Things to Do in Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is probably not what many people picture when they think of Arizona. Surrounded by ponderosa pines, volcanoes, and even a ski hill, this city is a far cry from the desert regions just a couple of hours away. At an elevation of about 6,900 feet, the climate here is cool and snow covered during much of the winter, and the area offers a full range of things to do, many of which are hard to find in other areas of Arizona. In summer, Flagstaff is a welcome retreat from the heat of lower areas like Phoenix or Tucson, and many people come here to sightsee, hike, and enjoy the outdoors. At any time of year, you can explore Native American archeological sites, wander through the volcanic landscape, or learn about the history of the region in some of the local museums.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Located just east of Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon National Monument is one of the area's most impressive attractions, both for culture and scenery. Ancient Sinagua cliff dwellings line the steep canyon walls, which descend to the narrow and dry Walnut Creek at the bottom. From the Visitor Center, you can look out over the canyon and to the ruins on the far wall. The best way to experience the monument and see the ruins is on the one-mile Island Trail, which begins directly from the Visitor Center. Stairs take you down the canyon wall about 185 feet, where you can walk below the overhanging walls and through a series of reconstructed ruins. This is an easy hike with stairs with handrails, and it's paved the entire way. Along the way, you'll see large ponderosa pines and Douglas fir trees.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Between Flagstaff and Williams, more than 600 volcanoes dot the landscape. Sunset Crater Volcano is the youngest of these, and the landscape here, which is hard to fully appreciate until you visit the monument, is spectacular. In some areas fields of chunked lava, with no signs of life, stretch out across the landscape. The cinder cone itself looks like a huge black sand dune, with small grains of lava cascading down the steep hillside. Trails run along the base. Some trails are wide and paved, and others lead through natural areas. You can see a collapsed lava tube that snakes its way through the field, gaze up at the cinder cone, and appreciate the pine trees and other bits of vegetation that have managed to eek out an existence in this inhospitable landscape. If you have time for only one excursion in this area, walk the full outer rim of the Lava Flow Trail. It's only one mile, very easy, and one of the best hikes in Arizona.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument covers a large area of grassland on the Colorado Plateau north of Flagstaff and is home to some fascinating and well preserved American Indian ruins. The collection of pueblos spread over the monument offers a small glimpse into a way of life that existed and thrived here in the 1100s to 1200s. The Wupatki Pueblo was in a strategic position and was the main center for trade among various cultures. The impressive structures, which in some cases stand two or more stories high, are made of stone and mud.

The numerous sites within Wupatki National Monument include the Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki Pueblo, Lomaki Pueblo, and the Nalakihu and Citadel Pueblos. If you are arriving from the north end of the monument, one of the first sites you will come to is the Nalakihu and Citadel Pueblos. Be sure to walk up to the Citadel Pueblo for outstanding 360-degree viewing from the top of the citadel. The landscape is different but equally impressive in every direction. The Visitor Center is located in the middle of the monument and better suited to those arriving from the south. Most people combine a visit to Wupatki with Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The entrance fee covers both places. If you have a national parks interagency pass, these are both covered.