reflects their influence on the community. This beautiful American Arts and Crafts style architecture is full of preserved history that will transport you back in time.
Carly Banks | UAN Communications
(928) 523-5582 | [email protected]