Where to live in Northern AZ- Flagstaff vs Show Low Arizona

Much like the dichotomy of California, living in northern Arizona offers a completely different landscape and lifestyle from the southern portion of the state. What are some of the best places to live in northern Arizona? The thought of this desert state may evoke visions of cattle drives, saguaros as far as the eye can see, and tumbleweeds hurdling across a long and desolate highway. But life in northern Arizona is quite the opposite! From gorgeous desert buttes to the fresh air of the pinewood forests, to (believe it or not) snowfall, there’s surprises at every turn.

Landscape of Northern Arizona:

Though still the desert, the high country of Arizona offers a much different landscape than you might find in the Sonoran Desert. Southern Arizona is dry, and constantly parched for water. But in northern Arizona you’ll find plenty of streams, hidden lakes and ponds, and even some waterfalls when the time is right!

Though the area gets more rainfall in general, a lot of this extra water retention is due to the forested nature of northern Arizona. The ancient pine forests serve as an irrigation system, capturing the rain in their deep roots, and shielding the water features from the harsh desert sun so it doesn’t quickly evaporate. These evergreen trees call the area home because of its higher elevation, emulating their preferred climate. Colder temps, snow, and thin, dry air is all a pine tree ever wants and needs! 

With that higher elevation comes beautiful mountains, something you might not have thought you could find in Arizona! The White Mountains and the San Francisco Mountains are a couple mountain ranges in the area where people can enjoy mountain lifestyles and plenty of outdoor fun. Camping, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and even skiing are all part of the northern Arizona life. 

When the weather is cold enough, outdoor enthusiasts can hit the slopes. When it warms up enough, the waterfalls start flowing and its true wildflower season in the valleys.  In the warmer summer months and into the cool fall, adventure junkies can hit the mountain bikes or head for the rock wall. Year round, northern Arizona is an outdoor lover’s playground!

About Flagstaff and Show Low:


If you already know a little bit about northern Arizona, you’ve probably heard of Flagstaff. Located at nearly 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is one of the highest elevation cities in the United States. It’s not a very large city, with only about 72,000 people calling it home, but it’s still well known.

As the closest city to Grand Canyon National Park, the tourism in Flagstaff keeps a constant stream of visitors coming and going. You can find plenty of information about heading out to the park, as well as cheap lodging and amenities for dining and stocking up for your trip to the Grand Canyon.  Though many come and go through Flagstaff on their way to see the only Natural World Wonder in the United States, plenty visit just to get a taste of the desert high country.

Mountain landscape of Flagstaff AZ, Flagstaff vs Show Low Arizona

Show Low:

Show Low, while similar to Flagstaff in landscape, and somewhat close in proximity, doesn’t have quite the name recognition of Flagstaff. Speaking of the name, according to legend, the town’s name was coined over a poker game. The land; once a large cattle ranch, was owned by two ranchers. Unable to decide who should become the sole owner and who should head on to other pastures, the two decided to settle the dispute with a game of poker. If the winner could “show low” they would win. The two of clubs was presented as the game winning card, and the rest is history. In honor of the legend of the town’s roots, the main street in Show Low is named “Deuce of Clubs.”

Things to do in Flagstaff:

Both Flagstaff and Show Low are vacation mecca’s. Desert dwelling residents flee the baking sun of the low desert to the respite of the high country all year long. Whether they’re coming to escape boiling temps, or enjoying the snow in the wintertime, both Flagstaff and Show Low offer a plethora of fun activities. It’s a little bit of a drive to get to either from the Phoenix metro area, though; so many Phoenicians even have “mountain homes” in Flagstaff or Show Low, allowing them to truly get out and unplug from city life.

Year round, you can find exciting things to do in Flagstaff. Just the visit alone refreshes you, breathing the pine scented mountain air.  For the skier, the go-to destination is Arizona Snowbowl. Here, skiers can find everything from groomed corduroy to off-piste features when the snow is fresh. From the summit you can take in breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon. For the skier less interested in shredding, the Flagstaff Nordic Center offers beautiful trails for cross country skiing. The area is groomed daily, and skiers can enjoy a warm up in the yurts fueled by wood burning stoves.

