At an elevation above 7,000 feet, the Arboretum at Flagstaff in Arizona serves a mission to research, preserve, and show the plants and animals native to northern Arizona, and specifically to the Colorado Plateau. The arboretum spans over 200 acres of the Coconino National Forest and houses a collection of over 750 native plant species. Visitors can tour through natural forests, formal gardens, and greenhouses.
Founder Frances McAllister’s 1960s home was renovated in 2007 and now hosts the visitors center and administrative offices. The house, designed by architect Walter Reichardt, offers expansive views of the gardens and San Francisco Peaks from a beautiful flagstone patio. It may also be rented for meetings and events. The butterfly house displays hundreds of butterfly species from May through September each year. The exhibit educates visitors on the lifecycle of butterflies, their migration patterns, and their impact as pollinators. Botanical Blacksmiths and Friends is an installation of more than 30 outdoor sculptures by artists from the Arizona Artists Blacksmith Association. Sculptures are found in and around the Willow Pond and alongside the main garden path. A research department at the arboretum focuses on understanding climate change and how to best prevent it in the American Southwest. In addition, research programs study the migration of monarch butterflies and propagate native milkweed to expand their available resting places. Other programs include native plant studies, proactive weed abatement, and conservation of endangered native species. Picnic tables are located throughout the grounds and guests are encouraged to bring their own picnics to enjoy the gardens and views.
History: The philanthropist Frances McAllister founded the Arboretum at Flagstaff in 1981. McAllister first came to Flagstaff in the 1930s when passing through by train. When she married John Vickers McAllister, the couple purchased some land and a small cabin in Flagstaff, and the cabin became an annual summer destination for the McAllister family. In 1967, after her husband passed, McAllister moved to Arizona permanently, purchased the land that would become the arboretum, and built a larger home on the property. An avid fan of gardening, McAllister learned about gardening with native plants at the 7,000-foot altitude through trial and error, and wanted to pass along her knowledge to others. The arboretum originally opened as a research institution under the name the Transition Zone Horticultural Institute, but has since become a place for the residents and visitors to Flagstaff to enjoy the flora and fauna of Arizona as well as a variety of educational and entertaining programming.
Ongoing Programs and Education: 1-hour docent-led garden tours are available daily and are included with admission. Guests should wear comfortable walking shoes. Wildflower Walks are offered once monthly during the summer and showcase the natural wildflowers of Arizona. Bird Walks take place early mornings through May and June. Visitors have catalogued over 130 species of birds on the arboretum grounds. Group tours include a discount for groups of six or more adults and are available by appointment. School field trips are organized around age-appropriate themes, which range from the Five-Alive Senses and Life in the Trees for younger children to Hardy Adaptations and Climate Change for older children. Nature-based summer camps with a focus on science, technology, and math are available for children ages 5-12.
Events at the arboretum include the Summer Concert Series. The series focuses on world music performances and offers outdoor entertainment on a stage overlooking the San Francisco Peaks. Wine in the Woods showcases local Arizona wineries and eateries with an outdoor wine-tasting festival. Shakespeare Under the Pines offers 2 days of performances in partnership with the Theatrikos and the Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival. An August Mushroom Festival includes a guided foray in which guests learn how to identify safe and unsafe mushrooms. The day includes wine and mushroom pairing as well as cooking demonstrations. The autumn months include the Festival of Science, a family event offering hands-on activities, scavenger hunts and more, as well as the family-friendly Pumpkin Walk and Fall Fest. A Festival of Trees takes place November through December each year.
What’s Nearby: The arboretum is located within the Coconino National Forest, almost 2 million acres of protected land surrounding Flagstaff and Sedona. The San Francisco Peaks, just north of Flagstaff, are the eroded remains of the San Francisco Mountain. The volcanic mountain range is no longer active and is the primary feature of the landscape visible from the arboretum.
4001 S. Woody Mountain Rd. Flagstaff, AZ 86005, Phone: 978-774-1442