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Flagstaff: a Great Base for Exploring Arizona

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Why Flagstaff?

Flagstaff is a small university town in Northern Arizona. Located at 6990 feet, it is a popular altitude training destination for elite runners, cyclists and swimmers, and an important stop-off point along historic Route 66. The ponderosa pine forest and the San Francisco Peaks - Arizona's highest mountain range, located just north of the town, combine to make Flagstaff a heaven on earth for outdoor enthusiasts.  

While not your typical tourist town, Flagstaff does contain a plentiful supply of hotels and self-catering accommodation and a wide variety of eateries. It also has a good transport network, with a small regional airport just south of the town, and an Amtrack train station and a Greyhound bus depot on the edge of downtown. The town is served by Interstate 40, which runs between California and New Mexico, and Interstate 17, which links it to the Phoenix in the south. There are some interesting attractions within the town, but the main draw of flagstaff is it's near-perfect location between some of America's most famous national parks and monuments.

And it is the ideal place from which to explore the world's most famous canyon.

Credit: Elizabeth Egan

Outdoor Heaven

Flagstaff is heaven on earth for those who like to explore the great outdoors. The dense network of urban and forest trails makes it a popular training ground for runners and mountain bikers, while the surrounding mountains receive enough snow in winter to make it one on Arizona's best alpine and cross country ski resorts.

The Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS) provides more than 80 kilometres of well maintained paved and unpaved paths for recreational and transport purposes. These link to a number of other trail systems, including a wide range of single-track trails through the forests and mountains. Thorpe Park and Buffalo Park on the north of the town are also popular recreational spots. There are picnic, tennis, softball, beach volleyball and basketball facilities at Thorpe Park making it a great spot for all the family.

Arizona Snowbowl is an alpine ski resort located in the mountains 11 kilometres north of Flagstaff, with 32 runs. The resort is actually open year round, and offers scenic skyrides, disc golf and hiking during the summer months.

Flagstaff Buffaloe Park
Credit: Elizabeth Egan

Tourist Attractions Within Flagstaff

Points of interest within the town include the Lowell Observatory, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Arboretum of Flagstaff, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, and Arizona Historical Society-Pioneer Museum.

The observatory is located on Mars Hill, a mesa on the west of the town. This astronomical research centre is best known as the place from which the dwarf planet Pluto was discovered. It is open to visitors, and hosts many displays and events.

The Museum of Northern Arizona has displays on the natural history of the surrounding area and on Native American culture and life. The 200-acre botanical garden, nature centre and environmental research station at the arboretum is another popular attraction. It hosts daily Birds of Prey displays and is home to the country's largest high country wild flower display.

A number of retail outlets in Flagstaff sell authentic Native American crafts, including Navajo rugs, jewellery and pottery.

Trails in Flagstaff
Credit: Elizabeth Egan

Attractions North of Flagstaff

A disproportionate number of US National Parks and monuments are located close to Flagstaff, something which has earned it the nickname the City of Seven Wonders. The Grand Canyon is the most famous of these, but Monument Valley, the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park and Navajo Nation National Park can all be accessed as day trips from Flagstaff.  Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Barringer Meteor Crater are even closer, and can be visited in a morning or afternoon.

The Grand Canyon needs little introduction. It is not the largest or even the widest canyon, but it is definitely one of the prettiest, and by far the best known.  The distinct lack of vegetation in desert setting, and the almost perfectly preserved layers of coloured rock, make it particularly dramatic. The southern rim of the canyon is located 130 kilometres from Flagstaff, a journey which can be taken by car, or with one of the many bus tours operated from the town. Helicopter rides, mule rides, guided hikes and white-water rafting excursions are some of the best ways to explore the canyon itself.

The Navajo Indian reservation, various Navajo trading posts and the Painted Desert are some of the attractions which can be taken in on the way to or from the canyon.

Monument Valley begins in the north of Arizona, and stretches across the border into Utah. It is a longer drive than the Grand Canyon, but worth the effort for some of the USA's most dramatic scenery.

Closer to town, Walnut Canyon National Monument is home to the ruins of more than 20 Native American cliff dwellings. These and the canyon can be explored via two trails for a small fee. It is just 16 kilometres from Flagstaff.

Wupatki National Monument is one of the finest examples of Native American ruins outside of Colorado's Mesa Verde. The circular drive also passes the extinct Sunset Crater Volcano. Barringer Meteor Crater is a particularly well preserved meteor crater accompanied by an informative visitor centre. It is well worth a visit.

The Grand Canyon
Credit: Elizabeth Egan

Attractions South of Flagstaff

Arizona's most famous attractions are located north of Flagstaff, but there are plenty of scenic drives, attractions and beautiful scenery south of the town too. A drive to Phoenix, either via Interstate-17, or via the more state routes, will take you via a variety of interesting attractions.

Montezuma Castle National Monument cliff dwellings are located on the road to Phoenix, near Camp Verde. The small town of Camp Verde is also home to Fort Verde State Historic Park, Cliff Castle Casino and Out of Africa Wildlife Park.

Sedona, like Flagstaff, is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts. The many hiking, running and cycling trails are backdropped by the beautiful red rock landscape in which Sedona is located. The town also has numerous art galleries, acclaimed restaurants and Native American arts and crafts shops. Much of the 48 kilometre drive between Flagstaff and Sedona runs through the scenic Oak Creek Canyon.

Arcosanti, and experimental city in the desert just north of Phoenix, is one of the more novel attractions in the area.  Phoenix, the state capital, is located 220 kilometres from Flagstaff.

Fodor's Arizona & the Grand Canyon 2016 (Full-color Travel Guide)
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Northern Arizona is a great place for tourists and those that love the great outdoors, and Flagstaff, with its many hotels, restaurants and relaxed atmosphere, provides the perfect base from which to explore the state's many attractions.



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