Hiking in Flagstaff
You can explore Arizona's alpine tundra in the San Francisco Peaks, part of the Coconino National Forest, where more than 80 species of plants grow on the upper elevations. The habitat is fragile, so hikers are asked to stay on established trails (there are lots of them). Flatlanders should give themselves a day or two to adjust to the altitude before lengthy or strenuous hiking. The altitude here will make even the hardiest hikers breathe a little harder, so anyone with cardiac or respiratory problems should be cautious about overexertion. Note that most of the forest trails aren't accessible for hiking or biking from December through March due to snow.
Coconino National Forest–Flagstaff Ranger District. The rangers of the Coconino National Forest maintain many of the region's trails, and can provide you with details on hiking in the area; both the forest's main office in North Flagstaff and the ranger station in East Flagstaff (5075 N. U.S 89) are open weekdays 8–4. 1824 S. Thompson St., North Flagstaff, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. 928/527–3600 main office, North Flagstaff; 928/526–0866 East Flagstaff office. www.coconinoforest.us.
Mount Elden Trail System. Most trails in the Coconino National Forest's 35-mile-long Mount Elden Trail System lead to stunning views from the dormant volcanic field, across the vast ponderosa pine forest, all the way to Sedona. Keep in mind that most of the forest trails are not accessible for hiking from December through March due to snow. Flagstaff, AZ. cocnino.us. Elden Lookout Trail. The most challenging trail in the Mount Elden system, which happens to be the route with the most rewarding views, is along the steep switchbacks of the Elden Lookout Trail. If you traverse the full 3 miles to the top, keep your focus on the landscape rather than the tangle of antennae and satellite dishes that greets you at the end. Difficult. Off U.S. 89, 3 miles east of downtown Flagstaff, 86001. Sunset Trail. The 4-mile-long Sunset Trail proceeds with a gradual pitch through the pine forest, emerging onto a narrow ridge nicknamed the Catwalk. By all means take pictures of the stunning valley views, but make sure your feet are well placed. The access road to this trail is closed in winter. Moderate. Off U.S. 180, 3 miles north of downtown Flagstaff, then 6 miles east on FR 420/Schultz Pass Rd. Humphreys Peak Trail. This trail is 9 miles round-trip, with a vertical climb of 3,843 feet to the 12,643-foot summit of Arizona's highest mountain. Difficult. Trailhead: Snowbowl Rd., 7 miles north of U.S. 180. Kachina Trail. Those who don't want a long hike can do just the first mile of the 5-mile-long Kachina Trail; gently rolling, this route is surrounded by huge stands of aspen and offers fantastic vistas. In fall, changing leaves paint the landscape shades of yellow, russet, and amber. Moderate. Trailhead: Snowbowl Rd., 7 miles north of U.S. 180.
With 50 miles of urban bike trails and more than 30 miles of challenging forest and mountain trails a short ride from town, it was inevitable that one of Flagstaff's best-kept secrets would leak out. The mountain biking on Mount Elden is on par with that of more celebrated trails in Colorado and Utah. While there isn't a concise loop trail such as those in Moab, Utah, experienced bikers can create one by connecting Schultz Creek Trail, Sunset Trail, and Elden Lookout Road. Beginners (as well as those looking for rewarding scenery with less of an incline) may want to start with Lower Fort Valley and Campbell Mesa. Local bike shop staff can help with advice and planning.
