The Arboretum at Flagstaff isn’t as old as some of the Southwest’s other public gardens, but it is one of the most diverse. The “arb” began as a private residence – a 200-acre parcel with a log cabin given to Californian Frances McAllister in the 1930s. McAllister eventually made the forests near Flagstaff her permanent home, settling here in the 1960s and building a Walter Reichardt designed home on her land.
Two decades later, she transitioned the woodsy property into a non-profit horticulture institute. McAllister’s influence can still be seen in the herb planting and the small garden behind the Visitors Center that bears her name. Look for more than 750 species of plants, with a focus on native desert blossoms and drought-tolerant foliage of the Colorado Plateau.
If you’re planning a day trip to The Arboretum at Flagstaff, here are five things you should know before you go.
1. Anticipate a Rocky Start
The 3-mile trek down S. Woody Mountain Road to the Arboretum can be a bit dodgy if you don’t have a truck or SUV. Take it slow down the red dirt path, following well-worn tire paths to keep your car on track and avoid rock chips. Make sure to stay to the right the entire way. The middle of the road may offer the smoothest ride, but trucks often plow down this road at high speed, making it safer to stay on your side.
2. It’s All in the Family
If you have a membership at your local botanical garden, check for reciprocal admission with The Arboretum at Flagstaff. The site participates in a program through the American Horticultural Society that includes admission to more than 300 gardens, conservatories and arboreta, including Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden.
3. Friends Come in All Breeds
If you have Fido, Max or Sophie in tow, the Arboretum will treat your pooch like family. Unfortunately, that means a $2.50 entry fee for each dog you bring. Caveat: Pups must be leashed, and are not allowed at special events like classes or festivals. Mormon Lake Lodge also welcomes four-footed friends of all sizes; book a private cabin today to ensure your whole family (including Spot!) has a place to return to after a day in the garden.
4. Butterflies Aren’t Forever
Veer left on the main path behind the Visitors Center and you’ll encounter the Butterfly House, a small enclosed greenhouse filled with colorful monarchs, swallowtails and more. Guests can see the winged creatures in all stages of life, from chrysalis (only moths have “cocoons”) to pupa to adult butterfly. Most live only a month or so in captivity. Like its residents, the butterfly pavilion is seasonal, open from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. April through October (closed Tuesdays).
5. Evenings Are Eventful, Too
Most visitors just pop in for a stroll around the gardens or a 1-mile hike through the woods on the marked outer loop trail. Did you know? The Arboretum also hosts nighttime events including a Shakespeare festival and fall wine tasting, as well as a pumpkin fest with carving contests and spooky campfire tales.
The Arboretum is one of the most-visited botanical sites in Northern Arizona, and a great side trip from Flagstaff or Mormon Lake. It’s open through Halloween, rain or shine, and offers some of the most spectacular unobstructed views of Mount Elden and the San Francisco Peaks. Hours are 9-5 Wednesday through Monday. CLICK HERE for pricing and directions.