Outdoor Pursuits in Northern Arizona

By Christine Loomis

It’s hard to overstate the abundance of natural attractions that make Northern Arizona so compelling. There’s a painted desert, a petrified forest, a sunset crater, a grand canyon and vermillion cliffs, evocative names that make it sound as if the northern part of the state was fabricated by an artist whose wild sense of color and form knew no boundaries.

To be sure, it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise with miles of trails to hike and bike, rivers to run and canyons to conquer.  But to put Northern Arizona into just one pocket is to miss its incredibly rich culture and intriguing human history and spirit.  Northern Arizona has diversity enough to appeal to every kind of traveler.  Here are five destinations that showcase its best assets.


Perched at 7,000 feet amid mountains, high desert and ponderosa pines, Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University and the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was first discovered. Historic Route 66 passes through it, and within about 100 miles are some of Arizona’s most compelling attractions including Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks, Lava River Cave, Meteor Crater, the San Francisco Peaks and three national monuments. Flagstaff has 4,930 hotel rooms and 119,991 square feet of meeting/function space.

Where to stay

Connected by Sky Bridge to the 164-room, LEED-certified Drury Inn & Suites is High Country Conference Center on the university campus. The IACC facility features 29,700 square feet of space accommodating up to 1,000. Little America Hotel Flagstaff offers 247 guest rooms and 13, 770 square feet of meeting space; its Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar accommodates up to 15 in private dining. The 183-room Doubletree by Hilton Flagstaff provides 6,243 square feet of meeting space.

Where to play

The tagline for Historic Hitchin’ Post Stables is “5 miles and 100 years from Flagstaff.” Groups experience authentic western lifestyle and local history via horseback rides, wagon rides and cookouts. For high-ropes challenges, it’s Flagstaff Extreme, with multiple activity options and team-building facilitation. At Lowell Observatory, groups can book private programs for up to 50, including Pluto Discovery, Life on Other Worlds and interactive demos.

Where to dine

The must-do dining destination is Historic Route 66. The McMillan Bar & Kitchen is located in the oldest standing building downtown, built in 1886. It once housed a Wells Fargo downstairs and hotel upstairs. Today, the restaurant offers an eclectic pub-style menu and private space for 12.  Fat Olives, the go-to for wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, has private dining for up to 34 lovers of Italian cuisine.


The fact that Grand Canyon National Park is just 59 miles away may be Williams’ high-profile draw, but this town has assets of its own. Sitting at an elevation of 6,780 feet—and averaging 55 inches of snow annually—Williams offers hiking through the piney Kaibab Forest, a slew of lakes and one of the most famous train rides in the west, Grand Canyon Railway. A total of 1,500 guest rooms and approximately 6,000 square feet of meeting space meet planners’ needs.

Where to stay

Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is Williams’ premier facility. It offers 297 guest rooms with free Wi-Fi, two meeting rooms each accommodating about 60 guests and onsite dining. Ramada Williams/Grand Canyon Area features 120 guest rooms, 800 square feet of meeting space, a business center and complimentary Internet.

Where to play

Riding Grand Canyon Railway is a must. Groups can buy out a rail car for a private experience, with car capacity ranging from 24 to 88 depending on the type of car and service. The train leaves Williams at 9:30 a.m., arriving at Grand Canyon at 11:45 a.m. It departs the park at 3:30 p.m. and pulls into Williams at 5:45 p.m.

In town, there’s championship golf at Elephant Rocks Golf Course on a layout designed by Gary Panks. Bearizona Wildlife Park puts animal lovers close to native wildlife on drive-through and walkthrough areas. There are chats with keepers, too. Bearizona will open a new restaurant and meeting/event space in March 2017, accommodating up to 1,500.

Where to dine

Cruiser’s Route 66 Café sells Grand Canyon Brewing Company beer, Williams’ own craft brewery, along with burgers, salads, BBQ, steaks and pasta. At Wild West Junction, combining a restaurant, saloon, historical reenactments and live entertainment, groups join in the fun.


This is the spot for meetings of 100 to 300, for groups that don’t want to compete with other groups and who want an authentic experience in a place away from it all yet close to much that Northern Arizona offers. Prescott has 1,313 hotel rooms and 69,641 total square feet of meeting space.