Snowbowl near Flagstaff, Flagstaff vs Show Low Arizona

If you want to take in nature in all its colorful glory, you must visit Lockett Meadow in the fall. When the aspen trees begin to “blaze,” or turn from a vibrant yellow to a rusting orange, the entire meadow lights up with warm tone hues against the slender and stoic white aspen trunks. The hikes are moderate, so this is the perfect area to take the whole family for some outdoor fun. Don’t forget your camera!

With its beauty and countless resources, it’s easy to see how early American civilizations thrived in northern Arizona. For the history buff in Flagstaff, visiting Wupatki National Monument is a must. Visitors can experience the lifestyle of early indigenous people, and see what remains of their well engineered pueblos. These stunning dwellings, once home to the Anasazi and Sinagura tribes, can still be explored, and you’ll always find something you didn’t see the last time.

While meandering through these former living quarters, you can see remnants of stairs, windows, fire hearths and more, nestled amid the red rocks.  An anthropomorphic gem in the middle of the high desert, Wupatki National Monument remains a testament to human tenacity, ingenuity, and prosperity.

Downtown Flagstaff

By now you can see Flagstaff is the outdoorsman’s dream, but there’s plenty to do for those who prefer the great indoors!  Historic downtown Flagstaff is beautiful, well maintained, and full of history. The Weatherford Hotel, draped in patriotic festooning and rich in Arizona history, still operates as a hotel and stunning event venue. If you aren’t sticking around to stay the night, you can still enjoy a drink and a bite at the Weatherford at the hotels Gopher Hole Pub, or grab a famous “Navajo Taco” from Charley’s!

The Downtown Flagstaff area is highly walkable, and you can find plenty of places to stop in for coffee or a must have treat. The historic train center downtown gives visitors a feeling of what traveling through the wild west was like for turn of the century Americans, and the entire downtown area is located just off of historic Route 66.

aerial view of downtown Flagstaff AZ, Flagstaff vs Show Low Arizona

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Things to do in Show Low:

Just 34 miles from Show Low, skiers can find some vertical feet at the Sunrise Ski Park Resort, nestled in the White Mountains. With runs spanning throughout three mountains, and a high speed quad lift, the skiing at Sunrise Park is no joke! But it’s not just about winter fun at the resort. During the summer months hikers and mountain bikers take over the mountains, and boaters get out on the water.

Don’t have a boat? No worries, you can rent one for fishing or just enjoying a peaceful day on the water. For those wanting to extend the family fun, there’s campgrounds and RV grounds for rent, perfect for unwinding and centering yourself and your family. What better place to do so than under the mountain stars?

aerial view of Show Low Arizona, Flagstaff vs Show Low Arizona

If you want to visit the White Mountains, but don’t necessarily want to sleep on the ground, check out some of the charming mountain bed and breakfasts in the Show Low area. The Pinetop Country Bed and Breakfast, or the Byrd House Inn are perfect for a quiet weekend escape to reconvene with nature…but also have your coffee in bed!

While it might not be as bustling as Flagstaff, the residents of Show Low like it a little bit quieter. There are still plenty of places to go out to eat or grab a drink, such as the Black Horse Brewery, where visitors can get a taste of local brews. Buffalo Bill’s Tavern and Grill is a great place to dine in classic western style. Unique gift and art stores can be found all over Show Low, so if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir or gift from your mountain getaway, you shouldn’t have to look too far.

lake in Show Low Arizona, Flagstaff vs Show Low Arizona

Thinking of moving to Northern Arizona?

If the idea of a close-by mountain getaway has you ready to move to Northern Arizona from the Phoenix Metro Area, reach out to me today! I’d love to hear from you, and help you make beautiful Northern Arizona your new home or vacation spot!