Fun Winter Activities In Flagstaff, Arizona
Yes, It Does Snow In Arizona
When some folks hear "Arizona," they think sunshine, desert, and year-round heat. Well, yes on the first two points but a definite no on the third.
Up here in Flagstaff at an elevation of 7,000 feet, with the San Francisco Peaks as high as 12,633 feet, we get a full-blown winter. In fact, Flagstaff receives an average yearly snowfall of 110 inches. And, in the winter of 2009/10, Flagstaff was the second snowiest town in the country behind someplace in Alaska!
But that doesn't mean our small city or the great outdoors that surround it shut down for the season, which is often marked by vibrant blue skies above the many activities that go on here when the mercury drops. In fact, wintertime is a great time to visit Flagstaff.
The following is some of the winter fun you can look forward to in this active community surrounded by National Forest. And if you need to warm up a bit, all you have to do is drive an hour or two "down the hill" to Sedona or the Phoenix area and take off some of those layers.
Skiing And Snowboarding in Flagstaff
Downhill and X-Country Skiing, Snowboarding, and Snowshoeing Too
Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding
Located on the western slope of Mt. Agassiz, one of the San Francisco Peaks just outside of town, is the Arizona Snowbowl ski area, with four chairlifts and 40 trails, some with more than 2,300 feet of vertical drop. And Snowbowl> has over 50 acres of easy terrain for those just learning to ski or snowboard. (FYI: They do not have night skiing.)
For current lift ticket prices and season pass information, visit ArizonaSnowbowl.com.
X-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
For cross-country skiers and showshoers, the Nordic Center, with 25 miles of non-redundant trails, is 15 miles from town and just a few miles north of Snowbowl. The x-country ski trails wind through the aspen trees and some of the largest Ponderosa pine stands in the state. At an average elevation of 8,200 feet, the Nordic Center offers cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals, instruction and special events. For directions and information, visit the Flagstaff Nordic Center website.
In addition to the Arizona Snowbowl and Flagstaff Nordic Center, you'll have the Coconino National Forest at your disposal for skiing and snowshoeing. Be aware, however, that a free backcountry permit is required during the winter for the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. So, if you're planning to do any recreating in this area, or want to go out of bounds from the Arizona Snowbowl to do some snowboarding or telemarking on fresh powder, be sure to contact the Peaks Ranger District at (928) 526-0866 before doing so. Once the Arizona Snowbowl opens, permits can also be obtained at the ticket window at the Agassiz Lodge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays between 9:00 and 11:00 AM. For more information on these free permits and why they're required, see the Coconino National Forest wesbite and scroll down to "Backcountry Permits Only Necessary in Winter."
Another great place for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing too is 215-acre Buffalo Park, with its wide open meadow and gorgeous view of the Peaks. To get there, take S. Milton Rd. (off I-17 north) to Humphreys Street. Turn left onto Humphreys and then right on Columbus. One block east, turn left on Beaver Street and go uphill to Forest Ave. Turn right and go to the top of the hill. Turn left on Gemini Street to Buffalo Park parking area. (Please note that sledding isn't permitted in Buffalo Park.)
From Buffalo Park, you have easy access to the many backcountry trails in and around the San Francisco Peaks and Mt. Elden and the Pipeline trail. Just ski or snowshoe out to the back of Buffalo Park until you see the Forest Service board with the map on it ... and keep going.
Organized Snowshoe Hikes
Flagstaff Parks & Rec offers guided group snowshoe outings for a small fee. You can also pay a little extra and rent the snowshoes and poles if you need them.
Email Richard Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested.
Ski season in the Flagstaff area usually runs from mid-December through mid-April, depending on weather of course. Call the snow report at (928) 779-4577 for conditions.
Sledding And Snow Play Areas in Flagstaff
Fee areas and free areas
Sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, snowman-building, making snow angels -- you can do it all at several "official" snow play areas around Flagstaff. Wing Mountain, Crowley Pit, Peak View Overlook and Walker Lake Watchable Wildlife parking areas provide forest access for these activities.
