Flagstaff is northern Arizona’s center for outdoor activities. Chief among them is skiing at Arizona Snowbowl (www.snowbowl.ski; tel. 928/779-1951), on the slopes of Mount Agassiz, from which you can see all the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Snowbowl has 4 chairlifts, 32 runs, and 2,300 vertical feet of slopes (an excellent mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes), as well as ski rentals and a children’s ski program. It’s the ski area most easily accessed from Phoenix, so Snowbowl sees a lot of weekend traffic from the snow-starved denizens of the desert. Conditions are, however, very unreliable; it can be shut down for weeks on end when there’s not enough snow. All-day lift tickets are $79 adults, $66 teens 13 to 17, $47 seniors, $44 ages 8 to 12, and free for kids 7 and under and seniors 70 and over. In summer, you can ride a chairlift almost to the summit of Mount Agassiz and enjoy sweeping views across seemingly all of northern Arizona. In summer the round-trip lift-ticket costs $19 adults, $15 seniors and kids 8 to 12. To get here, take U.S. 180 N from Flagstaff for 7 miles and turn right onto Snow Bowl Rd.
When no snow is on the ground, there are plenty of trails for hiking amid the San Francisco Peaks, and many national forest trails are open to mountain bikes. Late September, when the aspens have turned a brilliant golden yellow, is one of the best times of year for a hike in Flagstaff’s mountains. If you’ve got the stamina, do the Humphreys Trail, which climbs more than 3,300 feet in 4.5 miles. Needless to say, the views from the 12,633-foot summit, the highest point in Arizona, are stupendous. The trail head is 7 miles north of Flagstaff on U.S. 180 N (turn right on Snow Bowl Rd. and go to the parking area by the ski lodge).
For a short hike with a big payoff, the 2.5-mile round-trip hike to Red Mountain leads to a fascinating red-walled cinder cone that long ago collapsed to reveal its strange interior walls. Its trail head is north of Flagstaff on U.S. 180, at milepost 247 (a forest road leads west for about a quarter-mile to the trail head parking area).
Another fine local hike explores the Picture Canyon Preserve, a 478-acre rocky patch of forest 4 miles east of Flagstaff on Route 66 (take El Paso Flagstaff Rd. 1 mile to the parking area). A 2.8-mile loop trail takes you up and down a steep but low canyon to a waterfall, a petroglyph site, ponds, and an ancient pithouse; part of the 800-mile-long Arizona Trail passes through Picture Canyon as well.
For information on other hikes in the Coconino National Forest, contact the Flagstaff Ranger Districts, 5075 N. U.S. 89, Flagstaff 86004 (www.fs.usda.gov/coconino; tel. 928/526-0866).
Grand Falls: The Muddy Niagara
At 185 feet tall, Grand Falls, 33 miles east of Flagstaff on the Little Colorado River, are higher than Niagara Falls. Granted, they don’t carry nearly the volume of water Niagara does—in fact, most of the year there’s no water at all in Grand Falls. They run only during the spring snowmelt season (in years when there has been any snow) and after summer monsoons. Consequently, to see these falls, you need to have good timing. You also need a high-clearance vehicle, because the last 10 miles of the route are on a washboard gravel road that can be impassable if it has rained.
To find Grand Falls, drive north from Flagstaff on U.S. 89A a couple miles to Townsend-Winona Rd., where you turn east and go 8 miles to Leupp Rd. Turn left on Leupp and follow it 14 miles into the Navajo Reservation to Indian Route 70 (you may see a sign for grand falls bible church). Turn left (north) onto this gravel road and drive 10 miles to the Little Colorado River. Now turn around and go back 1/4 mile to the unmarked rough dirt track on your right. The falls are a few hundred yards down this dirt road.
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