In Arizona, your next outdoor adventure starts right on the outskirts of Flagstaff.
Top 9 Outdoor Things to Do in the Flagstaff Area
Mountains on one side, a vast desert on the other, and shadowy ponderosa pine forests all around it… Flagstaff enjoys some of the best landscapes that open the door to a profusion of things to do outdoor for every nature lover.
The mountains are what sets the area apart. Home to Arizona’s highest summit, Humphreys Peak, the Flagstaff area interrupts the normal pattern of the region. Located at a higher elevation compared to the majority of the lands in the state, it boasts four distinct seasons.
This, in its turn, adds a plenitude of nature-inspired things to do in and near Flagstaff for the outdoor adventurers. From sliding down the snowy hills in winter to hiking along secluded trails once used by ancestors of the Pueblo peoples, Flagstaff has everything to make your outdoor excursions unforgettable, to say the least.
Add Grand Canyon National Park and the San Francisco Peaks to the list of the best outdoor things to do and places to visit near Flagstaff and you get a huge playground to explore for months on end.
THE 9 BEST THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO VISIT IN AND NEAR FLAGSTAFF FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURERS
1. Wupatki National Monument
45-50 minutes from Flagstaff
In the early 1100s when the area near today’s Flagstaff was cooler and abundant precipitation showered the land, the ancestors of the contemporary Pueblo peoples thrived in the area. A bustling town was built, which a myriad of ancient ruins and archeological sites attest to nowadays. The remnants tower over the reddish Arizona’s desert, providing plenty of exciting sites to explore for history buffs.
The outdoor enthusiasts also find their own share of the interesting things to do in the Flagstaff area. These visitors usually start with hiking. Several trails of different lengths intersect Wupatki National Monument. The most popular of them are the 0.5-mile Wupatki Pueblo Trail and the 0.3-mile Wukoki Pueblo Trail.
Those who have enough of scorching Arizona sun, drive through the entire area to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The most adventurous of them yet find many other outdoor attractions and exciting things to do and see in the Painted Desert, located 1 hour 40 minutes from Flagstaff.
2. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
25 minutes from Flagstaff
Nestled in the high ponderosa pine forest, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument stands out from its neighbors. Home to Sunset Crater, the youngest volcano in the region, it enhances the outdoor pursuits in the Flagstaff area with astounding views and some of the peculiar trails.
Although the most popular trail to Sunset Crater has been closed for a few decades, the place still ignites many hiking excursions. An alternative route, the Lenox Crater Trail, leads the outdoor enthusiasts to the the top of a lesser-known cinder cone. From here, you can admire the views of the surroundings. Better yet, peer into the cinder cone. Not many other outdoor areas near Flagstaff can provide you with such a unique experience.
Alternately, take the 34-mile scenic drive though the Sunset Crater and Wupatki to explore more of the Flagstaff region in just a few hours.
3. Walnut Canyon National Monument
17 minutes from Flagstaff
Located roughly 12 miles from Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon National Monument entices both the outdoor adventures and history enthusiasts. Home to 25 ancient cliff dwellings, the area impresses with its secluded, elevated location. Wandering around and peering into a deep abyss, you can’t help but wonder how somebody could survive in this unwelcoming terrain centuries ago.
Today, this shaded area on the outskirts of Flagstaff certainly looks appealing for the quick outdoor escapes. Boasting a couple of paved trails that run along the rim and go deeper into the canyon, it’s a piece of cake to trek through even for a child.
The easiest of the trails here is the Rim Trail. Spreading for 0.7 mile (out and back), it introduces the outdoor lovers from Flagstaff to the local flora and presents the incredible views of the ponderosa pine forests.
The 1-mile, round-trip Island Trail is harder. Dropping into the canyon, it tests your stamina and endurance. On the other hand, the path that passes by the remains of the ancient cliff dwelling, is not to miss if you look for the most unusual outdoor things to do near Flagstaff.
4. Grand Falls – One of the Most Unexpected Outdoor Adventures near Flagstaff
55 minutes from Flagstaff
I must confess, Grand Falls was on top of my list of the outdoor things to do in the Williams – Flagstaff area. Yet as fate would have it, I didn’t get a chance to enjoy it. We road-tripped through the American Southwest during that time when many places, including the Grand Falls area, were closed due to a pandemic.
Eager to see Chocolate Falls in person, I even called (I hardly ever do it) to find out estimated time of the site’s opening. All this to no avail. Oh well, at least we know exactly what we want to do next time we travel to the Flagstaff area.