Wing Mountain Snow Play Area is run by a concessionaire, with plowed and managed parking, hot beverages, sleds and other amenities. It's located on Forest Service Road 222B. To get there from South Milton Rd., off of I-17North, take a left at Humphreys Street, then turn left on Fort Valley Rd., which turns into Highway 180. Follow 180 north 3 miles past Snowbowl Road approximately to mile marker 226 and turn left onto FS 222B. There is a $10 fee per vehicle. [NOTE: Wing Mountain is currently not in operation. If a new concessionaire takes over operation of this location, I'll update this page.]
To get to the Crowley Pit Winter Parking Area from S. Milton Rd., take a left at Humphreys Street, turn left on Fort Valley Rd. (Highway 180) and go 9.8 miles past Snowbowl Road, to mile marker 233. Turn left onto the Forest Service road with the green parking signs.
The Peak View Winter Parking Area is on Highway 180, about 6.5 miles north of town on the right-hand side of the road.
Walter Lake Winter Parking Area is is also on Highway 180 north, 12 miles past Snowbowl Road. Go to mile marker 235 and turn left onto the Forest Service road with green parking signs.
There is now a "kiddie" sled hill at Ft. Tuthill intended for young children, which includes open, flat areas to make snowmen. This area is located just off the park's north entrance next to the first parking area.
Other amenities include a snowshoe trail, cross-country ski trail, free parking area (accommodates approximately 50 cars), picnic tables, trash cans and a portable toilet. There is also an information kiosk with the Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau Winter Recreation Opportunities map, and information about other snow play and winter recreation areas throughout the greater Flagstaff area.
For more information on these snow play areas, contact:
Supervisor's Office: 1824 S. Thompson St., Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
(928) 527-3600 or....
Peaks Ranger District: 5075 N. Hwy 89, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
Be aware that snow play is not permitted within the Arizona Snowbowl ski area or along Snowbowl Road, and parking isn't allowed along Highway 180.
Click here for a printable Flagstaff snow play map.
I recently discovered another good, "unofficial" snow play area, this one south of Flagstaff off the Willard Spring exit on I-17. The road is paved and plowed the short distance to the closed Forest Service gate near the cell tower. There's a wide open area with good hills for sledding and plenty of room for other snow play activities as well. This is a great alternative to dealing with the often heavy weekend traffic on Hwy 180, where the Snowbowl Ski Area, the Nordic Center, and other snow play areas are located.
Ice Skating At The Jay Lively Arena
Flagstaff's Indoor Ice Skating Rink
Located at 1650 N. Turquoise Drive, the Jay Lively Ice Arena offers public skating and hockey, lessons and rental skates ... all year long, not just during the winter.
For a schedule of lessons and fees, see the City of Flagstaff Official Website.
To get to the arena from South Milton Rd., take a left at Humphreys Street, then turn right on Columbus. Go one block east and turn left on Beaver Street and continue uphill. Turn right on Forest Avenue and continue east. Turn left at the traffic light on Turquoise Drive to Jay Lively Ice Arena parking area.
For more information, contact the City of Flagstaff Parks and Recreation Department at (928) 779-7690, or call the arena at (928) 774-1051. The Jay Lively rink is open Tuesday through Sunday.
During the month of February
Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce hosts the month-long celebration of winter each year in February, with entertainment and sporting events for the whole family to enjoy. During WinterFest, you can watch or participate in ski and dog sled races, attend contra dances and classic films, and take in several art exhibitions, among other events.
You can check out the Winterfest calendar at FlagstaffChamber.com/Winterfest. Click on the weekly dates (ie. Feb. 1-7) above the WinterFest article to find out about activities, locations, times and costs. You can also call the Flagstaff Chamber at (928) 774-4505 for more information.
Holiday Shows in Flagstaff
Enjoy a variety of live entertainment at a number of different venues
Throughout the winter, the Northern Arizona University School of Music puts on a whole host of performances at the Ardrey and Ashurst Auditoriums as well as other venues in the area. For a show schedule, including their Winter Festival of Choirs in February, see the School of Music events page.
