Elevate Adventure

September 6, 2012 |

Explore Flagstaff’s peaks and valleys with boots, bikes & climbing shoes.

On a road trip up to Flagstaff, you can watch the botany change with the elevation. Somewhere north of Phoenix, saguaros and Palo Verde trees give way to stunted oaks and acacia, followed by juniper and ponderosa pine as the road climbs up the orderly basalt columns of the Mogollon Rim.

Close to Flagstaff, you can camp for free on Mount Elden and wake up to the sun lighting up the high meadows across the San Francisco Peaks. Drive down into town for Macy’s biscuits and vegan gravy that somehow doesn’t taste vegan, and still get in a full day of climbing on the cracked orange and black face of the Oak Creek Overlook before dinner time and a pint at Beaver Street Brewery. Sleep and repeat, or mix up the endless combinations of mountain biking, hiking, gallery viewing and music listening in the temperate Northern Arizona summer for the perfectly accessible road trip just five to six hours from Tucson.

Perhaps the most classic Flagstaff adventure is the highest summit in the state, Humphreys Peak. This strenuous hike has challenges beyond the steep terrain: altitude sickness and storms strike quickly on the mountain, and hikers should turn around at the first signs of dizziness or bad weather. But a successful summit rewards the grueling effort with a 360-degree view atop the roof of Arizona.

Nearby Sycamore Canyon offers one of the most diverse destinations, with forested basalt-lined cutouts of the Mogollon Rim. One of Arizona’s premier climbing areas is here – Paradise Forks is a haven of splitter cracks, smooth-sided fractures running down the face of the rocks. The Sycamore Rim trail gives hikers a view of this crag, nearby falls, and manifold sights down canyon. A non-technical canyoneering route traverses the canyon floor, from the close, water-carved walls of the upper reaches to a series of springs below.

As if more reasons were needed to visit, Flagstaff is home to a vast network of mountain biking trails, with a 33-mile urban system linking single track that branches in every direction out of town. A lava tube 12 miles outside Flagstaff beckons for a non-technical caving exploration. A hike of less than a mile into Walnut Canyon brings Sinagua cliff dweller ruins into view.

And in summer evenings, there is music.

With the first Saturday of each month comes a concert at The Arboretum, bringing Spanish guitar, bluegrass, and world music to the 200-acre pine forest against the backdrop of the San Francisco Peaks. What could be better than ending an adventure-filled day with music at sunset? For directions and the events schedule, visitTheArb.org.

In-depth details on Flagstaff’s other adventures are online at FlagstaffArizona.org and Flagstaff.az.gov. Flagstaff is also hosting a music series this summer at the Pepsi Amphitheater at Fort Tuthill Park – visitPepsiAmp.com for the schedule.

Making Your Escape

Take I-10 to Phoenix, then switch to I-17 in Phoenix and head north. This road takes you all the way to Flagstaff, but the much more scenic route is to skip onto Highway 179 and continue north on 89A at the “Y” junction in Sedona. This route winds along Oak Creek, by plenty of pay camping, and then ascends the Mogollon Rim up to Flagstaff. The adventures listed here all have different launching points from Flagstaff proper, but the resources are readily available in the books below, all locally available at Summit Hut.


– To hike Humphreys, explore the lava tube, or examine the Sinagua ruins, get Cosmic Ray’s “50 Favorite Hikes: Flagstaff & Sedona.” Ray has also published the excellent “Arizona Mountain Bike Guide,” which covers single track across the state.


– Descend to the bottom of Sycamore Canyon with “Canyoneering Arizona” by Tyler Williams, or stay dry on the rim with “Flagstaff Hikes” by Richard and Sherry Magnum.


– For climbing, check out “A Cheaper Way to Fly,” a paperback guide by Tim Toula that covers Oak Creek Overlook, Paradise Forks, and other Flagstaff-area crags.