For those who are luckier than us, be sure to add Grand Falls to the top of your to-do things near Flagstaff. At more than 181 feet high, this Arizona’s attraction is even higher than Niagara Falls.
Located 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff, the must-do outdoor pursuit plunges down the cliff in the Painted Desert on the Navajo Nation. As the water cascades down, it creates gorgeous rainbows. These along with the chocolate-like color of the falls draw the outdoor adventurers visiting the Flagstaff area like a magnet.
The site offers a jaw-dropping watery show most of the year. March and April, however, promise the best outdoor performances in the entire Flagstaff area.
5. Meteor Crater National Monument
45 minutes from Flagstaff
Another unbelievable place to add to your outdoor activities near Flagstaff, Meteor Crater National Monument has been officially recognized in November 1967. Meteor Crater or Barringer Crater is the largest impact crater ever discovered in the USA.
This massive landmark bewilders all of its visitors – including those who head here from Flagstaff – with its size. At roughly 0.7 mile in diameter and 560 feet in depth, it’s one of the biggest hidden gems in the enormous Arizona’s desert.
Yet despite being recognized on the national level, the site is privately owned by the Barringer Crater Company. Tickets are required to visit this unique outdoor museum on the outskirts of Flagstaff. So if you long to see the gigantic hole with your own eyes, be sure to reserve your guided tour in advance.
6. Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve
10-15 minutes from Flagstaff
All avid outdoor adventurers are welcomed at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve, nestled just 6.5 miles from Flagstaff center. The place offers ample hiking trails, mountain routes for cyclists, and a wide area for horseback riding.
Furthermore, if you have a soft spot for wildlife or American Native history, make sure to add the place to your Flagstaff’s outdoor adventures as soon as possible. 1,000-year-old ruins and petroglyphs, known as Northern Sinagua petroglyphs, narrate about the almost forgotten past of the region.
The ancient carvings come to life along the Don Weaver Trail. Covering 0.7 mile, the path offers the outdoors-loving locals and visitors of Flagstaff impeccable views of the inner canyon, pithouse ruins, and the Petroglyph Overlook.
If longer outdoor excursions inspire you to leave the center of Flagstaff, plan to hike the 2.8 Tom Moody Trail. It runs around the entire Picture Canyon Preserve, passing through the “Water Bird” petroglyph site.
7. Lava River Cave – a Hidden Outdoor Gem near Flagstaff
30 minutes from Flagstaff
14 miles north of Flagstaff sits one of the most incredible landmarks the outdoor adventurers can’t afford to miss. Hidden in the Coconino National Forest, the Lava River Cave is a mile-long lava tube cavern. The place was built by molten rocks, the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in Hart Prairie.
Today, nothing reminds of the “scorching hot” past of this outdoor-indoor area near Flagstaff. Quite the opposite, the cave is freezing cold. Stone icicles hang from its ceiling and the temperature can drop to staggering 42 degrees Fahrenheit even in summer.
8. Lockett Meadow
40 minutes from Flagstaff
Locket Meadow allures the most adventurous outdoor enthusiasts that are eager to trade the convenience of Flagstaff for primitive conditions of the Lockett Meadow Campground. The place is worth it, though. With the stunning views of the San Francisco Peaks and aspen trees surrounding the area, your pursuits here will please the eye all year long.
If you have just a few hours to explore the outdoor wonders in this part of the Flagstaff region, hit the Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Trail. The loop trail stretches for 3.4 miles, unveiling some hidden natural gems along the way.
9. Grand Canyon National Park
1 hour 30 minutes
The most popular outdoor adventures near Flagstaff involve a visit to world-famous Grand Canyon National Park. The symbol of Arizona, also known as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, allures the travelers from all over the world. The gigantic chasm stretches for 277 miles and in some places can be one mile deep.
Standing at the cliff edge and taking in all this splendor and magnificence is a reward for driving roughly 1 hour 30 minutes from Flagstaff. If a sense of discovery inspires you try harder and look deeper, then get closer to the natural wonders of the canyon along the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails.
If you look for more outdoor adventures in Flagstaff and Arizona, please check out the following guides:
- How to Visit Sycamore Falls, Arizona
- How to Hike Cathedral Wash Trail, Arizona
- 6 Best Places to Visit in Arizona
- Top 10 Hidden Gems and Best-Kept Secrets in Arizona