Luminarias on Flagstaff City Streets
A neighborhood winter tradition
Each December, in the residential area of Coconino Estates, Malpais and Anderson subdivisions off of N. Fort Valley Rd., residents and visitors walk or slowly drive through the neighborhoods to see the thousands of luminarias, holiday lights and decorations. We've often been entertained by carolers and offered hot cocoa and other goodies and refreshments as we've wandered through the streets, and even saw a live nativity.
This three-neighborhood tradition began 28 years ago when homeowner Patti Briggs lined her walkway with brown paper bags holding tea lights set in sand. The next year, Patti encouraged her neighbors to do the same, and the tradition has grown and continued ever since.
The luminaries event this year will be from 5-10pm on December 15, 2013. For more information and a map, call (928) 779-3792.
Holiday Of Lights Festival
at Little America
Each year around Thanksgiving time, the Little America hotel begins its annual holiday display featuring approximately one million lights in their trees. The event is accompanied by local entertainment, complimentary cider and cookies, a visit from Santa Claus and Mrs. Clause, and more. The lights stay on through early January, so stop over for an evening stroll around the grounds anytime during the season, then warm up inside for dinner or hot drinks.
Little America Hotel is located at 2515 E. Butler Ave. For more information, call (928) 779-7900 or toll-free at 800-435-2493, or visit LittleAmerica.com.
The Northern Lights Holiday Parade
Parades aren't just for July 4th.
The annual Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Northern Lights Holiday Parade, held in historic downtown Flagstaff in December, has become a much anticipated event. It's become so popular for both spectators and participants alike, the Chamber has had to limit it to 100 entries. All parade entries must have lighting and are reviewed by a panel of judges, who will rate each entry based on the best use of lights and best overall presentation of their theme, with cash awards given to the top three and trophies handed out to the best in several different categories. If you're interested in participating or just watching, you can find more information at FlagstaffChamber.com.
The 15th annual Northern Lights Holiday Parade will take place on December 13, 2014, beginning at 6pm. The parade route starts at Beaver and Elm, continues down Beaver St. to Aspen, turns east on Aspen and continues to San Francisco St. and then up San Francisco to Elm.
Winter Holiday Tours At Riordon Mansion
An Arizona State Park
Built in 1904 for two Riordan families, the Mansion is a beautiful example of the Arts and Crafts architectural style of the time. Daily tours are given year-round, but during the winter, this historic home, filled with handcrafted furnishings and personal mementos of the Riordans, is beautifully decorated with wreaths, garlands and greenery, and a large Christmas tree trimmed with old-fashioned ornaments. Guided holiday tours during the month of December include some of the folklore and traditions of Christmas.
Reservations can be made by calling the Park at (928) 779-4395.
Read more about Riordan Mansion holiday tours here:
The New Year's Eve Block Party And Pine Cone Drop
in downtown Flagstaff
On December 31st, the Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance hosts the Annual New Year's Eve Block Party at Heritage Square on Aspen Street, with live entertainment in the intersection of Leroux and Aspen at 8:00 pm. The area is closed to traffic during the event, which culminates in the Pinecone Drop from the Weatherford Hotel balcony.
But this isn't your usual pinecone. This lighted, five-foot by seven-foot, gold and silver aluminum pinecone weighing more than 80 pounds is Flagstaff's version of the famous ball in Times Square.
There are actually two Pinecone drops on New Year's even, one at 10pm for families with young children and the other at midnight. Fireworks displays accompany both.
A Winter Climb for a Good Cause
Test yourself and have some high-altitude fun at the Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill where 100% of the proceeds go to Camp Colton.
There's a 3-mile competitive course with an 1800-ft vertical gain/loss and a "fun climb" at half the distance.
The event is held at Arizona Snowbowl. See KahtoolaAgassizUphill.com for more information.
A Fun Winter Festival in Downtown Flagstaff
Held in February (although they're considering moving it to January), this festival celebrating urban skiing, snowboarding and other winter activities transforms part of No. San Francisco Street into an "extreme" ski slope, where skiers and snowboarders of all ages -- from toddlers to 18+ -- can practice their tricks and their form on the various obstacles built into the course. There's plenty of practice time and open skiing and boarding before the judging begins on Sunday, when contest entrants can win great prizes and cash, while the crowd looks on.