Where to stay

The 160-room, full-service Prescott Resort and Conference Center features 16,000 square feet of meeting space and Icha Maajoh restaurant, which seats 75. Hotel St. Michael has 68 guest rooms and 5,000 square feet of space, while the beautifully restored Hassayampa Inn with its Art Deco décor includes 67 guest rooms, the Peacock Dining Room and 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Where to play

Rubicon Outdoors takes adventurers rock climbing and rappelling, and the less physical pursuits of wine touring and tasting. Groups choose their private adventure. Tierra Wild understands team building and offers options including canoeing, kayaking, geocaching, hiking, survival skills and disc golf, among others. Some custom group programs at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary include up-close animal encounters. The sanctuary’s event space accommodates 300. At Smoki Museum, tours and activities give participants insight into Native American culture, while Sharlot Hall Museum introduces visitors to local history.

Where to dine

Belly up to the bar at Arizona’s oldest frontier saloon, following in the footsteps of Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday, former patrons all. The Palace Restaurant & Saloon offers a varied menu— try the corn chowder—and a dinner theater.

Can’t decide between Southwestern and Asian? The menu at Prescott Station Grill & Bar is a bit of both. If it’s a night for casual but upscale, consider Murphy’s.


Sedona’s setting has such extraordinary power and beauty it can make anyone want to immerse themselves in nature.  And they can, via hikes, mountain biking, jeep tours and more. But Sedona also seduces with its arts scene, culture, Native influences, shopping and spas. Its 3,300 hotel rooms and 33,500 square feet of meeting space accommodate small to mid-size groups.

Where to stay

Intimate L’Auberge de Sedona’s 62 luxury cottages and 88 lodge style guest rooms provide panoramic views of Sedona’s famed red rocks. Combined indoor/outdoor meeting and function space totals 13,000 square feet. Planners should ask about the Corporate Group Digital Detox package. Enchantment Resort blends into its 70-acre landscape, providing a serene respite from the world along with 218 guest rooms and 13,000+ square feet of meeting space. Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock offers 219 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of space in a complex that also includes Sedona Golf Resort, where groups can arrange tournaments.

Where to play

For guided tours to the Grand Canyon, much-awarded Touch the Southwest Tours is a top choice; customized options meet the needs of the most discerning travelers. Visitors of all ages can explore Slide Rock State Park’s 43-acre historic farm in Oak Creek Canyon and swoosh down its slick, natural water shoot for added fun. Art lovers—who isn’t?—should visit Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village with its galleries and shops. Events can also be set here, complete with strolling guitarists and flamenco dancers. As for Sedona’s four main energy vortexes, why not find out what they’re all about?

Where to dine

Upscale yet casual American eatery Hudson offers indoor/outdoor seating and accommodates groups up to 40.  It’s hard to say which is better at Hideaway House—the mesmerizing view or carefully crafted Italian dishes. Hideaway accommodates up to 60. T Carl’s Restaurant at Poco Diablo Resort is the spot for a casual Southwestern lunch or dinner, with private dining for 20.


For small to mid-size groups meeting in fall or winter, Grand Canyon National Park stands alone. The word “unique” is egregiously overused these days to describe everything from standard hotel rooms to average experiences. But the Grand Canyon is truly that unique venue, and elevates any meeting within it.

Group can meet only between November 1 and March 15. Just remember: Highs during this period range from about 44 to 60 degrees, lows from 18 to 29 degrees. Concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates 522 accommodations inside the park. Thunderbird Lodge has two meeting rooms: Thunderbird with 1,170 square feet accommodating up to 80, Kiva with 780 square feet accommodating up to 52. Maswick’s Santa Fe Room holds up to 160.

Where to stay

Groups stay primarily at Maswick Lodge, with limited availability at Thunderbird and Kachina lodges. Small groups (20 max) can overnight at Phantom Ranch, accessed via mule rides or hiking. Maswick Lodge North and South offer a total of 250 rooms. There are 55 rooms at Thunderbird, 49 at Kachina, 90 at Bright Angel and 66 at El Tovar.

Where to play

The canyon’s most famous activities—riding mules or hiking to the canyon floor, overnighting at Phantom Ranch then trekking back up—are for those in good shape and unafraid of heights. Less challenging is the three-hour Canyon Vista mule trip along the rim (maximum of 10 riders per day).

Where to dine

El Tovar Dining Room accepts groups at specific times with 30 days’ notice. Arizona Room at Bright Angel Lodge accommodates 20-100 for breakfast buffets; if your group doesn’t fill the room you may be sharing it.  Maswick’s Santa Fe Room is the dinner option for large groups, 160 for buffets, 100 for plated dinners and dancing. Breakfast and lunch buffets are available, too. Thunderbird Room’s banquet facilities accommodate about 20 and its private balcony overlooks the South Rim.

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