Times Spent Outdoors: Priceless!

Destination: Flagstaff

Without A Doubt, A Super Summer Getaway

We have been taking our granddaughters on hiking vacations to Flagstaff every summer for the past twelve years or so. Recently, the oldest received a scholarship to NAU and while she was at orientation, she attended a lecture on things to do around Flagstaff. "Grandma, I've been to every one of them!" she reported.

There are just so many things to do in and around Flagstaff that one vacation can't cover them all. As the granddaughters have grown, the things we do together in Flagstaff have changed to be age-appropriate. So, here is a list of our very favorite things to do in the Flagstaff area in the summer.

Kachina Trail

Of course, the first thing I did to prepare for this article was ask my granddaughters what should be on the list. Without hesitation, their first answer was Kachina Trail.

Although I have written an article about our favorite hikes here before, they would never forgive me if I didn't mention Kachina Trail.

You'll find the trailhead just before the entrance gate to the Snowbowl in the San Francisco Mountains north of Flagstaff. The Kachina is an out-and-back trail, and we usually prefer loops, but Kachina is special. It winds around the side of the mountain so it stays fairly flat, and it passes through a bunch of different kinds of terrain – fields of ferns, meadows with flowers, aspen forest, pines, boulders – you name it.

We never go to Flagstaff without hiking this trail. If your kids are very small, this is still an excellent trail - fairly flat and even, with lots of stuff along the way to keep them interested. You can just go as far as you want, then head back to the car. We usually pack a picnic lunch and eat on the trail.

After five miles, the trail intersects with other trails and you could go all the way to Schultz Canyon if you wanted. It's a dynamite trail and our girls love it. After the hike, drive on into the Snowbowl and take the ski lift to the top. Once you get there, there's a small trail and you're actually in an alpine area with some of the oldest trees in the world.

Flagstaff Arboretum

Another great place to take smaller kids is the Flagstaff Arboretum. There is a small trail through the woods here with some interesting stiles and gates, plus there are beautiful flowers, a pond, and a raptor show where the hawk flies right over your head. Pretty cool stuff! The raptor show is at noon and 2 p.m. except on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can picnic here, shop in the gift shop, and take a tour or just wander around by yourselves. It's beautiful.

The Riordan Mansion State Historical Park

The Riordan Mansion State Historical Park is another place that my granddaughters wanted to visit over and over when they were young. This is a big log mansion with two sides for two families, and a huge common room between them. Tours are on a schedule, and while you wait, be sure to grab a leaflet and do a self-guided tour of the grounds to find the faces and animals carved into the logs and stones. We really love that part. It's so much fun to see inside and find out how people lived back then. You'll love it.

Walnut Canyon

If you want to burn off some steam and everyone in the group can handle stairs (LOTS of stairs!), head for Walnut Canyon. You'll find cliff dwellings on a sort of an island - it's a hill in a canyon and it is fascinating. There are a gift shop, picnic tables, a trail along the rim of the canyon, and lots and lots of stairs to get you down the canyon to the dwellings. Don't worry - there are plenty of benches where you stop to catch your breath! The park Web site says that repairs are in progress on parts of the island trail, so call ahead for conditions.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is another place that kids love. It's the best preserved meteorite impact site on earth, and its size will blow you away - almost a mile across! Being there in the flesh is amazing. They have a great film that brings the impact alive, plus tours of the rim, a gift shop, an RV park, an interactive Discovery Center, and a park called Astronaut Memorial Park.


If you have kids, you don't want to skip Bearizona. You can drive through the park yourself or take a bus with a guide. Either way, you'll see tons of awesome Arizona animals - not just bears! There is also a part where you get out and walk around and you'll see lot of baby animals. They also have raptor shows at 11, 1, and 3 from March through December. It's worth the trip - our girls were in their teens when we took them and they loved it. Great for all ages.

Wupatki, Sunset Crater National Monuments

Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater National Monument are very close together and there is a 34-mile scenic loop from Highway 89 through both National monuments. There are lots of places to hop out and walk, and some incredible photo ops, especially at Wupatki. The remains of the houses built with the native red rock are stunning, and you can enter most of them. The views from the high ones are incredible.

Flagstaff Extreme

Flagstaff Extreme is another fantastic place to take kids of all ages. There are five different courses that increase in difficulty and height as you go, and all the courses are in the trees. It is an absolute blast. There is even a little kids' course so everyone can join in.

We took our teenaged granddaughters last year and it was one of their favorite times ever really fun. (And, Grandma and Grandpa completed the course, too.)

You get to squeeze through tubes, hang on ropes, navigate strange bridges, and do all kinds of fun stuff while you're high above the ground in the pines. Zip lines are also featured - one of my favorite parts! You're wearing a safety harness, but you still don't want to fall: If you come down before the end of the course or if they have to come and rescue you, you are done. But I did it, so I'm pretty sure anyone can. Seriously, you and your kids will love this place!

Lava Tube Cave

Now I have a confession to make. Swinging 20 feet off the ground hanging from a rope didn't faze me, but the Lava Tube Cave about did me in. The kids loved it though.

Here's the scoop: It's pitch black down there, and it's quite the clamber over uneven rocks to get inside. Once you're in, the going is pretty smooth, and the temperature is very cool. Bring the most powerful lights you can get your hands on, and bring a jacket because it's about 42 degrees down there even in summer.

The cave is about a mile long. The first time we went there, Grandma stayed above ground, but the second time they talked me into going inside. I didn't make it to the end. You either like caves or you don't. I don't, but everyone else loved it. It's definitely different!

I've seen very young kids in there, and even people carrying babies, but in my opinion, that is not wise. Anyway, it's pretty much for all ages and something you won't forget.

Main Focus: Hiking

The main focus of our Flagstaff trips each year is hiking, and there are so many great hikes in the area that it would take a book to cover them. Buffalo Park is one place we always love to visit no matter how many times we come to Flagstaff. We've got a tradition now of taking sunset hikes at Buffalo Park, and it's one of the girls' favorite things to do.

There are lots of different trails there of all different levels of difficulty. If you're running late or you've got little ones, just take the 2-mile Buffalo Park Loop. We almost always see deer when we are there, and the sunsets in Flagstaff are gorgeous.

Accommodations Abound

There are tons of hotels, motels, campgrounds, and RV parks in and around Flagstaff. We like to try to get one with an indoor pool because we usually end up there during the monsoon and it rains in the afternoons a lot of times.

Since we stay so many nights and the girls are in their late teens now, we have been staying at the Sonesta Suites Flagstaff for the past few years. We get two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room with a fireplace. The girls get the bedrooms so Grandma and Grandpa can enjoy their coffee in the morning.

We really love it, and although the pool is outdoors, there is a great little trail right next to the parking lot that is part of the Flagstaff Urban Trail system. It takes you to a big meadow behind the hotel that is home to tons of prairie dogs. They are adorable and there is usually water back there and lots of wildflowers. I love it.

One Of The Best

Flagstaff is one of the best summer destinations in Arizona. We've been spending our vacations there for almost 15 years now, and it never gets old. Whatever you like to do, you'll find it in Flagstaff, and it's especially great for outdoor types. Plan to spend a few days here this summer - you won't be sorry!

Here's Where They Are

Buffalo Park The Buffalo Park parking lot is on Cedar Street in north central Flagstaff. http://flagstaff.az.gov/index.aspx?NID=1789

Flagstaff Arboretum 4001 S Woody Mountain Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001 http://www.thearb.org/.

Flagstaff Extreme Fort Tuthill County Park, just south of Flagstaff on I-17 http://www.flagstaffextreme.com.

Lava Tube Cave About 14 miles north of Flagstaff on paved highways and graveled Forest Roads. Travel time is about 45 minutes. http://www.fs.usda.gov/ , then search for Lava Tube Cave. Complete directions are on the website.

Meteor Crater just off I-40 near Winslow meteorcrater.com

Bearizona I-40 and US Hwy 64 in Williams, 25 miles west of Flagstaff bearizona.com.

Riordan Mansion SHP, 409 West Riordan Rd Flagstaff, AZ 86001 (928) 779-4395 http://azstateparks.com/Parks/RIMA/

Walnut Canyon National Monument about 7.5 miles east of Flagstaff off I-40 928-526-3367 http://www.nps.gov/waca/index.htm

Sunset Crater National Monument: about 12 miles northeast of Flagstaff on Hwy 89 http://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm.

Wupatki: 21 miles from the junction of Hwy 89 and Sunset Crater road. http://www.nps.gov/wupa/index.htm.


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