This Northern Arizona Mountain Town Is a Veritable Winter Wonderland in the Desert State
Come to Flagstaff for the epic skiing. Stay for the cozy resorts, local brews, and crystal-clear stargazing.
Flagstaff is a mere couple of hours north on the I-17 from the cactus-covered capital of Phoenix. Home to Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff is an equal blend of college town and idyllic retreat amongst the Ponderosa Pines. With history dating back to the late 1800s, this former hub of Route 66 activity has continually reinvented itself without losing its mountain town charm. At nearly 7,000 feet elevation, Flagstaff is a respite from scorching temps during the summer. But come wintertime, visitors are drawn to the powdery hills of Snowbowl.
Although the drive from Phoenix is easy, it can be plagued with heavy traffic. There is a small regional airport with flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor. Flagstaff is also a stop on Amtrak for those who choose to ride the rails into town. Ultimately, there’s no excuse to not come and enjoy this star of Arizona’s cool High Country.
2 hours from Phoenix, AZ
4 hours from Las Vegas, NV
If you don’t do anything else: Hit up Snowbowl
At the peak of Mount Humphreys, the highest point of the San Francisco Peaks and the state, is Arizona Snowbowl. The skiing and snowboarding destination, one of only a couple in the entire 48th state, is situated approximately 20 minutes north of Flagstaff, which makes the city a perfect base camp for a weekend of snow-driven activity. With a top elevation of 11,500 feet that can be reached by lift, there are 55 trails for attendees to carve up that provide every degree of difficulty. The average snowfall is over 200 inches, though it can vary wildly; if Mother Nature isn’t playing nicely, the season will still open in November, albeit with man-made snow.
Once you’re finished up on the slopes, hit up the Basecamp Restaurant to refuel with chili or potato rounds off of the hearty menu. Don’t feel like driving back to Flagstaff? Basecamp offers lodgings that range from family-friendly modern hotel rooms to small cabins with gas stoves.
Fill the weekend with: Outdoors activities in Flagstaff
Flagstaff has a long history with space, being named the world’s first International Dark Sky Place and home to the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was first discovered. Visitors can check out the telescope that spotted the former 9th planet as well as two other telescopes, an open deck observatory, talks with astronomers, stargazing, and more.
More of a cross country skier than downhill? Go check out Arizona Nordic Village and get your skis on! About 20 minutes from town, there are 24 miles of trails available to go trek cross country style or strap on snowshoes to make your way through the snow and stunning scenery. Yurts and cabins are on site to book and bunk down for the night.
For the more geologically inclined, drive 20 miles to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Almost 1,000 years ago, its violent eruption shaped the entire area and is currently the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau. There’s some great hiking to be had but you can also explore the 34 mile loop via car.
Tired of schlepping through the snow? Make sure to spend some time winding through the adorable streets of Flagstaff’s Historic Downtown. There’s plenty to keep you occupied, between art galleries, vintage markets, shops with seasonal goods, and spots to grab a quick bite or drink. Keep an eye on the calendar for lots of free entertainment events as well.
Eat, drink, and sleep
The best restaurants and bars in Flagstaff
Before a day of wintertime sports or soaking up the sights, start things off with a cup of hot java from Matador Coffee Roasting Co. The local father and son company took their coffee shop knowledge from Seattle and brought it down to the Southwest, providing NAU students well-crafted caffeine. Plus, a purchase of a drip coffee provides you free refills all day long. Head to local legend Bun Huggers for charbroiled burgers, which have been served amongst scarred wood tables and walls laden with memorabilia since 1979. Besides the burgers, everything fried is delicious—mushrooms, onion rings, and of course, French fries that you may also want to drench in chili and cheese.
Situated appropriately in one of the last lumber buildings from Flagstaff’s past, Lumberyard Brewing Co. has been brewing and serving visitors since 2010. Their award-winning year round brews are all named to reference the town; the Taproom and Grille restaurant is in the perfect location to grab a drink and some food before exploring the rest of Historic Downtown. Your exploration should take you to the nearby Dark Sky Brewing. The wildly popular company has crafted over 750 different recipes over the years and keeps 40 different beers on tap between their Taproom and Beer Garden, the two locations sitting adjacent. Grab one of their award-winning IPAs or lagers to warm up against the winter cold.
For a taste of the Italian tradition, go to Fat Olives for Vera Pizza Napoletana slices. Chef John Conley introduced patrons to his award-winning pizza over 25 years ago and is one of only a few VPN-certified pizzerias in the state. Their fresh, handcrafted pies with imported ingredients are wood-fired to finish off the authentic flavors. If you’re looking for wood-fired ingredients done a different way, head over to the Old Town Shops for Bigfoot BBQ. The basement restaurant smokes all their meats in-house using hickory and the tantalizing smells easily permeate the adjoining Basement Marketplace shop full of trendy clothing and accessories. You can find all the traditional barbecue delights, including a selection of items that are inspired by food at truck stops in the South.
At dinner time, book a reservation at Atria from James Beard Semifinalist chef Rochelle Daniel. Her seasonality focused menu showcases all of the finest ingredients from Northern Arizona. The restaurant’s light and breezy vibe contrasts well against snowy nights and hearty homemade pastas and meat-based entrees warm the soul against the cold. If you have the time, book the eight-course tasting menu.
Where to stay in Flagstaff
Flagstaff is part of the historic Route 66 and a couple of newly restored hotels are embracing the nostalgia vibes. High Country Motor Lodge has taken its former roadside motel property and renovated the 123 rooms to have updated yet rustic accents and astronomic charm. It also partners with Snowbowl to provide guests discounted ski passes. There’s the Nordic Spa to take advantage of after a day on the slopes with a hot tub, sauna, and cold plunge.
Also reopening after an extensive renovation, Americana Motor Hotel is a retro-futuristic motor hotel with 89 artful rooms, a year-round heated pool, fenced in “Barkyard” with dog wash station, a spacious backyard with firepits, and telescopes. There’s even a vintage travel brochure rack in the lobby to complete the Route 66 vibes.
Accommodations with lodge-style rustic vibes that ultimately feel cozy and luxe, Little America Hotel is another great spot. For a truly historic stay, get a room at the Hotel Monte Vista, which will celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2026. The Historic Downtown spot is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the entire state, but it stands to reason after all the change the hotel has been part of over the previous century. The longstanding anchor point of the city is the perfect place to check out all that Downtown has to offer and its bed & breakfast style accommodations make it a cozy place to return to each night.