Most Canadians have two visions of Arizona: deserts and canyons. Reveal to us that you think the state is nothing but burnt rocks and you've just made it painfully obvious you've never been to Flagstaff.  Located in north-central Arizona and sitting upon the Colorado Plateau, the city enjoys a higher elevation. This means the flora and fauna differs vastly from the cacti of the arid south. Flagstaff itself is shrouded by pondersosa pine forests. In fact, its name originates from a flagpole crafted of the tree. Peppered among the pines are deciduous aspens. Come fall, as temperatures dip and we reach for our knits, the leaves put on an incredible show. Slowly the aspens change to gold and red hues, framed by the deep greens of the enveloping pines. It's not hard to see why visitors savour autumn in Flagstaff. Before setting out for the day, check the online LEAF-ometer to learn which areas are at the height of vibrancy. Then, get out into the great outdoors and become a leaf peeper! 


Take a Walk in the Woods

leafometer flagstaff leaf fall autumn
Credit: (c) Flagstaff CVB

Nothing evokes our childhood autumns like playing in the crisp leaves scattered on the ground. The hills and valleys surrounding Flagstaff are perfect for hikers of all levels, and are an especially excellent way to go leaf peeping. Stretch your legs and kick through those which have already fallen on some of our favourite trails: 

Bow & Arrow Trail – a lovely walk along a gentle trail with almost no change in elevation. Enjoy this path that weaves through a grassy canyon bottom and connects to a longer trail at its endpoint. The 1.3 km stroll is pleasant any time of day and is suitable for all levels.

Buffalo Park Loop – a 3.2 km loop around the park, the trail lays on an ancient lava flow and travels through open grassland. The trail is well-maintained but a few elevation changes may slow down some hikers. Views of mountains to the north are stunning and Buffalo Park is fun to explore along the way.

Mars Hill Trail – although it starts out with a bit of a steep grade, much of the 3 km trail is reasonably level and smooth for easy walking. The path takes hikers through ponderosa pine forest and provides access to Thorpe and Bark Parks, in addition to Frances Short Pond.

Kachina Trail – an 8 km out-and-back trail, this is one of the more popular hikes for seeing the changing leaves. Most elevation changes are gradual as the trail meanders through meadows, clearings, aspen groves and boulder-strewn open areas. Dress in layers to prepare for the cooler, shady sections and warmer, sunshine-flooded grasslands.


A Bird's Eye View

fall autumn flagstaff arizona leaves leaf(c) Laura Deppe, Flagstaff CVB

After days of sightseeing sometimes all you want to do is sit down and relax. Typically that comes at the expense of missing out. Not the case in Flagstaff! On the eastern side of the San Francisco Peaks you’ll find the perfect solution: a chairlift that that zips visitors up 3,500 metres. The panoramic views of the region seen from the top are stunning. Take in the magnificent red rocks of Sedona, cinder cone fields left by ancient volcanoes, and even the far-off walls of the Grand Canyon. At the top, a Forest Service interpretive specialist greets visitors and offers fascinating insight about the geology, biology and history of the region. While there, make the short hike to the summit. You may just peep some wildlife before taking the lift back down the mountain. The ride is 25 minutes in duration (each way), giving plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and snap photos.


Search for Concealed Treasure

Geocaching flagstaff arizona(c) Jennifer Larsen

Geocaching is an activity that’s based on a 160-year-old game that uses clues to guide players to hidden caches. When the Global Positioning System (GPS) became accurate and available to the public the game was revived using specific coordinates instead of clues. Once GPS became commonplace on smart phones, apps were created to allow almost anyone to join in the game. If you're familiar with geocaching in your own postal code, you'll love searching for hidden caches around the world.

Flagstaff is part of a project that takes geocaching a step further. The Historic Arizona Route 66 Geocaching Project gives visitors a chance to explore the historic roadway in a more involved fashion. Multiple caches can be located in Flagstaff, each with a log book and some history of the area. For visitors travelling with weary or fatigued companions, it’s a great way to get them involved. After all, it's a hidden treasure hunt!

Once you’ve gotten your friends or kids hooked on geocaching, seek out caches hidden all over the city and surrounding area. There are literally hundreds of caches around Flagstaff to be found. Every hike, drive or sightseeing day trip can be heightened by a quick search for nearby “treasures”. Geocaching will have you making just one more excuse to get into Flagstaff's golden forests. 

Leaf Peep From the Saddle

horse leaves autumn fall

There’s something about absorbing the grandeur of nature from the saddle. It's part adventure and part nostalgia; after all Canadians have pioneer roots. There's a cowpoke in all of us! Even visitors who have little-to-no experience with horses can enjoy trail riding. We suggest leaf peeping from this unique vantage point. 

The Hitchin’ Post Stables is one of several ranches close to Flagstaff offering spectacular autumn trail rides. The Hitchin’ Post takes riders through the Walnut Canyon National Monument, a semi-primitive area that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles of any kind. Keep an eye out for elk or bobcats during your trail ride. Rides range anywhere from one to four hours. Wagon rides are also available. Check their website for special fall events such as Pumpkins in the Pines that lasts through October.

High Mountain Trail Rides operates near Mormon Lake, weaving riders through various areas depending on the length of the journey. Rides can last from a few hours to a full day, covering many miles and varying terrain. A full day adventure includes a long break for lunch at the top of Mormon Mountain. Take in 360-degree views that can reach for over 100 miles in clear weather.

To make a weekend of it (or longer), look into a cabin retreat at Mormon Lake Lodge. Mount your steed and ride through the forest or glide along the lake in a canoe to view the changing colors of the leaves. You can even ramp things up a little on an ATV. There are 20 miles of trails to explore throughout the Coconino National Forest.


This post was brought to you by
Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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