Fly the family to flagstaff

Fly the family to flagstaff

By Ellen Ritscher Sackett

Nearly every bucket list includes a visit to the Grand Canyon, and now planning a family trip to get there is easier than ever. American Airlines’ new 90-minute nonstop flight to Flagstaff, Arizona gets you close – just 80 miles away from one of the great Wonders of the World.

Flagstaff itself makes a great family getaway. Boredom is not an option in “Flag,” as locals call home. Set in nature’s playground, the town was originally a railway and lumber-industry hub. Settled within sight of Arizona’s highest mountains, the area is surrounded by the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forest. The outdoor oasis has four distinct seasons; trade in Texas summer heat and humidity for higher altitudes and temps that rarely hit 90 degrees, or head to Flag in winter for the slopes or cross-country skiing.

As a gateway to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is the ideal home base. A round-trip excursion to the national park can be made in a day. Hiking, rafting and tour companies offer guided trips, and some provide transportation to and from local hotels. The Grand Canyon Association offers close-up experiences through classes and tours appropriate for families with children ages 8 and older. Museum of Northern Arizona Ventures also offers adventures exploring the 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau through hiking, backpacking, river rafting, camping and van tours. For a spectacular distant view of the canyon, ride the chairlift at the Arizona Snowbowl ski area. The scenic lift runs during the ski season and operates daily from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October.

The earth’s best-preserved meteor crater is 35 miles east of Flagstaff. Approximately 50,000 years ago, a fiery mass from space weighing several hundred-thousand tons collided with our planet, leaving a jaw-dropping void that’s 550 feet deep, almost 1 mile across and 2.4 miles around. Guided rim-trail tours are offered daily.

Getting around town while communing with nature is easy on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS, pronounced “foots”). The 56-mile network of half-paved, half-unpaved bicycle and pedestrian trails connect all sides of town. Push a stroller, go for a jog, hike or take a bicycle spin (available for rent). The FUTS is a perfect place to enjoy some scenery while giving lively children the opportunity to expend some energy, and it’s readily accessible for free. Fun to do: Pack a picnic and head for 215-acre Buffalo Park offering a 2-mile hiking loop trail, wildlife sightings and picturesque mountain views.

Got a kid who likes to dig? Introduce your child to archaeology and investigate clues that cultures left behind at Elden Pueblo at the foot of Mount Elden on the way to Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. The ancient ruins inhabited from about A.D. 1070 to 1275 are close to downtown and is open for access all year ‘round. Pick up a pamphlet and follow the markers on the free, self-guided tour. The easy, flat walk is both educational and enjoyable for children, little and big. Dogs on leashes are welcome too.

Look to the skies above Flagstaff for stargazing, which, for many, is more than a pastime. Sixty years ago, the world’s first ordinance passed in Flagstaff banning advertising searchlights to protect night-sky research. Flagstaff also holds the distinction as being the world’s first International Dark Sky City, a sanctuary for amateur astronomers. The town is home to the internationally renowned Lowell Observatory, famous for having discovered the planet Pluto. The famous deep-space research site offers tours and educational programs for visitors and spectacular night-sky viewing through gigantic high-powered telescopes. Throughout 2018-19, Flagstaff is honoring its scientific role in the Apollo moon missions and astronaut training with events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the man-on-the-moon lunar legacy.

Where do kids and grown-ups alike get their kicks? On Route 66, of course! Flagstaff’s main drag through its historical downtown shares a stretch of road along the Main Street of America. Get a nostalgic fix and some amusing kitsch as souvenirs while visiting Route 66 shops and restaurants that pay homage to the celebrated highway. (Great for selfies!) For a fun family meal, nab stools at the counter or slide into a vinyl booth at Galaxy Diner or Grand Canyon Café, recreated in authentic ‘50’s-style décor. For a list of Route 66 landmarks, pick up a self-guided brochure from the Visitor Center in the downtown train station.

Consider planning your trip to coincide with one of Flagstaff’s spectacle of festivals. From art to antiques, folk music to food, culture to comedy or Shakespeare and beer, most weekends are filled through the fall with celebrations. Word to the wise: ensure your lodging by booking ahead.

Test your limits by zip-lining through the pine trees, climbing over obstacles and swinging through the air on the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course. There are actually five adult courses and one for kids age 7 and up. Another kind of fun for the fearless is exploring Flagstaff’s paranormal past and historic haunts.

There’s plenty more to do than can be accomplished in one trip, but that’s the beauty of convenient access to Flagstaff from DFW – there’s always a good reason to come back.

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More to do and where to stay in Flagstaff