By Melanie Yemma, Taking the Kids Correspondent
This past spring, Hank and I went on an unforgettable trip to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, Arizona.
While we’d been to the Grand Canyon once before, we knew that we had to come back to actually go down into the big ditch to truly appreciate the immense beauty of this natural wonder. Luckily, in the winter, we were able to secure permits for a 5-day backpacking trip along the Escalante route, which drops all the way down from the rim to the mighty Colorado River and traverses along the river and canyon side until coming back up 33 miles later.
We’ve spent a lot of time backpacking in different desert areas in the southwest, but this one was definitely unforgettable. From swimming in the emerald green Colorado River, to exploring all of the vast and interesting side canyons, to fawning over the cactus blooms, even to dealing with pesky ravens trying to eat our food…every moment of this trip was incredible.
It’s also pretty great that the south rim of the Grand Canyon is located so close to Flagstaff, Arizona. Even before we started hiking, we could envision wanting a hotel room and shower to stay in after backpacking in the desert heat for 5 days, and we could also foresee our craving for a juicy burger and refreshing beer from the Flagstaff Brewing Company, which we had been to once before. Because of the accessible access from the Grand Canyon (a quick and easy 80 miles drive), and affordable rates at the Little America Hotel, we decided to head down to Flagstaff.
I could not stop thinking about an air conditioned hotel room and refreshing shower as we made our way out of the canyon (definitely not an easy hike). Flash forward a grueling hike and easy drive, the Little America Hotel was the perfect choice. The Little America is conveniently located right off of the main highway, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s situated on 500 pine covered acres at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. While large inside, it felt like a nice little oasis, which is also conveniently located close to many recreational activities, and trendy restaurants. The front desk agents were as friendly as can be, despite my “I just hiked out of the entire Grand Canyon in the hot sun and I don’t know what’s happening” look. Our room was spacious, comfortable clean, and the refreshing shower was perfect.
Our burger craving quickly turned into a pizza craving so we decided to try out a different restaurant, Pizzicletta. It was located right next to Mother Road Brewing Co, which we tried out as we waited for a table. the pizza and beer were both fresh and delicious.
Unfortunately we only had one night in Flagstaff, and because we were so tired from the trip, we opted to indulge in the HBO access at the Little America rather than hit up the town. But, according to the Flagstaff Convention and Visitor’s bureau, “Flagstaff is Arizona’s four-season hub of activity where an eclectic mix of small town charm, a wealth of fine art and cultural offerings, and endless outdoor adventure reigns.” With it’s easy and close access to the Grand Canyon, and also the magical red rock oasis of Sedona (which we had been to once before for a mountain biking trip), Flagstaff itself is definitely a destination worth visiting. Aside from visiting those well known icon, there’s so much to do in Flagstaff itself. I definitely plan to return (and stay at the Little America), and I recommend that everyone checks out Flagstaff, especially if you’ve never explored Arizona. Here’s a list of the top ten summer activities to try out this summer:
- Take a ride on the Arizona Snowbowl scenic chairlift to 11,600 feet elevation for views of the Grand Canyon starting Memorial Day Weekend through October.
- Stargaze through a 117-year-old telescope at Lowell Observatoryand learn about the discovery of Pluto here in 1930.
- Learn about the Colorado Plateau at the Museum of Northern Arizonaand, if you can, plan your visit around one of the four annual weekend-long Native American Festivals which includes the oldest Hopi show in the world.
- Stroll through gardens, greenhouses and natural habitats May through October at The Arboretum at Flagstaff to discover plants, like Penstomen and Ponderosa pine, native to high-altitude terrain. Stop for a photo op at the life-size picture frame near the greenhouse with a backdrop of the peaks.
- Play in the trees on more than 70 aerial obstacles at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course or fly through the forest on the 30 zip lines making up the new Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Zip Line Course.
- Mountain bike on the trails of the Arizona Nordic Village and for an extra outdoorsy experience spend the night at the center sleeping in a yurt.
- Go on a craft beer tasting adventure along the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail and use the trail passport for discounts on local brews. Start at the Flagstaff Visitor Center for a map of downtown dining and brewery locations.
- Pick one of the many festivals held annually in Flagstaff on summer weekends. Visit www.flagstaff365.com for a full calendar of events and event details.
- Spend the Fourth of July holiday in Flagstaff and celebrate with the downtown parade, patriotic symphony concert and firework show after dark.
- Plan a hike on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS) or Coconino National Forest trails.