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Jesse Weber | 02.13.2018

Flagstaff, Arizona, plays a lot of characters for a small city. It's a mountain town, a ski town, a college town, a Route 66 town, a Western classic, the biggest city in Northern Arizona, and most of all, it's a base camp to outdoor adventure. Most people come through Flagstaff en route to the Grand Canyon or simply passing through on I-40, but with an extra day here you might be surprised at what you discover.

Set in Arizona's pine-forested high country and at the base of snowy peaks, Flagstaff is not what you'd expect in Arizona. The desert is not far away either, and day trips from Flagstaff can access an incredible diversity of scenery in this part of the state. Here are 10 must-do adventures that you can have in a day out of Flagstaff.

1. Hiking the San Francisco Peaks

The San Francisco Peaks together form Arizona's tallest mountain, with 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak at its summit. At this altitude, the evergreen and aspen forests resemble a scene from Colorado rather than Arizona, but you can find it all right here. Hike the Humphreys Trail to journey above treeline and see for miles, or the Inner Basin Trail for changing aspen leaves in the fall.

2. Cross-country skiing at the Nordic Village

In winter, green forests around Flagstaff turn white with snow. To make the most of it, check out the Arizona Nordic Village. More than 25 miles of groomed trails meander among aspen and pine glades, open to skiing, snowshoeing, and snow bikes. You can even rent a backcountry yurt to spend the night in the woods.

3. Exploring Wupatki National Monument

For a taste of the region's human history, venture to Wupatki National Monument just north of Flagstaff. Here you'll find impressive pueblo ruins built on rock platforms for prominence over the desert landscape. Many dwellings and artifacts are on display, and hiking trails lead to places rarely seen.

4. Hiking the West Fork of Oak Creek

Oak Creek Canyon is a surprisingly lush stripe of green beneath towering rock walls. Just the drive south of Flagstaff is enough to wow, but to really have your mind blown, stop at the West Fork Trail midway through the canyon. Walking through green grass, ankle-deep water, and beneath willow trees and sheer cliffs, you'll get deep into this hidden environment.

5. Exploring Sedona

Sedona, Arizona, is a destination all its own, but it's located less than an hour's drive from Flagstaff. The short journey through Oak Creek Canyon and off the plateau transports you to an entirely different world of redrock desert. Find flowing water with a majestic backdrop at Crescent Moon Ranch, natural architecture at Devils Bridge, or camp out at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

6. Swimming in Fossil Creek

A summer retreat tucked into one of Arizona's many desert canyons, the waterfalls of Fossil Creek flow with clear, cool water year round. A bumpy drive and an easy hike lead to this oasis for swimming and  cliff jumping...a perfect shady reprieve from the heat.

7. Seeing Horseshoe Bend

A few hours north of Flagstaff is one of the most iconic viewpoints in America. Horseshoe Bend is an oxbow in the Colorado River sunk in a canyon hundreds of feet deep. A short walk from the car puts you on the cliff's edge, overlooking a blue arc of water and walls of layered red.

8. Hiking Antelope Canyon

Another of the nation's most famous photo spots is Antelope Canyon, located in the Navajo Nation near Horseshoe Bend. A tour takes you into orange-banded, undulating canyon so narrow that only a sliver of sky shines through. Catch the canyon at the right time to watch light beam down from above.

9. Exploring Petrified Forest National Park

An often overlooked but deserving destination is Petrified Forest National Park. Here, only two hours from Flagstaff, is the the largest concentration of petrified wood in the world. You can hike among colorful fossilized trees on the landscape of the Painted Desert. Other traces of history you'll find are inscriptions and artifacts from humans that lived here thousands of years ago.

10. Visiting the Grand Canyon

No trip in Northern Arizona is complete without seeing Grand Canyon National Park. The South Rim is just over an hour from Flagstaff, and this is where you'll find the most famous viewpoints, trails into the canyon, lodges, museums, and free shuttles to connect them all. You can see a lot in one afternoon, but even staying an entire week can only scratch the surface of possibilities in this massive and intricate landscape.


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