Destination Flagstaff: Small Town Offers Oasis for Families

By Katrina Shawver

When cooler temperatures beckon, think Flagstaff, Arizona. The area combines a small-town atmosphere with the conveniences of a major city. Whether you visit for a day, week or month, Flagstaff offers an abundance of learning opportunities for all ages, and fun places to explore for even the most energetic child.

Getting there is easy; drive north for about two hours on I-17. Once there, settle in at one of the many hotels in the area. Reservations are recommended, since summers do get busy and hotels fill up quickly. Not only do many sun-baked desert dwellers head north on a regular basis, Flagstaff is also a quick one-hour trip south of Grand Canyon National Park, which attracts five million visitors annually. Historic Route 66 runs through Flagstaff.

Upon arrival in town, stop by the Flagstaff Convention and Visitorís Center, housed in the old train station at 101 Route 66. Pick up a city map and check out the bulletin board for local events, festivals, outdoor movies and concerts. The Flagstaff Convention and Visitorís Center is open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Then proceed to Lowell Observatory. The observatory sits atop a small hill overlooking Flagstaff and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer. Monday through Saturday it reopens at 8 p.m. for evening presentations; stargazing occurs weather permitting. Children will enjoy the interactive visitorís center. Plan to take a tour of the facility, which includes an explanation of the original telescopes, including the 32-foot Clark telescope. Tours leave the visitorís center daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. $4 adults, $2 ages 5 to 17. Note: Current members of the Arizona Science Center are admitted free so donít forget your membership card.
1400 West Mars Hill Rd., Flagstaff. 928-774-3358; †

After your tour of the observatory consider taking the children on a picnic to Thorpe Park, a city park nestled among pine trees at the base of Mars Hill, at Santa Fe Avenue and Thorpe Street. The park offers ample playground space for the younger set, as well as picnic tables and benches for parents.

The Williams Deer Farm makes a memorable side trip for the younger set. Envision a large fenced area with 60 to 80 fallow deer that eat right out of your hands and you begin to get the picture. Summers are special because itís birthing season for fawns, so expect to see several baby deer. Visitors walk at their own pace through a series of fenced-in enclosures. Humans are directed to stay on the path while deer may go anyplace. Do purchase the souvenir cup of deer food to feed them. (Please donít feed them anything else.) The Deer Farm is 25 miles west of Flagstaff on I-40. Exit 171 is clearly marked as Deer Farm Road. Summer hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. $5.95 adults, $3.50 ages 3 to 13, free for kids under 3.
6752 E. Deer Farm Rd., Williams. 928-635-4073; .

Any age group will enjoy the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, located on six acres next to Northern Arizona University on Riordan Road. The historic building dates to 1904 and was designed by Charles Whittlesey, creator of the Grand Canyonís El Tovar Lodge. Two brothers, Timothy and Michael Riordan, married two sisters and built a successful logging business in the area. The home reflects the unique closeness of the two families; two adjoining mirror-image mansions stand joined by a common area known as the billiard room. One of the more creative ideas was the hanging sofa Ė by winter it faced the fireplace, by summer it faced the outdoors.
409 Riordan Rd., Flagstaff. 928-779-4395;††
For years only one side was open to the public; however the west side recently opened and is included as part of the tour. Daily tours are operated on the hour; reservations are recommended. May Ė October open daily 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. $6 adults, $2.50 ages 7 to 13. Picnic tables are available near the parking lot.

Seven miles east of Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon National Monument offers visitors beautiful views and lessons on geology and the ancient Sinagua Indians, who made their homes in limestone cliff overhangs long ago carved by erosion. Trails lead down from the visitorís center past more than 25 ancient cliff dwellings and along the canyon rim. The fun for children is to see Native American dwellings up close and walk in them. However, parents need to be alert to unfenced ledges. (This may be a better trip for older, active children.)

Allow at least two hours to see the museum and hike down. The one-mile trail descends 185 feet and includes a climb back out of 240 steps. Plan accordingly and be sure to carry water. Though the trail offers the best way to see the park, visitors with limited mobility will still enjoy the many exhibits at the visitorís center. Daily, summer hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

From Flagstaff, take I-40 east 7.5 miles to the Walnut Canyon turnoff. Follow road for three more miles to the visitorís center. 928-526-3367; †

Park fees are $5/person, free for ages 16 and under. Picnic areas and wheelchair-accessible restrooms are available.

