3 Days Hiking and Exploring Flagstaff

Spend 3 days hiking in the San Francisco Peaks and sampling some of Flagstaff's best restaurants and watering holes. Whether you're looking to summit Arizona's tallest peak or an easier hike among aspens and wildflowers, this itinerary has you covered.
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Overview

Set at the foot of the 12,000 foot San Francisco Peaks and in the middle of the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff is a hiker’s dream. Add a plethora of great restaurants, coffee shops and breweries, and you have the perfect mix for playing hard then kicking back at the end of the day. This itinerary will get you out into the mountains and even on top of Arizona’s tallest peak (if you’re up for it), but leaves time to take a break and enjoy this lively town.

Preparation

Flagstaff is one of the few places in Arizona that experiences four distinct seasons, rather than just “sweltering,” and “warm.” Thanks to it being located at 7,000 feet, it experiences cold, snowy winters and warm (but not too hot) summers with cool nights. Flagstaff does however share the monsoon season with the rest of the state, which means you can expect afternoon thunderstorms to appear out of nowhere between June and mid-September. So if you’re planning a hike, be prepared for wind and rain no matter how nice the weather seems in the morning, and definitely plan on being below treeline if a thunderstorm is possible. I’d recommend packing a waterproof layer, sturdy hiking boots, sunblock, and a way to carry plenty of water.

Day 1: Get acclimated

Don’t underestimate the effects of hiking at high elevation– altitude sickness can sneak up on you quickly, especially if you’re arriving from sea level. So if you’re planning on tackling Humphrey’s Peak or hiking above treeline, start off with a hike that will get you up high without wearing you out. But first, start your day with a solid breakfast– you can’t go wrong with either The Toasted Owl Cafe or MartAnne’s (their green chile chilaquiles are legendary). Then head out to Lockett Meadow for a moderate hike into the inner basin of the San Francisco Peaks. This 3.4 mile round trip hike starts at 8,600 feet and tops out at 10,500, giving your lungs a chance to adjust to the thin air. The trail switchbacks through aspens before opening up in the heart of the crater left by the volcanic eruption that shaped the San Francisco Peaks as we know them now. Take in a view of Humphrey’s, then head back the way you came. If you still have time and energy, consider making a stop at Sunset Crater National Monument before heading back into town. The surreal, black lava rock landscape will make you feel like you’re on another planet. This eruption was much more recent than the one that blew the top off of Humphrey’s Peak– only about 1,000 years ago. Back in town, treat yourself to one of the many great restaurants downtown. If you want to load up on carbs before a long day, look no further than Pizzicletta, or hearty pub fare from Beaver Street Brewery.

Day 2: Wear yourself out

This is the day for a longer hike– whether it be to the top of Arizona’s tallest peak, or a milder hike around the northwest side of it– so you’ll want to get an early start. This is especially important for Humphrey’s Peak, since afternoon thunderstorms are common and there is no shelter above treeline. Fuel up at local favorite Macy’s European Coffee House, where the coffee is always on point and the vegetarian options are enough to fill you up without dragging you down. This is also a good place to grab a few baked goods and other snacks or lunch for your hike. If you’re up for scaling the 12,633 foot tall Humphrey’s Peak (around 11 miles round trip), head to the Arizona Snowbowl ski area parking lot. That’s where the hike begins, at an elevation of 9,200 feet. On the way up you’ll hike through dense pine forests before hitting the treeline around 11,000 feet. Once you’re above the treeline, you’re in the only alpine tundra region in Arizona. Even if you don’t make it to the summit, the views are incredible from above treeline. This is a strenuous hike; if that isn’t your cup of tea but still want an all-day outing, try the Abineau-Bear Jaw loop. This 7 mile loop passes through fields of wildflowers, Ponderosa forests and aspen stands. You can also get a view of the Grand Canyon from the high point on the trail, without gasping for air. When you’re done, head back into town for a solid meal. Diablo Burger is a Flagstaff institution, serving up burgers and fries made entirely from local ingredients. For a veggie option, look no further than Red Curry Vegan Kitchen.

Day 3: Hit the town

If you tackled Humphrey’s Peak the day before, you’re bound to be sore and tired. So sleep in and have a lazy brunch, followed by a walking tour downtown with a hoppy twist. Tourist Home All Day Cafe makes a mean huevos rancheros, and Brandy’s Cafe is the place to go for eggs Benedict. Then hit the trail– the Flagstaff Brewery Trail! Pick up a passport (or print one out ahead of time) from the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. If you visit at least five different breweries (no purchase necessary if you’re the designated driver or are feeling too tipsy) you can pick up a commemorative pint glass. This is a great way to explore the town, visit shops, and see some of the downtown murals, all while enjoying some of the Southwest’s best craft beer. If you haven’t filled up on brewery fare and are looking for a splurge-worthy dinner to cap off your trip, make a reservation for Shift. Go all out with their four course tasting menu, or try one of their handmade pasta dishes at their cozy establishment in the historic Babbitt building. From here you can head back to your hotel, or if you still have some energy, you’re bound to find live music and dancing at either the Museum Club (bring cowboy boots) or the Monte Vista, Flagstaff’s original speakeasy.

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