In Arizona’s northern region, low season is generally November through April. So, just as prices hit their highs in low desert destinations such as Phoenix, the bargains start to pop up here in the mountains. For families on a budget, that means big savings around towns such as Flagstaff, and even at popular national parks.
And there’s plenty to do. Take in autumn’s glory in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, enjoy views without the crowds at the snowy Grand Canyon or explore the mysteries of Canyon de Chelly in winter’s peace. Take a fall or winter escape to the state’s northern region, and you’ll feel like it’s your own private Arizona.
Fall in Flagstaff
Flagstaff is no desert town. At about 7,000 feet in elevation, it sits beneath the state’s tallest mountain range, the San Francisco Peaks. Swaths of golden aspen trees drape the peaks in fall. Just out of Flagstaff, make the drive to Lockett Meadow, part of the Coconino National Forest. Enjoy spectacular alpine scenery, hike or watch wildlife. Find autumn color through the forest’s Fall Color Hotline at (800) 354-4595.
Lodging: Rates dip by at least 10 percent in fall, more in winter, at hotels such as the Fairfield Inn by Marriott and the Embassy Suites. You can also find Grand Canyon Railway packages, which include two passes on the vintage train out of Williams (don’t miss the cowboy show each morning before the train departs). For more deals, contact the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Winter in Grand Canyon National Park
The South Rim is open year round for lodging, dining and fun, and a dusting of snow makes the Grand Canyon a winter wonderland. Come prepared (snow chains may be advised). Hike the new Greenway Trail, or walk from Mather Point to the Canyon View Information Plaza to get your bearings. A short hike takes you to the Yavapai Observation Station, where you’ll learn about the canyon’s geology. For a glimpse of early Pueblo Indian life, visit the Tusayan Museum and walk to a ruin.
Lodging in the Park: Stay just off the rim for a real deal. Rates at Maswik South, Maswik North, Yavapai West and Yavapai East, rates can dip down into the two-digit range, and there's often no extra charge for kids 16 and under. The Grande Dame of the canyon is the 1905 El Tovar Hotel and availability there opens up in winter.
Other Lodging: Just outside the National Park is the community of Tusayan, which offers the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn, The Grand Hotel, Holiday Inn Express, Red Feather Lodge and the Quality Inn Grand Canyon Plaza, all with lower winter rates. Visit the Grand Canyon Chamber & Visitor’s Bureau website for a full listing of amenities and activities – and make the Grand Canyon your winter destination.
Mysterious Canyon de Chelly National Monument
The monument actually includes two gorges – Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de-shay) and Canyon del Muerto – red rock sculpted by time and the elements to create sheer beauty. Its cliff dwelling, White House Ruin, is as magnificent as any in the Southwest. You can hike the White House Ruin Trail on your own, but other travel is allowed only with authorized Navajo guides or a park ranger. Call the Canyon de Chelly National Monument Visitor Center for a list of tour operators.
Lodging: The only lodging inside the National Monument is Thunderbird Lodge, a cozy motel built in an adobe style. Thunderbird Lodge cuts rates in winter by almost 40 percent, so rooms often start in the double digits. Stay on a weekend and get coupons good for continental breakfast and discounts on canyon tours. For other motels, call the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center.
(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism - 2010)