Welcome to Flagstaff, an outdoor lover’s picturesque mountain town in north-central Arizona. Flagstaff is located in the middle of the world’s largest contiguous pine forest of ponderosas – the Coconino National Forest. The city offers all-year living, with lifestyles from rugged to laid-back. Flagstaff sits at the foothills of the San Francisco Peaks – sacred Native American land.
Flagstaff is in Arizona’s high desert (6,910 feet above sea level) and is a stargazing haven. Flagstaff is also to one of the country’s oldest observatories – Lowell Observatory. Flagstaff was the first designated Dark Sky City – indicative of a city with minimal pollution at night. There are even regulations in place regarding outdoor lighting.
More than 78,000 residents enjoy amazing views of snow-capped mountains and open space, with access to many parks and neighborhoods. There are walking and biking trails through mountains and canyons and a 42-mile urban trail loop. Plus, Flagstaff is located in the Southwest’s Grand Circle – an area with the highest concentration of national parks/monuments. The magic of Sedona and the majesty of the Grand Canyon are both within an hour’s drive.
Flagstaff’s demographics are interesting and diverse, which makes it a pretty cool place to live and visit. This mountain town is home to one of the state’s three public higher education institutions – the main campus of Northern Arizona University. This school was established when Arizona was still a territory and is among the best in the state.
Flagstaff is also a highly popular tourist destination with much to see, do and experience. The average night’s stay in Flagstaff ranges from $100 to $150 per night, with Airbnb’s offering more affordable options.
The following offers fifteen similar towns/cities that provide similar outdoor adventures and activities to Flagstaff, Arizona.
1. Boulder, Colorado
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $150 – $250 for 2.
Population – 108,250
Elevation – 5,318 Ft.
Boulder is located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and has always been a popular destination for outdoor lovers, world-class skiing, and adventure seekers. The sun shines in Boulder, Colorado, for three hundred days a year, and there are more than 35,000 acres of protected public land surrounding Boulder and a local Urban Wildlife Management Plan in place.
Like Flagstaff, Boulder offers hundreds of miles of biking, hiking, and walking trails for all skill levels. The Boulder campus of the University of Colorado serves more than 45,000 students and represents the flagship campus in the state. Boulder’s elevation pales in comparison to Flagstaff, although each city offers breathtaking views and photo opportunities.
2. Asheville, North Carolina
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $125 – $150 for 2.
Population – 94,589
Elevation – 2,134 Ft.
Asheville, is the largest city in the North Carolina western region and is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. This famed tourist destination is well-known for its live music offerings, street performance art, and seasonal festivals, offering unique and varying venues of entertainment. The city and surrounding locale are major hubs for those who enjoy whitewater recreational activities because Asheville is located at the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers.
Asheville offers miles and miles of trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) across the region and the famous Blue Ridge Parkway for a scenic drive. From Fly Fishing options to hundreds of waterfalls to rock climbing, Asheville is a great place to live or visit.
Like Flagstaff, Asheville is near incredible natural parks and resources like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although, Asheville is at a lower elevation, with temps that tend to be warmer on average. There are a dozen institutions of higher education, including a campus of UNC.
3. Moab, Utah
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $145 – $300 for 2.
Population – 5,366
Elevation – 4,025 Ft.
Moab is a city in the central-eastern area of Utah and an outdoor thrill-seekers popular destination. Its views exemplify the American Southwest with vistas of red rock. Moab is a small city located near the famed Utah Arches National Park (the most concentrated area of arches made of sandstone) as well as Canyonlands National Park. Moab offers off-riders annual safari, plus an extensive trail network that features Slickrock Trail.
Moab has chilly winters and hot summers, so it offers both warm and cold adventures. There are many trips offered down the Colorado River or an amazing view from Dead horse Point State Park, which is 2,000 feet above. Flagstaff’s elevation is nearly twice Moab’s, although both are home to campuses of the state’s higher education learning system.
4. Bozeman, Montana
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $200 – $250 for 2.
Population – 53,293
Elevation – 4,820 Ft.
Bozeman is located in the south and western portions of Montana and has seen some impressive growth over the past five years. Bozeman, which is at a lower elevation than Flagstaff, offers stunning vistas of the Rocky Mountains. The Main Street scene has a similar cool vibe to Flagstaff and is a fun place to hang out in Bozeman.
Check out the local history at the Museum of the Rockies when in Bozeman, or follow the many outdoor trails that can be easily traversed by athletes of all levels. In addition, Bozeman is about an hour and one-half from Yellowstone National Park and even has some great smaller ski areas nearby.
Bozeman hosts a rodeo entitled the Bozeman Stampede, and provides various horseback riding opportunities and adventures. The Madison River and the Yellowstone River are fly fishing’s heaven, which is just one of many outdoor activities in Bozeman. Like Flagstaff, the state’s flagship school (Montana State University) is located in Bozeman, which is why both offer a college-town feel.
5. Ashland, Oregon
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $90 – $150 for 2.
Population – 21,360
Elevation – 1,949 Ft
Ashland is a city in southwest Oregon, home to the world-famous Shakespeare Festival, and only a few miles to the north of California’s border. It is one of the coolest towns in the Pacific Northwest, with the only laboratory globally that investigates crimes against animals.
