An hour into our hike, we rested against lichen-covered boulders. Except for the sound of the breeze rustling waist-deep ferns and a squirrel chiding us from high atop an aspen tree, we heard no sounds of civilization—even though we were just a few miles from downtown Flagstaff. “I feel like we’re in the forest primeval,” I said, breaking the silence. “I think this hike atones for last night’s Ale Trail adventures.”
“I feel like we’re in the forest primeval,” I said, breaking the silence.
After experiencing Flagstaff’s snowy winter fun during a girls’ weekend earlier in the year, my two gal pals and I were making good on our vow to return once the snow melted to experience springtime Flagstaff. We opted for a few days of mountain biking and hiking in high-country sunshine to bring out our inner outdoorswomen. Besides, there was that Flagstaff–Grand Canyon Ale Trail we’d heard about while strolling about downtown last winter. A self-guided tour of local craft breweries? Cheers to that.
We had started our adventure renting mountain bikes from one of several bike-rental shops, Absolute Bikes, which is located in a downtown warehouse adorned with a biking mural. Since we’re not diligent about hitting the bike trails, we asked the staff to match us to more basic bikes and to suggest easy-to-moderate trails that would provide us with memories, not sore traumas.
We opted to warm-up by following the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS) right from the shop, threading our way north through downtown a few miles toward the wide, open Buffalo Park, a popular spot for walking, running and biking. We breezed through the park’s easy two-mile loop, which took us through a small stand of pines and past grasslands with views of Mount Elden and the iconic San Francisco Peaks. By the end of the trail, we were energized—we knew we could tackle a more challenging trail.
But first, a quick lunch. Pedaling back downtown, we stopped at The Tourist Home Urban Market, a fast-casual eatery located in a historic cottage that was once a hostel for Basque shepherds who ran their flocks through town. We ate steak torta sandwiches (carne asada, queso fresco, shaved onion, spicy mayo) on a small patio that connects the market to Tinderbox Kitchen, its sister restaurant.
We headed back to our hotel and decided to celebrate our mountain-biking adventure with a night on the town.
After lunch, we pedaled our bikes a few miles north of town to Schultz Creek Trail in Coconino National Forest. The 3.5-mile, single-track trail is popular with mountain bikers and hikers; so, while we weren’t totally alone, we had plenty of stretches where we felt like it was just nature and us. There were enough mild gradients on the trail to give us a challenge, as well as level parts to give us a chance to admire pine groves, meadows and occasional bursts of blue from flashy Stellar’s jays. By late afternoon, we were back in the parking lot at the trailhead—intact, no crashes. We headed back to our hotel and decided to celebrate our mountain-biking adventure with a night on the town by meandering on the Flagstaff–Grand Canyon Ale Trail.
This pathway of noble hops is an association of local craft breweries, many of which are in a very walkable part of downtown Flagstaff. If you join for a small fee, you get discounts at the breweries with your “passport,” plus a souvenir beer pint. We decided to stroll between a few of them, so we could conserve our energy for the next day’s adventures.
Our first destination: Beaver Street Brewery, which has a casual, funky vibe—it’s located in an old grocery store. We paced ourselves, but it wasn’t long before we decided that carbs and fats were prudent. Along with the raspberry-flavored Bramble Berry Brews and chocolaty R&R Oatmeal Stouts, we dug into cheddar cheese fondue, which is made with the brewery’s Railhead Red Ale and served with beer-bread cubes and veggies.
By the time we walked to our next two stops, Lumberyard Brewing Company and Mother Road Brewing—both located in repurposed, vintage buildings—our hopes of moderation had faded somewhat. We ordered delicious cheese fries and wings at Lumberyard, along with a Knotty Pine Pale Ale, then a sampling of Mother Road’s slightly fruity Gold Road Kölsch and the refreshing Roadside American Ale.
On our way back to the hotel, we spied a group aboard the Alpine Pedaler, a 14-passenger party bike, doing a downtown pub-crawl with beverages in hand. We liked this mode of transit, maybe for our next Ale Trail adventure.
We heard that MartAnne’s Burrito Palace, a tiny, colorful downtown cafe, had the cure for our slow start the next morning. Strong coffee and the house specialty—chilaquiles (eggs, cheese and spicy sauce over crunchy tortillas)—did the trick, and we could taste why this quaint café is so popular with locals.
Again, Flagstaff surprised us. From the incredible hikes and scenery to the delectable brews and dishes, we discovered yet another facet of this all-seasons hub.
It was time to hike, the yin to last night’s yang. We drove a short distance north of town, this time up the same road that leads to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, the site of some of our past winter adventures. Spring had rendered the landscape a soft green. Nearby, we found the start of Kachina Trail, a five-mile, easy-to-moderate trek through the forest. In the clearings, we could see the nearby peaks and, farther in, the city below. A long walk, the cool breeze, the quiet and the woodsy views were just what we needed.
On our way back to town, we opted for one more adventure—this time, a cultural one. Just seeing a sign for the Museum of Northern Arizona inspired us to pull in. The museum’s native stone building turned out to be a jewel box that holds art and natural history treasures from the surrounding region, known as the Colorado Plateau. We pondered works by Hopi and Navajo artists, geology exhibits and an anthropology collection.
Again, Flagstaff surprised us. From the incredible hikes and scenery to the delectable brews and dishes, we discovered yet another facet of this all-seasons hub. Back at the hotel, as we packed up our gear and took stock of fatigued muscles, we were already plotting another return. As our weekends here have already proven, there’s always something to discover and adventure to be had in Flagstaff.