There's also a bunch of festival booths staffed by a variety of sponsors and local businesses and organizations, give-a-ways and contents, plenty of festival food (healthy stuff too!), and activities on San Francisco street below the man-made, snow-covered slope and also nearby at Heritage Square, where you'll find snowman-making -- there's a contest for that too -- a fun fashion show, live musical entertainment and more.
So, bundle up and come downtown for the Dew! You can check out the Dew Downtown Flagstaff to learn more about the festival, the sponsors and the schedule.
Holiday Season Shopping Flagstaff-Style
Flagstaff's historic downtown is filled with clothing boutiques, outdoor outfitters, bookstores and art galleries, plus a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and microbreweries. With live entertainment somewhere in town almost every evening, it's a great place to do your holiday shopping during the day and then some dancing--or foot-tapping at least--at night.
Here are some of your other holiday shopping options around town:
Located in the downtown train station at One E. Route 66, The Visitor Center Gift Shop offers a variety of Flagstaff souvenirs, clothing, books, maps and guides, historic train and railroad-themed items, Route 66 gifts and memorabilia, holiday ornaments and local artist handicrafts including jewelry, quilts, candles and homemade candy. The store is open daily, 8:00 a.m.till 5:00 p.m. Call 928-774-9541 or 800-842-7293 for information.
And there's plenty more places in the city to shop besides downtown, including the Flagstaff Mall and The Marketplace, with more than 80 stores including Eddie Bauer, Bath & Body Works, Best Buy, Old Navy, Dillard's, J.C. Penney and Sears. The food court in the mall offers free wi-fi. The Mall is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Open daily from 6:00 a.m. through 10:00 p.m., the Little America Hotel Gift shop and Lifestyle Boutique carries brands like Stetson, Pendleton, Renegade Spirits, Mill Creek and Camille Beckman, and features a collection of Native American jewelry, books, and music along with Route 66 and Arizona memorabilia. You can also find toys, games, books and clothing for the kids. Little America is located at 2515 E. Butler Avenue. Call 928-779-7936.
The Museum of Northern Arizona also has a really nice store. The Museum Shop is filled with quality authentic Native American wares, books, and other types of gifts. The Museum is located at 3101 N. Fort Valley Rd. Call 928-774-5213 for more information.
There's also the new Aspen Place at The Sawmill which combines retail stores and restaurants. Chico's, Flagstaff Face & Body and the Flagstaff Jean Shop are now located here, along with the New Frontiers Natural Marketplace, the Pita Jungle Restaurant and Wildflower Bread Company. More shops and restaurants are coming soon. Aspen Place is at at 825 E. Butler Avenue.
Flagstaff Visitor Information Phone Numbers
* Flagstaff Visitor Center:
* Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) 217-2367
* Recorded weather information: (928) 774-3301
* Road conditions: 1-888-411-7623
* Coconino National Forest:
* Kaibab National Forest:
Where To Find Winter Equipment To Buy Or Rent in Flagstaff
- Humphrey Summit Ski
505 N. Beaver Street (928) 779-1308
- Ski Haus Flagstaff
801 N. Humphreys St. (928) 774-7671
- Flagstaff Nordic Center | Northern Arizona's Premium Cross Country Ski Resort
Highway 180, Mile Marker 232 (928) 220-0550
- First Chair Ski & Board Rental Store
612 N. Humphreys St. (928) 556-9096
- Babbitt's Backcountry Oufitters
12 W. Aspen Street 928-774-4775
- Arizona Snowbowl - Hart Prairie Lodge and Agassiz Lodge
Find Out What's Coming Up in Flagstaff
Additional Flagstaff Resources
- City of Flagstaff Official Website
Flagstaff, Arizona is the largest city in Northern Arizona. It's also the regional center and county seat for Coconino County, the second largest county in the 48 contiguous states.
- Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau website
This site has information for "exploring, playing, dining, staying, shopping and discovering."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury