Nestled in the mountains and surrounded by Ponderosa pines, Flagstaff is one of the gems of Arizona. The city is home to the tallest mountain in the state and is one of few places with a heavy snow season in comparison to the surrounding ecosystems. The college town is a great place to explore the outdoors and partake in an array of activities like hiking.
In addition to being beneficial to physical well-being, hiking improves emotions in all aspects of life. In a city bursting with culture and scenic spots, Coconino County locals can sightsee almost every day.
One study published in Nature Neuroscience examined the positive correlation between mental health and daily variability in physical location.
Junior Isaiah Lopez said he has seen the positive impact of hiking in his life. When he has free time between classes and studying, getting outside has proven to be a good way to unwind during a long week.
“Whenever I’ve had a stressful day, or just need some time to reset, I like to clear my mind by taking a walk or a hike,” Lopez said. “After taking a pause, I find that I can come back to my work feeling refreshed and ready to start again with more energy than I had before.”
Lopez recently picked up hiking in his free time, something he had not tried before moving to Flagstaff for college. Although he currently enjoys shorter hikes closer to campus, Lopez said he is not opposed to experimenting with more difficult trails in the future.
“Part of the reason I’ve acquired a love for hiking is because I can go for a little while whenever I have the time,” Lopez said. “I hope I can do bigger hikes soon; those just take more time and preparation to plan. As a college student, it’s less difficult to do [a] spontaneous and quick [hike] when the opportunity presents itself.”
Junior John Mecklin has been a frequent hiker for the last three years. Mecklin said he believes the outdoors positively affected his life and he plans to use his parks and recreation management degree to become an interpretive park ranger upon graduation.
Mecklin said he enjoys listening to the sounds of nature away from the noise people make. Being outside allows Mecklin to think and reflect without the worry of constant interference. He said, to him, nature has a way of connecting people in a healthy and meaningful way. Living in Flagstaff has provided Mecklin with an abundance of outdoor settings, he explained, where his love for nature can grow even stronger.
“As long as I am outside and getting to show people how cool the outdoors are, I’m happy with anything,” Mecklin said. “There is so much love and acceptance in the outdoors, and I think it would be a shame to not go looking for it. People should go outside and take advantage of the breathtaking public lands that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by.”
According to the Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS), there are about 56 miles of trails in the city. In addition, there are plans for another 75 miles, which would total approximately 130 miles of trails in the area. FUTS also documented these trails as ranging from areas along busy streets to more secluded parts of canyons, forests and meadows. The system also features easy, moderate and hard levels of terrain.
For individuals living in or visiting Flagstaff, and looking for an easy trail with beautiful scenery, Buffalo Park Trail is an excellent option. According to hikers using All Trails, Buffalo Park is a 2.2-mile trail that takes an estimated 60 minutes to complete and is located eight minutes from campus. This hiking loop sees high traffic and welcomes dogs on leashes. Further, the trail has an average rating of 4.4 stars and over 1,600 people have marked it as completed on the All Trails website.
Another hike located within city limits is Fatman’s Loop Trail, which is 11 minutes from campus and rated as moderate difficulty. With 4.5 stars, this particular hike is rated slightly better than Buffalo Park Trail, although it is usually busy with hikers. The hike can be expected to take around an hour and a half.
For those looking for a slightly longer trek, but wanting to keep a manageable level of difficulty, Rio de Flag South Trail might be a great option to get outdoors. This trail is approximately 4.2 miles and takes around two hours to complete, according to All Trails. Only a four-minute drive from campus, people can look forward to a moderately trafficked loop that welcomes pets on leashes and features a natural escape — with plenty of wildflowers.
Similarly, the Soldier and Highlands Trail Loop is 4.3 miles, roundtrip, within the Flagstaff area. This trail is recognized as moderate difficulty and takes roughly one hour and 45 minutes to complete. Seven minutes south of campus, this loop also receives a fair amount of foot traffic and includes river scenery, as well as forests.
Lastly, for those looking for a bit more of a challenge, the Walnut Canyon Short Hike is located 20 minutes from campus. Taking an estimated two hours and thirty minutes to complete, this trail is 4.8 miles long. This moderate trip takes hikers on an out-and-back trail that passes through various terrains.
In and around Flagstaff, these are a few of the abundant trails people can enjoy. Students also have the option of choosing to explore individually, or connecting with a group such as the NAU Hiking Club. Members partake in hikes, camping and other activities, while learning basic wilderness survival and other valuable skills. Hikers described the organization as consisting of a wonderful group of people and being a safe place to meet those with diverse backgrounds.
Since she joined the club freshman year, senior Julia Totty has been a NAU Hiking Club officer. Totty also manages the club’s social media accounts and promotes appreciation of the outdoors.
“I love to be outside, so [Flagstaff] is the perfect place to do that,” Totty said. “Enjoy the Earth; it would be a shame not to be familiar with it.”
Totty said a lot of people underestimate themselves, and she encourages them to not be scared of the outdoors. Part of the reason Totty enjoys being part of the NAU Hiking Club is because of the supportive atmosphere the group fosters. With hiking events planned weekly, she said it is easy for everyone involved to grow in their own way.
The mountain town of Flagstaff has something to offer beginning and expert hikers alike. Throughout the city, visitors and residents have the option to get outside and be healthy. People around Coconino County have the unique chance to dive into surrounding culture while benefiting from an increase in positivity — even on an easy trail.