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When it comes to family fun, Flagstaff boasts a pretty long—and diverse—list of must-do attractions. There are seven National Parks and monuments filled with scenic wonders, lots of cool museums, volcanoes, ancient cliff dwellings, and the astronomic observatory where Pluto was discovered. Even better, it’s a cool spot in a hot state, with summer temperatures that rarely get above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Compact and easy to navigate, downtown Flagstaff, with its welcoming restaurants, interesting local boutiques, public art installations and atmospheric section of historic Route 66, is a lively home base offering plenty of activities for everyone in the family. Here are a few favorites, both in and out of town. Note: At the time of writing, the Coconino National Forest was closed due to fire hazard. Check here for the latest info.
Hit the road in Coconino National Forest
One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty and diversity of this massive park—it’s bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined—is to take advantage of scenic drives that weave past towering red rocks and sandstone cliffs, through the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the world and over gorgeous creeks. Leave plenty of time to pull onto the overlooks that dot the roadways.
Hike the Lava River Cave
More than 700,000 years old, this half-mile long rock tube was formed when molten rock from a volcanic vent about 7 miles away was pushed through the ground. You’ll need a flashlight to see the lava “icicles” hanging from the ceiling and don’t forget to bring a jacket—temperatures in the cave top out at about 45 degrees.
Stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon
The south rim of the majestic Grand Canyon, which is 18 miles long and a mile wide in places—is just 80 miles from Flagstaff. To avoid crowds, plan to arrive before 9am, or reserve a seat in one of the Grand Canyon Railway’s vintage cars. Limited facilities are open at Grand Canyon National Park; for daily updates, visit the park’s website.
Ride a gondola to Arizona’s mountain peak
Skiing rules in winter, but during the summer, Arizona Snowbowl’s triple chair lifts take visitors to the 11,500-foot upper slopes of Agassiz Peak for views of the dormant volcano field that surrounds Flagstaff, Kendrick Peak, Wild Bill Hill, Wing Mountain and, more than 80 miles away, the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
Count the stars
Lowell Observatory has a place in history. Not only was Pluto was discovered here in 1930, but the observatory’s Clark Refractor gave Apollo astronauts their first views of the moon. Night programs will take you to distant galaxies; during the day, special scopes will let you search the sun for sunspots.
Browse fantastic hotels near the observatory here.
Indulge your sweet tooth
Open since 2011, Flagstaff’s Sweet Shoppe Candy Store makes more than half of their sweet treats in house, including dark chocolate caramel sea salt fudge, a customer favorite. Signature caramel apples are made with homemade caramel and arrive rolled in M&M’s, Oreo cookies and other treats; there’s also old-fashioned candy like root beer barrels.
Soar through the trees
Part adventure course—think suspended bridges and an aerial surf board—and part sky-high zip line that soars through tall pines, Arizona Extreme Adventure will test your limits in the best of ways. A special course for kids 7-11 makes it fun for everyone.
Go back in time
Set on sacred Native American ground, the Museum of Northern Arizona is filled with special activities like scavenger hunts, a nature trail, and dinosaur bones that will get kids interested in the region’s diverse history. There’s plenty for adults, too, including exhibitions on tribal lifeways, an impressive fine art collection, and an award-winning museum shop.
Explore ancient pueblos
More than 800 years ago, Anasazi and Sinagua people lived in villages throughout northern Arizona; their dwellings can be seen at Wupatki and Walnut Grove National Monuments. Set amid tall mesas with views into the Painted Desert, the Wupatki site includes multi-story sandstone structures; at Walnut Grove, cliff dwellings are carved into sheer canyon walls.
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