The nearly 100-acre Lithia Park begins near Ashland’s downtown shopping and offers a Japanese Garden, an outdoor bandshell, two ponds, hiking/biking trails (the Bear Creek Greenway), and Ashland’s famous lithia mineral water. Check out the impressive outdoor dining options at Calle Guanajuato, which runs alongside Ashland Creek.
The many microbreweries serve the city and the many college students attending Southern Oregon University in Ashland. White water rafting is a favorite activity on the Rogue River when visiting, as is the amazing Crater Lake by driving along the Rim Trail. Flagstaff is at a higher elevation and a much bigger city, but Ashland’s waterfall in Oredson-Todd Woods is among the finest in the west.
6. Taos, New Mexico
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $200 for 2.
Population – 5,950
Elevation – 6,919 Ft.
Taos is located in the northern and central New Mexico area amid the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in a Rio Grande tributary valley. Taos was initially a Pueblo and is recognized to be among the oldest consistently inhabited communities in the nation.
Taos is a small quirky artist community and home to many museums and notable actors, politicians, musicians, spiritual seekers, and business people, among others. Outdoor lovers will find hiking, fishing, rafting, biking, and hot air ballooning throughout the area in Carson National Forest, among others.
There are fantastic skiing opportunities, outdoor festivals, plus hot springs, spas, and a historic scenic railroad ride through the Totec Gorge.
The University of New Mexico maintains a campus in Taos, which has a similar elevation and vibe to Flagstaff. In addition, students attend classes at Southern Methodist University’s campus, plus a number of charter schools.
7. Park City, Utah
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $75 – $150 for 2.
Population – 8,396
Elevation – 7,000 Ft
Park City is among the coolest cities in Utah. It is located in northern Utah, about thirty miles from Salt Lake City. Park City is home to the largest ski area in the nation, the training center for US Ski Team, and the country’s largest independent festival dedicated to film – the Sundance Film Festival. Forbes has recognized Park City as one of the prettiest towns in the country.
Park City has more than 300 miles of hiking and biking trails, snowboarding galore, many zip lines, plus one of the longest slides in the world – all of these thrilling activities ready for your next adventure. In the summer, there is horseback riding and whitewater rafting – with cooler temps than nearby Salt lake City.
Park City is about the same elevation as Flagstaff, although it is much smaller and only a school dedicated to film. Tourists typically outnumber those who call themselves permanent residents. Depending on the season, Park City is near Rockport State Park, and Wasatch Mountain State Park, which includes four 18-hole golf courses open three seasons each year.
8. Durango, Colorado
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $125 for 2.
Population – 19,071
Elevation – 6,522 Ft.
Durango, which is located near the Colorado and New Mexico border, with a cool downtown district that is Nationally Registered as a Historic District. There are six ski areas located in Durango, and the San Juan National Forest offers more than 2 million acres of summer hiking.
Durango offers a stunning playground for hunting, fishing, kayaking, and rafting, plus the Durango Silverton Railroad – a 3.5-hour historic train ride to Silvertown. Music and festival lovers have a choice of ragtime & early jazz or Music in the Mountains. Durango is also home to the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic run yearly.
Durango is home to Fort Lewis College, which sits atop a mesa overlooking downtown. Fort Lewis College serves more than 3,400 students and was once a military fort and a boarding school for Native Americans. Durango is a friendly college town and has several gastropubs and brewpubs, especially downtown.
9. Boone, North Carolina
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $125 for 2.
Population – 19,092
Elevation – 3,333 Ft
Boone is a college town situated in the high country of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The town’s outdoorsy feel begins with its name – to honor Daniel Boone – the explorer & American Pioneer. The Blue Ridge Parkway is recognized as one of the most scenic American road trips, with nearby Linville Caverns offering views of the inside of the mountains.
Hiking is plentiful, with Grandfather Mountain nearby. If zip lines are not your thing, check out the most famous Boone attraction – The Blowing Rock, which provides a jaw-dropping view of the Johns River Gorge. For the courageous, check out the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain – over the canyon.
The campus of Appalachian State University is in Boone and serves more than 20,000 students each year. Boone also offers a defined wine loop in the high country, with a taste of some lofty vineyards. Like Flagstaff, Boone is a funky college space where being different is cool.
10. Dillon, Montana
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $125 for 2.
Population – 3,880
Elevation – 5,240 Ft.
Dillon is located in the southwest corner of Montana. The city’s name honors the president of the Union Pacific Railroad and is a part of the infamous trail of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition. Dillon is home to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Crystal Park, and Bannack State Park – where gold was first found in Montana.
Dillon is a great outdoor hidden treasure for those who love to hunt, fish among some glorious views of the Beaverhead Mountains and don’t mind harsh winters. For amazing views, travel a mile north to Clarks Lookout State Park – a historic site of Beaverhead Valley.
Dillon’s hip and friendly vibe is much like Flagstaff’s and is likely due to young-minded students on the Dillon campus of the University of Montana Western, which serves about 1,500 students. Several museums are in Dillon that allow you to explore some rich history of the mountain town.
