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Road Trip Guide: Tucson to Flagstaff

Flagstaff Arizona | Road Trip Guide: Tucson to Flagstaff

Where can you experience all four seasons in Arizona? Flagstaff offers powdery snow in the winter, color in the fall, wildflowers in the spring, and gorgeous, green summers.

In less than four hours, you can leave behind the Tucson desert (which has its own magnetism) and be immersed in towering Ponderosa Pine trees at almost 7,000 feet.

Home to Arizona's tallest mountain (Humphrey's Peak) and an incredible skiing/snowboarding destination (Arizona Snowbowl), Flagstaff is a quaint and lively college town with a population peeking just over 70,000.

Flagstaff offers strong appeal as a medium-sized city (not too large, not too small) with a beautiful nature backdrop. Avid hikers and bikers love the area for its peaceful, mountainous terrain - while hunters and fishermen also find plentiful wide open spaces for their sport of choice.

ROUTE

The route from Tucson to Flagstaff will take you right through the heart of the Phoenix valley. As such, you may want to try to avoid peak rush hour times (weekday mornings & evenings).

As the fifth largest city in the United States, Phoenix offers big city restaurants, attractions, shopping, and resorts. If you want to make a stop between Tucson and Flagstaff for food or fun, you will likely find what you are looking for in Phoenix.

WEATHER

Flagstaff offers a full four-season experience with temperatures to match. Even in the winter, however, you can still expect the ubiquitous Arizona sunshine to splash on your cheeks. On average, Flagstaff has 288 days of sunshine per year, which is more than the national average of 205 days.

Be sure to check the forecast before you go, but you can use the below temperature averages as a general guideline.

  • Winter: 40s highs, high teens lows
  • Spring: 50-70 highs, 20-30 lows
  • Summer: 70-80 highs, 40-50 lows
  • Fall: 50-70 highs, 20-40 lows

No matter the season, be sure to pack layers, to wear sunglasses, and to slather on sunscreen. The higher elevation can lead to sunburns - even in frosty weather.

WHERE TO STAY

Because Flagstaff has 70,000+ people and is home to Northern Arizona University, there are a number of convenient hotel options.

Residence Inn Flagstaff

Residence Inn Flagstaff is somewhat new to the Flagstaff scene (opened in 2017), but has quickly gained in popularity - for good reason!

The Marriott-branded hotel has a premium location right in the heart of Downtown Flagstaff. Walk out the front doors and you're steps away from restaurants, bars, a sweet shoppe (with specialty caramel apples), the public library, and the visitor's center (which is housed in an old train station).

The rooms are modern and spacious - with open floor plans and functional kitchenettes. The decor style is minimalistic chic - with splashes of color that are reminiscent of Arizona sunsets (cheerful yellows, pumpkin oranges, and fiery reds).

Enjoy complimentary breakfast every morning - which includes scrambled eggs, make-your-own waffles, bagels & toast, fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, a veggie crumble, egg whites, coffee, and juice. This Residence Inn also offers a fitness center, an indoor pool & jacuzzi, and pre-mapped running routes via the MapMyFitness app.

Parking is $7 per day in two adjacent lots. Be sure to note that almost all of the roads in Downtown Flagstaff are one-way.

NOTES ABOUT RESIDENCE INN FLAGSTAFF

  • PEAK SEASON: March-October; December
  • AVERAGE PEAK SEASON RATE: $209-$439
  • OFF-SEASON: November, January, February
  • AVERAGE OFF-SEASON RATE: $145
  • DEALS/LOYALTY PROGRAM: Join the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program for perks + deals.

OTHER HOTEL OPTIONS

Five other hotel options you might want to consider in Flagstaff are:

  • DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Flagstaff
  • Drury Inn & Suites Flagstaff
  • Little America Hotel Flagstaff
  • Hilton Garden Inn Flagstaff
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Flagstaff East

Note that there are no large-scale resorts in Flagstaff, but you can find charming bed & breakfasts in addition to standard hotels and quirky motels.

THINGS TO DO

Flagstaff Visitor Center

A smart first stop when you arrive in Flagstaff is the Flagstaff Visitor Center. Located in an old AMTRAK station right next to the railroad tracks, the visitor center is centrally located in the city and easily walkable to Downtown Flagstaff's restaurants + shops.

