Arizona is known for its scorching temperatures and arid deserts. In Phoenix, the average temperature in July is a searing 106 degrees. If you are looking for the coldest city in Arizona, Flagstaff is it. From a summer refuge from the heat to winter skiing, Flagstaff defies the stereotypes about Arizona weather.
Arizona’s Below Zero Temperatures
Arizona’s terrain is more diverse than some people know. The desert expanses and cacti are well known by most people. And, in addition, Arizona has mountain areas that include several towns and cities that offer a relatively cool respite in the summer and snow in the winter.
And in the coldest towns and cities, the temperatures do not fit the desert picture. Indeed Hawley Lake, on White Mountain Apache Tribe land, holds the record for the coldest temperature recorded in the state: 40 degrees below zero in 1971.
Of all the cities in Arizona, Flagstaff is the coldest.
Here are the average annual high and low temperatures, and the amount of rain and snow for each month recorded by NOAA.
- January 44° / 16° 5 days 22.5 inches
- February 47° / 19° 5 days 22.2 inches c v
- March 53° / 23° 6 days 21.9 inches
- April 60° / 27° 3 days 6.7 inches
- May 68° / 34° 3 days .6 inches
- June 80° / 43° 1 day
- July 82° / 52° 8 days
- August 79° / 50° 9 days
- September 74° / 42° 5 days
- October 63° / 32° 4 days 1.2 inches
- November 53° / 23° 3 days 10.6 inches
- December 44° / 17° 5 days 17.9 inches
Nestled in the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff is surrounded by one of the largest pine forests on Earth. The city has four true seasons because of its nearly 7,000 ft elevation. It’s usually 20-30 degrees cooler than the high temperatures of Phoenix. But the city is sunny throughout the year. In the winter, Flagstaff receives about 100 inches of snow on average with snow from late November to early June. Spring can be windy, which is now beginning to happen in the summer as well as the climate changes. A monsoon season barrels through the city from late July into August.
The monsoon brings heavy afternoon rains that can sweep through the city on most afternoons. Despite the monsoon, Flagstaff has about 288 days without precipitation each year. In the fall, the changing of the leaves on the aspen trees in the mountains around Flagstaff ring the city in gold.
Arizona Skiing and Outdoor Life
The benefit of the colder climate means those who like arid environments and who also love to ski can have a day of both desert and mountain activities. The San Francisco Peaks are just 14 miles from downtown Flagstaff. The mountains boast 32 downhill runs. Skiers can also head to the ski resort Arizona Snowbowl. You can take part in skiing and snowboarding at the resort, which can be found north of Flagstaff.
Elsewhere, Flagstaff Urban Trail System covers over 50 miles with pathways that don’t allow motorized vehicles. There is also the Arboretum, a 200-acre oasis of tranquility that houses about 750 species of plants. It’s a particular outdoor favorite with locals and is located inside Coconino National Forest.
Location and History
Flagstaff is in the northern part of the state and is the largest city near the Grand Canyon, which is about 80 miles away. The mountain city is located along the fabled Route 66.
The cinder cone at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a reminder of the area’s early history. The volcano erupted around 1085. Before the eruption, native Sinagua people lived in the area. But the volcano’s eruption buried the soil they relied on to farm. Some of the Sonagua people moved to Walnut Canyon and Wupatki. Today, visitors can visit cliff dwellings and ancient pueblos. Sinagua descendants include Arizona’s Hopi and Zuni tribes.
Boston settlers were the first to colonize the area. And July 4, 1876, to celebrate the USA’s first centennial, emigrants stripped a pine tree and raised the American flag. This “flagstaff” became a locator for those transiting the area and, eventually, the city’s name.
An International First
Flagstaff has the distinction of being the earth’s first international dark sky community. A dark sky community is committed to preserving the opportunity to view the night sky as humans have always done: without light pollution.
Becoming an international dark sky community can be achieved through local laws and the education of community members about the benefits. The city is also home to the Lowell Observatory, as the location was selected for Flagstaff’s visibility.
A Golden Rule City
A Golden Rule City espouses an ethos of mutual respect among its residents, so that everyone acts how they would like to be treated. The ultimate goal is to support those in need and embrace diversity and each other’s differences, according to the City of Flagstaff website. The values of a Golden Rule City include not welcoming prejudice, hate, and bigotry into the community.
The Flagstaff City Council unanimously passed the resolution in 2008 to become a “Golden Rule City.” The State of Arizona named the state a “Golden Rule State” in 2003.
Not every part of Arizona is the scorching desert that many think it is. While temperatures can reach highs well over 100 degrees, parts of the Grand Canyon State defy the preconceptions. Some of the mountainous areas are reasonably cool and get snow in the winter. Of all the state’s cities, Flagstaff is the coldest (being cooler by up to 30 degrees compared to the highs of Phoenix). Here, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to ski and snowboard.
Related: Best Cities in Northern Arizona