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For a long weekend or cool summer vacation, these five mountain towns are easy to get to and even easier to love

Flagstaff, Arizona

Hotel Monte Vista with motorcyclists in front of it
Photo: Discover Flagstaff
Illustration: Ryan Vellinga

Quirky history and ample entertainment options abound in this college town

Though Arizona may be better known for its deserts, Gila monsters, and vortexes, the state also boasts an impressive mountain town, complete with snow, lodges, and towering pines: Flagstaff. Born in 1881 as a stop to serve the nascent railroad, the town’s unique name came from an incident five years earlier, when a band of lumberjacks celebrating Independence Day attached an American flag to the top of a pine tree (staff) — creative! Since those early days, the town has grown into the home of thriving lumber, livestock, and (now) tourism industries. While the area has an official population of around 77,000, it still feels small-town enough to be unintimidating for first-time visitors and families looking for a low-hassle vacation.


An eccentric spot that’s also among the town’s oldest lodging options is the Hotel Monte Vista. Opened in 1927, the hotel has a fascinating history. It’s rumored to have been the site of bootleg operations, sits atop secret tunnels, and was the former home of Arizona’s first female-run radio station (a fact our Nevada Public Radio listeners will appreciate!). The hotel’s amenities include both an on-site bar and Japanese restaurant, a basement speakeasy (the first in Flagstaff) with live music performances, free wi-fi and morning coffee, and (allegedly) complementary ghost sightings — if you’re lucky enough. Pro tip: Plan your trip around Northern Arizona University events, which bring throngs of fans, who make hotel rooms harder to come by ($85 and up,


For big families/appetites, the Northern Pines Restaurant serves classic diner food 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily ( More refined palates will appreciate Josephine’s Modern American Bistro, located inside a cozy bungalow that’s been placed on the National Historic Register ( Though these two restaurants stand out for their own reasons, there are plenty of other delicious eats and drinks on both sides of the railroad tracks.

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Because Flagstaff is a college town (go, Lumberjacks!), there are always plenty of concerts and shows to attend, especially at the historic Orpheum Theater (
For daytime activities, we suggest the Lowell Observatory (, or rent some ski gear and hit the slopes at Mount Humphreys. At 11,500 feet of elevation, its 777 skiable acres should be open till late April, at least (


If you’re in the mood for both a scenic drive and a bit of Americana, hop on historic Route 66, which cuts right through southern Flagstaff. If 20th-century nostalgia isn’t your thing, try the 35-mile path between the Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments, where you can see 900-year-old Pueblo ruins and Painted Desert vistas ( For a more vertical day, book a ride on the Snowbowl’s scenic or sunset gondola. The ascent offers breathtaking views of the San Francisco Peaks and even, on clear days, the Grand Canyon (

To learn more about Flagstaff, go to