Hidden just outside of Flagstaff, you’ll discover a high-country sanctuary of cool, shady forests and sunny, flower-filled meadows. Glittering with a glowing innate backdrop and natural features aplenty, including stream, desert, canyon and more, The Arboretum in Flagstaff (TAF) is one beautiful place. Though it’s called an arboretum, it’s more than just trees. The 200-acre botanical garden and nature center also acts as a research station and environmental education hub; there’s a huge array of classes, tours, group events, exhibits and more; nearly 250,000 visitors and members a year trek through the wonderous place. The Arboretum feels more like a nature preserve, providing one of the most relaxing and tranquil settings in the area.Located over 7,000 miles above sea level, the panoramic, canyon vistas are stunning and the Mother Nature-made features are indescribable. Several miles of trails meander through one of the largest collections of high-country native plants, trees, and shrubs in the entire nation. In the fall, The Arboretum’s many quaking aspen, oak, ash, box elder and maple trees turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. These groves provide some of the best autumn color in the state. The three-mile drive through this Arboretum forest is beautiful in its own right and visitors always comment on the Arboretum’s several owls, hawks & falcons. Flagstaff has incorporated them into an educational & informative Raptor Centre that kids love!TAF is also famous for having one of the largest collections of high-country wildflowers in the country as well as over 2,500 species of high elevation plants. It actually specializes in these types of plants – those found on the Colorado Plateau, a vast, open land of deep red rock canyons, forest-covered mountains and broad valleys stretching over Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. The 18 gardens at The Arboretum highlight a diversity of plants, ranging from riparian wetlands to dry, water-conserving rock gardens. Each demonstrates how different microclimates can be manipulated to produce dramatic results. Gardening can be tough in cold, dry climates like those in Colorado and neighboring high country Arizona, thus, The Arboretum strives to emphasize the beauty that anyone can achieve with semi-limited help from Mother Nature. Here in the gardens, the diffuse plantings blend into one another, complementing their natural surroundings.Education is not lacking, and in fact, is world class at The Arboretum. Kids, adults, students, and families all participate in award-winning curriculum. For example, the Gardening classes available include Composting, Design, Building Water Features and more. The Craft and Art Classes offer Pine Needle Basketry, Art of the Gourd, Yarning, and others on turning plants into lovely keepsakes. Two popular workshops at The Arboretum are the Wild Mushroom Retreat and Winter Falconry sets. The former is a three-day weekend popular with both vegetarians and botanists (read more below). Children’s courses boast of school tours, summer day camps and raptor road trips! Local kids love the latter one especially! Teachers enjoy taking kids to The Arboretum for hands-on learning, and depending on what grade they represent, coursework ranges from Pollination and Wetland Habitat to Forest Ecology and Ecological Restoration.
Should you be visiting The Arboretum in Flagstaff anytime soon, and whether you have a whole weekend or just a Saturday afternoon, take along the following Top Ten Arboretum Features list. You can use it as a “to-do” or “to-see” list of sorts, and in conjunction with any maps, brochures or discovery packs you receive upon entry.
1. Wild Birds of Prey Programs
Every day, from April to October, the Flagstaff Arboretum hosts live Wild Birds of Prey programs provided by High Country Raptors – a local non-profit that rehabilitates wild birds. These programs give you a rare opportunity to see hawks, falcons, owls and other raptors up close. During the free flight shows, you’ll watch magnificent birds fly between handlers, demonstrating the power & beauty of a raptor on the wing. It’s an event not to be missed! This program is free with Arboretum admission and offered daily at noon & 2 pm.
2. Wildflower Meadow:
Look for native flowers such as blanket flower, Scarlet Gilia and lupines. If you visit in the middle of July after the summer monsoon rains, the Meadow is ablaze of spectacular colors including reds, yellows, golden orange, green, purple and more. You can even take a Wildflower Walk! Join local botanists and naturalists for a tour through woodlands, meadows, and cultivated gardens. Learn about wildflowers as they bloom over the course of the summer. All walks take place on The Arboretum’s 200 acres.
3. The Garden for Flowers and Plants You Can Eat
A great place to get ideas on how home gardeners can create colorful veggie gardens by combining plantings of herbs, flowers and vegetables in one space.
