Flagstaff-area FAVES: Family vacation ideas

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Courtesy of Bearizona Wildlife Park.
Courtesy of Bearizona Wildlife Park.

Who needs to sweat it out in the Valley when lower temperatures prevail just a couple of hours north? Here are some of our staff’s favorite Flagstaff attractions.

Bearizona Wildlife Park
Drive a three-mile loop at this 160-acre park for up-close viewing of black bears and other large North American animals. A separate 20-acre area, Fort Bearizona, offers winding trails you can walk while observing babies and smaller animals (bobcats, otters and more) on display.
“Keeper chats” throughout the day offer information and a chance to watch keepers train and feed some of the animals. Bearizona Wildlife Park also is the home of High Country Raptors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting raptor conservation. Raptor shows at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. bring visitors face-to-face with hawks, owls, falcons and other birds of prey.

IF YOU GO: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last car admitted; park closes at dusk). Park staff recommend summer visits in the early morning or late afternoon, when the animals are most active. $25; $15 ages 4-12. 1500 Historic Route 66, Williams (25 miles west of Flagstaff). bearizona.com.

Wupatki National Monument
See dozens of ancestral Puebloan villages where Native Americans lived and raised corn, beans, squash and cotton. The Wupatki Visitor Center is styled after a traditional Navajo hogan. Pick up a copy of the Junior Ranger booklet for kids; it takes about 90 minutes to complete the Wupatki Trail, read the exhibits and answer the questions in the booklet.

IF YOU GO: Sunrise to sunset; visitor center 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $25/vehicle (includes access to nearby Sunset Crater). 25137 N. Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road, Flagstaff. nps.gov/wupa.

Meteor Crater
In the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” an unlikely team (played by Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Billy Bob Thornton) works to save the world from obliteration via impact with an asteroid the size of Texas. If your kids have seen the movie, this is the place to go. You’ll all come away with greater appreciation for the damage even a small (in the universal scheme of things) heavenly body can inflict if it crosses paths with Earth. This is the world’s best-preserved impact site and is the result of a meteorite traveling 26,000 mph striking the Earth 50,000 years ago. A movie in the Discovery Center uses 3-D modeling to show what that collision might have looked like.

IF YOU GO: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. $18; $9 ages 6-17. Exit 233 off Interstate 40, about 35 miles east of Flagstaff. meteorcrater.com.

Sunset Crater Volcano
When it erupted about 900 years ago, the Sunset Crater Volcano dramatically changed the surrounding landscape and the lives of the people, plants and wildlife in the vicinity. Allow at least one hour for the visitor center and the one-mile Lava Flow Trail (only a quarter-mile loop is accessible to strollers or wheelchairs). Two additional trails leave from the parking lot. Lenox Crater Trail is a strenuous, 45-minute walk up the side of the Lenox Crater Volcano and offers an up-close look at basalt formations.

IF YOU GO: Visitor Center daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25. Trails daily sunrise to sunset. $25/vehicle (includes access to nearby Wupatki National Monument). 6082 Sunset Crater Road, Flagstaff. nps.gov/sucr.

Photo courtesy of Snowbowl Arizona.
Photo courtesy of Snowbowl Arizona.

Arizona Snowbowl’s Scenic Chairlift
Take a three-passenger lift up the eastern side of the San Francisco Peaks and feel the temperature drop as you glide to an eventual 11,500 feet in elevation. On a clear day, you can see the red rocks in Sedona, the cinder-cone volcanic field and the walls of the Grand Canyon. A Forest Service interpretive specialist is stationed at the top answers questions about the biology, geology and history of the region.

IF YOU GO: The chairlift ride is 25 minutes up and down and runs daily through Labor Day (Sept. 2) then Friday, Saturday and Sunday through mid-October. First chair up at 10 a.m.; last chair up at 4 p.m. $19 weekdays, $24 weekends; $15 weekdays, $19 weekends ages 6-12, free age 5 and younger. Snowbowl Road (FR 516) is about 14.5 miles northwest of Flagstaff off U.S. 180. arizonasnowbowl.com.

Lowell Observatory
This working research observatory is steeped in historic astronomical achievements. Established in 1894 by businessman and astronomer Percival Lowell, the observatory is where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930.

Visit the historic Rotunda Museum, which includes displays from that discovery (which Lowell had hypothesized but did not live to see), along with Lowell’s research notes on Mars and moon maps created for the Apollo program, which landed the first humans on the moon in 1969.

View the sun through a specially equipped solar telescope at 10 a.m., 1 and 4 p.m. daily. Take the guided Pluto Tour, noon and 2 p.m. The Putnam Collection Center includes the first telescope Lowell received (at age 15) and “Big Red,” his 1911 Stevens-Duryea automobile, which still runs.

In the evening, enjoy programs about the solar system, the current night sky, stars and galaxies. Weather permitting, telescopes are open for viewing planets, the moon, star clusters, and more.

IF YOU GO: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, $17; $10 ages 5-17; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. $12; $6 ages 5-17; free ages 5 and younger. 1400 W. Mars Hill Road, Flagstaff. 928-774-3358 or lowell.edu.

Walnut Canyon National Monument
Time travel, anyone? The Island Trail at Walnut Canyon takes you 700 years back in time, to the era of the Sinagua people of northern Arizona. A one-mile loop (described as “strenuous” on the website but completely do-able for active children age 4 or older) takes you past 25 cliff-dwelling rooms along the trail and views of many more across the canyon. The trail is paved but not accessible to strollers or wheelchairs. Kids will receive a badge for completing the Junior Ranger booklet, available at the visitor center.

IF YOU GO: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except December 25. $15 (pass good for seven days); free ages 15 and younger. 3 Walnut Canyon Road, Flagstaff (about 7.5 miles east of Flagstaff off Interstate 40). 928-526-3367 or nps.gov/waca.

Willow Bend Environmental Education Center
The best way to understand sustainable practices is to see them at work. The Willow Bend Environmental Education Center is a sustainable building created from bales of straw and powered by passive-solar energy. Inside, the “A Drop of Water” exhibit emphasizes the importance of Arizona’s water supply by following a drop of rainwater as it infiltrates the ground and is then pumped out and supplied to the community.
Five gardens offer opportunities to watch hummingbirds and lizards or learn about native plants. The Quest natural-history scavenger hunt takes families around the center grounds, gardens and nearby Sawmill Park.

IF YOU GO: Check the website or call for schedule of events and exhibits. Admission free; $5 donation suggested. 703 E. Sawmill Road, Flagstaff. 928-779-1745 or willowbendcenter.org.

Money-saving tips:

• A $45 Flagstaff Annual Pass covers entry for up to four people (age 16 or older) at Walnut Canyon National Monument and all occupants of one private vehicle at both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument.

• A $75 Arizona State Parks Annual Pass allows day-use access at nearly all Arizona State Parks (including the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff,  Slide Rock State Park north of Sedona and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Payson) for the passholder and up to three adults in the same vehicle. Check website; some restrictions apply. azstateparks.com.