Arizona usually brings to mind expanses of cactus-studded desert, hot weather and stark, rocky landscapes. But Flagstaff, located two hours north of Phoenix, couldn’t be more different. Located at a much-cooler 7,000-ft. elevation, in the middle of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, Flagstaff is known for its endless array of outdoor activities, Native American history and lively downtown—and a hidden gem for small- to midsize meetings and events.
“Meeting planners are looking for attendance builders, and Flagstaff is full of them, from Route 66 nostalgia and Lowell Observatory to outdoor adventure, a terrific foodie scene and of course the Grand Canyon,” says Deb Grogan, the area's tourism commissioner.
A destination for all seasons, the city is easily accessible via air, rail and car, and has two newly remodeled full-service conference hotels (including Little America Hotel Flagstaff, with nearly 14,000 square feet of meeting space). The largest events facility is High Country Conference Center at Northern Arizona University, which has nearly 30,000 square feet of conference space.
Flagstaff has a rich Native American history that can be experienced at the cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon National Monument or Museum of Northern Arizona. It is also known as a center for astronomy; the planet Pluto was discovered at Lowell Observatory, open for tours and viewing, and available for receptions.
Since Route 66 runs right through the destination, meeting planners can send their groups on a scavenger hunt with GPS to find five hidden geocaches that celebrate the Mother Road. Another local group activity is the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail, a route that takes guests on a flavor trip to microbreweries in the area.
Contrary to what many might believe about Arizona’s climate, the city has an annual average snowfall of 100 inches. Winter activities include skiing (downhill and cross-country), snowboarding, sledding and snowshoeing. Arizona Nordic Village and Arizona Snowbowl ski area both have facilities for meetings.
The city is also known for great mountain biking and hiking and is home to Mount Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s tallest at 12,663 feet elevation. The state’s 800-mile, border-to-border Arizona Trail goes through town, and the Flagstaff Urban Trails System is a great spot to burn off energy and see the sights. If you’ve always wantedto visit the Grand Canyon, tack on a few extra days to your stay post-event and rent a car—it’s only an hour and a half drive to explore one of the Natural Wonders of the World.
5 Flagstaff Must-Sees
1. Walnut Canyon National Monument
2. Lowell Observatory
3. Arizona Snowbowl
4. Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course
5. Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Ale Trail