11. Cascade, Idaho
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $115 for 2.
Population – 939
Elevation – 4,769 Ft.
Cascade is a mountain town in central Idaho that offers its own unique mountain town vibe, like Flagstaff. Cascade, located in the West Mountains, is located about two hours to the north the Boise, Idaho. Cascade sits alongside lake Cascade and is surrounded by gorgeous mountains.
The area brings many outdoor lovers who enjoy rafting, mountain biking trails, kayaking, fishing, ATV trails, and swimming options. Those hungry for action should check out the various paddle sports and unique Idaho backpack experiences.
Tamarack Resort is nearby with an adventure for every season – from snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding when cold or ziplines and watersports during the warmer months.
The Lake Cascade State Park offers 86 miles of shoreline and amazing camping experiences with nearly 400 individual sits and ten campgrounds that offer sewer, power, and water. With six boat launches, fishing lovers find Salmon, Smallmouth Bass, and Rainbow Trout – all year round. During the day, don’t miss the amazing site of crisscrossing windsurfer across Lake Cascade.
12. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $150 for 2.
Population – 9,963
Elevation – 5,761 Ft
Located in the heart of the Rock Mountains of Colorado, Glenwood Springs has always been an appealing destination for visitors – especially those in search of the finest in Colorado Hot Springs (Iron Mountain Hot Springs), adventure, or just some relaxation. Glenwood Springs sits along the winding Colorado River in a valley that helps protect it from extreme temps in winter.
The Glenwood Caverns and Adventure Park is situated on top of a mountain, and its only access is through a gondola ride. For the brave, check out the swing that sends riders 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. Don’t miss the caverns which were discovered in the mid-1880s. Another unique offer at Glenwood Springs is the Vapor Caves – sauna-like natural caves.
Like Flagstaff, Glenwood Springs is home to many students. In Glenwood Springs, there are two campuses of the College Mountain College System. Glenwood Canyon offers a winding and stunning ride through Colorado’s mountains. Hikers will love the 1+ mile hike to Hanging Lake – which climbs 1,000 feet! Glenwood Springs is best served by the Vail or Aspen airports – each about one-half hour from Glenwood Springs.
13. Bend, Oregon
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $75 – $125 for 2.
Population – 99,178
Elevation – 3,623
Bend is a funky mountain town that is similar to Flagstaff in terms of the number of residents. Bend is located between the Cascade Mountains’ snow-covered peaks and the plateaus of the high desert in central Oregon.
Adventure seekers & those that love nature flock to this famous mecca that offers healthy, outdoor activities to the young, old, and families. Museum-lovers should check out Bend’s High Desert Museum, a great place to learn about Bend’s rich history.
Bend is home to a campus of Oregon State University as well as Central Oregon Community College. There are tons of miles of biking, camping, para-gliding, rafting, rock climbing, hiking, and mountain trails that double as Nordic ski trails in winter.
The Sunriver Resort offers amazing aquatic activities, horseback riding, nature walks, and some terrific stargazing. Serious star lovers can check out the NASA-sponsored (and largest of its kind in the nation) Oregon Observatory in nearby Sunriver, Oregon
14. Buena Vista, Colorado
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $100 – $150 for 2.
Population – 2,855
Elevation – 7,965
Buena Vista, located in south-central Colorado, is similar to Flagstaff in that they are both mountain towns with a laid-back, friendly vibe. The nearby hot springs are a great way to relax after a day of mountain exploration near the Arkansas River and its upper canyon.
Adventurers will find a plethora of outdoor options in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area -from four-wheeling, biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and rafting to enjoy in warmer months. In the winter, there are tremendous opportunities to ski the natural powder of Monarch Mountain or various snowshoe trails, snowmobiling, and even the chance to dogsled.
Western State Colorado University and the US Air Force Academy are located within an hour’s drive, so many students enjoy the outdoor adventures and desert camping in these higher levels of alpine mountains. Downtown areas of Buena Vista offer hip music and an impressive dining scene, plus eclectic galleries and unique gift shops, etc.
15. Missoula, Montana
Approximate Average Night’s Stay – $50 – $150 for 2.
Population – 73,489
Elevation – 3,209 Ft.
Located in western Montana and about one-half hour from the Idaho border, Missoula is a friendly college town that was once Fort Missoula. The city is surrounded by more than 5,000 acres of conservation, open-space land, 400 acres of parkland, plus miles of surrounding trails. Nearby, Mount Jumbo offers views of grazing elk and deer – especially during the winter months.
Just south of Missoula’s Wilma Theatre is Caras Park, a friendly hub for the city’s festivals and intimate outdoor concerts. In addition, Caras Park (near the Clark Fork River) offers Brewfest and a chance to taste a brew from the state’s oldest brewery. And walk a riverfront trail.
If you have an innate curiosity and want to learn more about the natural history of the Missoula, visit the Montana Natural History Center.
Missoula is home to the state’s flagship institution of higher education – The University of Montana, which serves nearly 11,000 students each year. There are many interesting and exciting things to do in this Montana mountain town – from a local theater performance and three farmer’s markets that are open from May to October.