Coconino National Forest. Some of the best mountain biking trails in the region are in the Coconino National Forest. Flagstaff, AZ. 928/527–3600 main office, North Flagstaff; 928/526–0866 East Flagstaff office. www.coconino.us. Lower Oldham Trail. Originating on the north end of Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, the Lower Oldham Trail is steep in some sections, but rewarding. The terrain rolls, climbing about 800 feet in 3 miles, and the trail is difficult in spots but easy enough to test your tolerance of the elevation. Many fun trails spur off this one; it's best to stop in at the local bike shop to get trail maps and discuss rides with staff who know the area. Trailhead: Cedar St., 86001. Schultz Creek Trail. The popular Schultz Creek Trail is fun and suitable for strong beginners, although seasoned experts will be thrilled as well. Most opt to start at the top of the 600-foot-high hill and swoop down the smooth, twisting path through groves of wildflowers and stands of ponderosa pines and aspens, ending at the trailhead 4 giddy miles later. Trailhead: Schultz Pass Rd., near intersection with U.S. 180. Sunset Trail. Near the summit of Mount Elden, Sunset Trail has amazing views off the ridge rendered barren by a 1977 fire. The trail narrows into the aptly nicknamed Catwalk, with precipitous drops a few feet on either side. Fear, either from the 9,000-foot elevation or the sheer exposure, is not an option. You need to be at least a moderately experienced mountain biker to attempt this trail. When combined with Elden Lookout Road and Schultz Creek Trail, the usual loop, the trail totals 15 miles and climbs almost 2,000 feet. You can avoid the slog up Mount Elden by parking one vehicle at the top of Elden Lookout Road, at the trailhead, and a friend's vehicle at the bottom. Trailhead: Elden Lookout Rd., 7 miles from intersection with Schultz Pass Rd.
Flagstaff Nordic Center. From mid-June through mid-October, the Flagstaff Nordic Center opens its cross-country trails—good for families and beginners, because they're scenic and not technically challenging. U.S. 180, 16 miles north of Flagstaff, North Flagstaff, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. 928/220–0550. www.flagstaffnordiccenter.com.
Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS). A map of the Urban Trails System, available at the Flagstaff Visitor Center, details low and no-traffic bike routes around town. Flagstaff Visitor Center, 1 E. Route 66, Downtown, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. 928/774–9541 or 800/842–7293. www.flagstaffarizona.org.
Equipment and Rentals
Absolute Bikes. You can rent mountain bikes, get good advice and gear, and purchase trail maps at Absolute Bikes. 202 E. Route 66, Downtown, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. 928/779–5969. www.absolutebikes.net.
Flagstaff Climbing Center. The tallest indoor climbing walls in the Southwest can be found at this rock-climbing gym. Flagstaff Climbing also offers guided climbing excursions around the Flagstaff area. 205 S. San Francisco St., Downtown, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. 928/556–9909. www.flagstaffclimbing.com.
Skiing and Snowboarding
The ski season usually starts in mid-December and ends in mid-April.
Arizona Snowbowl. Seven miles north of Flagstaff off U.S. 180, the Arizona Snowbowl has 32 downhill runs (37% beginner, 42% intermediate, and 21% advanced), four chairlifts, and a vertical drop of 2,300 feet. There are a couple of good bump runs, but it's better for beginners or those with moderate skill; serious area skiers take a road trip to Telluride. Still, it's a fun place to ski or snowboard. The Hart Prairie Lodge has an equipment-rental shop and a SKIwee center for ages four to seven. All-day adult lift tickets are $59. Half-day discounts are available, and group-lesson packages for skiing or snowboarding (including two hours of instruction, an all-day lift ticket, and equipment rental) are a good buy at $90. A children's program, which includes lunch and supervision from 9 to 3, runs $89 (reservations are required). Some Flagstaff motels have ski packages that include transportation to Snowbowl. Snowbowl Rd., North Flagstaff, Flagstaff, AZ, 86002. 928/779–1951; 928/779–4577 snow report. www.arizonasnowbowl.com.
Flagstaff Nordic Center. Nine miles north of Snowbowl Road, the Flagstaff Nordic Center has 25 miles of well-groomed cross-country trails here that are open 9–4 daily (when there's enough snow). Coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks are served at the lodge. A day pass for skiing costs $15 on weekdays and $18 on weekends. An instruction package costs $30, including equipment, day pass, and a 90-minute group lesson. Renting equipment by itself is $16. U.S. 180, 16 miles north of Flagstaff, North Flagstaff, Flagstaff, AZ, 86002. 928/220–0550. www.flagstaffnordiccenter.com.
Ventures. The Ventures program, run by the education department of the Museum of Northern Arizona, offers day and multiday tours of the area led by local scientists, artists, and historians. Trips might include rafting excursions down the San Juan River, treks into the Grand Canyon or Colorado Plateau backcountry, or bus tours into the Navajo Reservation to visit with Native American artists. Prices start at about $200 for cultural tours and go up to $1,500 for outdoor adventures, with most tours in the $1,000 to $1,100 range. 928/774–5211. www.mnaventures.org. From $200.
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