The visitor center offers brochures and information on area attractions, as well as Flagstaff and Grand Canyon-themed souvenirs.

Downtown Flagstaff

Downtown Flagstaff is quaint, quiet, and charming. You'll find cafes, candy shops, bookstores, breweries, pizzerias, and bars - along with large-scale murals, which will be perfect for your instagram feed.

Hiking, Biking, and The Outdoors

If you love the outdoors, you will find many kindred spirits in Flagstaff. Hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and hunting are all popular pastimes - not to mention wandering the nearby national parks and monuments (including Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Coconino National Forest).

PRO TIP: If you have a 4th grader, you can receive a complimentary National Parks pass!

Winter Activities & Snowplay

In the winter, you can hit the slopes to ski or snowboard at Arizona Snowbowl - or go tubing at Flagstaff Snow Park.

Sledding and tubing are popular pastimes during the winter months, but be sure to go in a permitted sledding area and to clean up all of your litter & sleds before you leave. You can call the Snowplay Hotline for current conditions: 1-844-256-SNOW.  

Lowell Observatory

Interesting fact: Pluto was discovered in Flagstaff in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Where? At Lowell Observatory!

Lowell Observatory, which was established in 1894, is a 750-acre non-profit research foundation and a working science center. Open to the public, the observatory offers multimedia presentations, exhibits, and telescope viewings (dependent on weather conditions). The observatory is open year-round, Mon-Sat (10am-10pm) and Sundays (10am-5pm). Adult admission is $22; child admission (ages 5-17) is $14. Seniors, college students, and military receive $2off admission. There are discounted rates on Sundays. Children under age five are always free.

Top Tips for Visiting Lowell Observatory:

  • Dress in layers. Evenings can be chilly (even in the summer) and frigid in the winter. Much of the observatory is outdoors and/or not temperature-controlled so be sure to plan accordingly.
  • Wear good walking shoes, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Hydrate well before visiting and bring water bottles with you.
  • Lowell Observatory is best for ages 8+. The lectures and walking tours are geared to older children, teens, and adults. There are not many hands-on exhibits or activities geared to preschoolers.
  • If you have kids with you, consider the Junior Astronomer program. Similar to the Junior Ranger program offered at most national parks, this $3 program allows kids to interact with the observatory more thoroughly...and to earn a space-themed badge!
  • The Giovale Open Deck Observatory opened in October 2019. This public observing plaza features six advanced telescopes that will collectively "give you a viewing experience that goes far beyond seeing faint smudges of light."
  • Check the schedule ahead of time to see what will be offered during your visit.
  • Inquire with your hotel to see if they offer discounted tickets.

Other local attractions to look into include: Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, the City of Flagstaff Aquaplex, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, Museum of Northern Arizona, and Theatrikos Theatre Company.

RESTAURANTS/PLACES TO EAT

Like Tucson, Flagstaff has a vibrant culinary scene - with fresh foods, inventive entrees, and alfresco dining. Pictured above: Cajun barbecue and comfort foods from Satchmo's.

Flagstaff also has a growing number of breweries as well as a self-guided beer trail (Flagstaff Brewery Trail) if you are inclined to follow it.

SHORT DAY TRIPS FROM FLAGSTAFF

Up for a short drive? Flagstaff is an excellent "home base" for exploring the grandeur of the state.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon Arizona | Road Trip Guide: Tucson to Flagstaff

Because the Grand Canyon is only 60-90 minutes from Flagstaff, many people choose to stay in Flagstaff and day trip to one of the most visited tourist attractions in the USA. Offering truly spectacular views, the Grand Canyon is an excellent place to hike, take pictures, do an ultra-run, or ride a mule.

For a unique experience, you can take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to Flagstaff - or vice versa.

Sedona & Oak Creek Canyon

"Sedona is one of my favorite places in the world!" This is a common refrain by anyone who has ever visited the breathtaking red rocks and canyons. Just shy of an hour from Flagstaff, Sedona is a scenic retreat - world-famous for hiking, mountain biking, and spa treatments.

Other Nearby Attractions

You may also want to consider adding Bearizona Wildlife Park, Out of Africa Wildlife Park, or Canyon de Chelly to your itinerary.

HAVE FUN IN FLAGSTAFF!

Watch this page for continued updates and top tips for planning your next trip to Flagstaff.

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