Most of the species seen in the gardens are grown in The Arboretum’s massive solar greenhouse. Plant material and seeds are collected from all over the Plateau to be grown for the gardens here. The greenhouse is a popular exhibit with landscape architects and professional gardeners in the area, as it’s a brilliant and bountiful example of what and how to reap and sew in the southwest. The Horticultural Center is a model of energy and resource conservation. The central feature of the Center, the greenhouse primarily uses solar energy for heating. There is also a water harvesting system here, which collects rainwater and snowmelt in a 3,500-gallon underground cistern via the roof, gutters and rainspout.
5. Herb Garden
Bee balm, thyme, feverfew and catnip are in full bloom in the Herb Garden… There are actually more than 200 species of cooking and medicinal herbs here. The bright colors, fragrance and nectar of these plants attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, making it a good spot for wildlife watchers, too. Hardy perennials including species with medicinal, ornamental, and culinary value are all included.
6. Hummingbird Festival
See how scientists study hummingbirds to track migratory patterns. Learn how you can become involved in hummingbird monitoring efforts in your own backyard. Presentations by The Hummingbird Monitoring Network, The Hummingbird Society, the Arizona Game & Fish Department and the Audubon Society. Visitors also love finding out how to attract birds to their gardens. You can also purchase plants that hummers love, and learn how to capture the fast fluttering creatures photographically. There’s even guides for tours of the gardens that feature hummingbird-friendly plants, plus children can participate in hands-on activities specifically designed for them.
7. Wild Mushroom Retreat
This annual event is a unique retreat that you’ll find only at The Arboretum in Flagstaff. Designed for the novice and experienced “fungi-phile,” this program is informative and social at the same time. Unite with other mushy-lovers and enjoy home-cooked meals featuring wild mushrooms. Learn where to look for fungi that you can eat, how to preserve your bounty, and how to prepare dishes with fresh and dried specimens. Join The Arboretum’s mushy experts for a weekend retreat doing just that at the Hart Prairie Preserve. Mushroom hunters rejoice in the typical wet weather and the chance to meet and greet each other as well as some scrumptious specimens!
8. The Pumpkin Walk
This annual autumn event is widely popular with local families with young children; it’s essentially a pumpkin-carving party! It starts with a carving class in the late afternoon and continues after with the walk, which takes you through fields and fields of wild pumpkin patches. Join the Pumpkin Carving workshop at 4:00 and receive a pumpkin, plus instructions on carving techniques. Afterwards, be sure to bring your flashlight for a walk through the gardens, where you will see a display of scarecrows, owls, and carved pumpkins glowing!
9. Wildlife Viewing (across the park)
TAF is a great destination for wildlife watchers as birds and other animals abound on the property. Many enjoy watching golden-mantled ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, Steller’s jays and northern flickers foraging during a visit. Over 100 species call the Arboretum home. Look for hairy woodpeckers and mountain chickadees near the ponderosa pine forests. You may hear the chickadees distinctive “chick-adee-dee-dee” call before you see them! The pond and riparian areas are good places to spot Cordilleran flycatchers, cliff swallows, belted kingfishers and yellow-rumped warblers. Keep an eye out for Western bluebirds, Western meadowlarks, Rufous hummingbirds and broad-tailed hummingbirds. The Arboretum’s pond has one of the world’s few captive populations of the Little Colorado spinedace.
10. Summer Plant Sale & Penstemon Festival
for 25 years, the Arboretum has held its famous Arizona Plant Sale! People from all over the southwest patron this event, which features horticultural presentations, face painting for the kids, book-signings, tours, and a selection of Arboretum-themed merchandise and gardening books. Members get first pick of the best penstemons and other plants available this season. Local growers have a wide selection of specimens to choose from. There’s also homegrown species of penstemons, as well as plants from Mountain States Nursery in Phoenix. Members from the Audubon Society come to tag bird-friendly plants for sale.
The Arboretum is about four miles south of Route 66 and a few miles south of Route 40 on the scenic Woody Mountain Road (Flagstaff’s west side). The first mile of Woody Mountain Road is paved and the last 2.8 miles are unpaved, but is suitable for all vehicles. During your drive through the forest, the air smells fresh and fragrant in the way that only high country forests seem to – like the pines had scrubbed the air clean with their resinous scent! Thus, even the drive in is scenic! TAF is nestled in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the southwest, at 4001 S. Woody Mountain Road. For specific details on events, exhibits and special bookings, or if you want details on group tours or something else, call (928) 774-1442.
4001 S. Woody Mountain Rd
Flagstaff, AZ 86001