The junior geologist in your family will enjoy a visit to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (not to be confused with Meteor Crater 30 miles east of Flagstaff). A guidebook at the trailhead leads visitors down a self-guided tour with numbered stops. The first 15 minutes or 1/4-mile is paved; the remaining 1 1/2-mile requires good walking shoes, so plan accordingly if you have a stroller or wheelchair. Inside the visitorís center, view a working seismograph that records daily earthquakes from all over the world. Elementary school-age children can earn a junior park ranger badge by completing a program onsite.

Energetic families can spend another 45 minutes hiking Lenox Crater Trail, a steep one-mile trail up a cinder cone. Restrooms are available at the visitorís center and at the trail. The facility is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. $5 adults age 17 and older, free for ages 17 are under. Note: admission to Sunset Volcano includes admission to Wupatki National Monument,, one of the largest Anasazi Indian ruins in the Southwest.
From Flagstaff, take U.S. 89 north for 12 miles, turn right on the Sunset Crater - Wupatki Loop Road and continue two miles to the visitor center. 928-526-0502; †

Summers in Flagstaff offer an abundance of activities for families. The attractions listed are but a sampling of whatís available. So drive north and discover for yourself a town rich in history, culture and the outdoors.

The 411 on Flagstaff

Traveling with children can be unpredictable, and parents of children with asthma or ear problems need to be cognizant of Flagstaffís higher elevation. Also, donít forget the sunscreen. If you need it, Flagstaff Medical Center operates a full-service 24-hour emergency department, as well as Fast Track, an urgent-care type of process for minor injuries, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
North of downtown at 1200 N. Beaver St. 928-779-3366.

Places to Stay

Arizona Mountain Inn, 4200 Lake Mary Road. 1-800-239-5236 and 928-774-8959;

Embassy Suites Ė Flagstaff, 706 S. Milton Road. 928-774-4333;

Little America Hotel & Resort, 2515 E. Butler Ave. 928-779-7900;

Hotel Monte Vista (in historic downtown), 100 N. San Francisco St. 1-800-545-3068 and 928-779-6971;

Radisson Woodlands Hotel Flagstaff, 1175 W. Route 66. 928-773-8888;

Residence Inn by Marriott,
5500 N. Country Club Drive. 928-526-5555; †(search by Flagstaff, Arizona).


All the major fast-food restaurants are available in the NAU area (think hungry college student.) Further, Flagstaff has always served as a transportation hub, so there are plenty of restaurants, especially on the main roads entering Flagstaff. Note Ė all Flagstaff restaurants are non-smoking.

Families staying for an extended visit wonít miss out on first-run movies. Thereís a Harkins 11-theater complex as well as theatres near NAU as well.

Worth the Stop

Not ready to go home yet? Here are two interesting stops along the way.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, a national state park, offers restrooms, picnic areas and an educational, self-guided tour along a 1/3-mile paved path to view one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling served as a "high-rise apartment building" for prehistoric Sinagua Indians more than 600 years ago. In summer the facility is open daily, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. $3 adults, free for ages 16 and under.
Located three miles off Interstate 17, along Exit Number 289 (about 100 miles north of Phoenix). Signs clearly mark the exit for Montezumaís Castle. Phone 928-567-3322;

Arcosanti is an experimental town and the vision of Italian architect Paolo Soleri. Under construction since 1970, this town will eventually house 5,000 inhabitants. The gallery is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed for major holidays. Daily tours of the site are available every hour on the hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The suggested donation for tours is $8 per person. Take time to view the Soleri bells and artwork for sale by resident artists. Soleri bells are sold world-wide. Exit 262 near Cordes Junction (about 65 miles north of Phoenix) and follow signs. Be prepared for some dirt roads. 928-632-6217; †

The following are more points of interest in Flagstaff worth the stop, if time permits.

The Arboretum at Flagstaff
, 4001 S. Woody Mountain Road. 928-774-1442;

Arizona Historical Society-Pioneer Museum, 2340 North Fort Valley Road, 928-774-6272;

Flagstaff Snowbowl Ski Area, 928-779-1951; †Take the sky ride/chair lift up 11,500 feet for spectacular views of Flagstaff and northern Arizona.

Grand Canyon Railway, Inc., 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.,Williams. 1-800-843-8724 and 928-773-1976; †

Museum of Northern Arizona, north on Highway 180. 928-774-5213;

Katrina Shawver, who lives in Phoenix with her husband and three children, visits Flagstaff frequently.