When one thinks of snow, generally the powder-covered roads of the East Coast or the ski runs and mountains of Colorado come to mind. Many hear "the Southwest" and assume dryness, desert, and sun.
While that remains true for much of metro Phoenix, Arizona gets snowfall all over the state – ranging from around 10 feet (think Flagstaff, Williams, the Grand Canyon), to a significant foot-or-two showing (like Jerome, Payson, and Prescott), to a healthy handful of inches (Bisbee, the Chiricahua and Coronado National Monuments, and even Tucson).
Longtime residents and passing travelers alike will be familiar with Snowbowl outside of Flagstaff, Sunrise Park Resort in the White Mountains, Mount Lemmon Ski Valley north of Tucson, and similar runs that draw the bulk of snow-season visitors each year.
But there are a few other places to play in the snow – some free, some not – across the Grand Canyon State. Here are three designated "snow play areas" up north that are ideal for sledding, building snowmen, and a good snowball fight. Keep an eye on December and make plans to bundle up, buckle up, and head north.
Oak Hill Snow Play Area
Situated just outside Williams off Historic Route 66, Oak Hill Snow Play Area is a great stop for beginner skiers and budding sledders. The area features a 900-foot run, but no ski lift. There are two tubing runs: a 600-footer that has seen a lot of use, and a 400-foot run. At Oak Hill, only inner tubes of "flexible" material are allowed on runs – meaning metal, wood, or hard plastics should stay home or in the car.
The Oak Hill Snow Play Area is about 10 miles east of Williams on Historic Route 66. There are two routes from Central Phoenix, via either Flagstaff or Williams. After taking the I-17 North to Flagstaff, take I-40 West to Parks exit #178, approximately 16 miles. Turn right onto Historic Route 66, then make a left and continue for four miles until you see the sign. From Williams, take I-40 East to exit #171. Follow signs for Route 66 and go east two miles. The signs for Oak Hill Snow Play Area will be on the right – keep an eye for the sign.
The area averages about 74 inches of snowfall a season, and the U.S. Forest Service recommends waiting until there's at least a foot of snow to cover stumps and rocks before planning a sled day on Oak Hill. There is a designated free parking area and admission is free. Hours vary depending on snowfall and access. For weather information and other details, visit the Kaibab National Forest section of U.S. Forest Service website. Forest service hotlines, like the Kaibab National Forest Supervisor's Office, 928-635-8200, or the Williams Visitor Center, 928-635-1418, can offer detailed, daily updates.
Benham Snow Play Area
Also located in the Williams area of northern Arizona, the Benham Snow Play Area is found just four miles south of time along Perkinsville Road from Route 66.
The play area – ideal for snowball fights and general rough housing – lies in Coconino County and is situated just east of Bill Williams Mountain. The Benham Snow Play Area is set at approximately 7,195 feet, meaning only one thing – you better bundle up.
For weather information and other details, visit the Kaibab National Forest section website [www.fs.usda.gov]. The aforementioned forest service hotlines like the Kaibab National Forest Supervisor's Office, 928-635-8200, or the Williams Visitor Center, 928-635-1418, can offer additional details.
Hannagan Meadow Recreation Area
Another eastern Arizona spot, this one a little more secluded than others, Hannagan Meadow Recreation Area is a bright spot in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
A historic area dating back to the 1870s, Hannagan Meadow Recreation Area is a gateway to rustic campgrounds, groomed yet remote ski trails, winter trails to the Mogollon Rim, scenic drives, and access to the Blue Range Primitive Area. The area sits at 9,120 feet, so yes, it’s cold.
It’s nearly a five-hour drive east of metro Phoenix along U.S. Route 60 for most of the way. From the city of Alpine, the area is about 25 miles south on U.S. 191. For more information, contact the Alpine Ranger District at 928-339-5000 or the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest website.
Flagstaff Snow Park
Set in the historic Fort Tuthill County Park near Flagstaff, of course, the Flagstaff Snow Park doesn’t have snow on the ground just yet, but they are gearing up with touched-up sledding hills and a new run for their second season.
The Flagstaff Snow Park is located at 7.000 feet, and has everything from groomed tubing runs and kiddie hill to outdoor fire pits, picnic benches, and food and drink. Snow tube use is included, so don’t feel the need to bring a sled. In fact, you can even bring a completed liability waiver with you after downloading it from their website.
A half day, either 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1 to 5 p.m. – is $11 for teens and adults, while all-day tickets are $15 for adults. From Phoenix, head north on Interstate 17 and take exit 337, then head west and follow the signs to the Flagstaff Snow Park neighboring the Fort Tuthill Campground.
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This impressive wildlife viewing spot north of Flagstaff is also a great place to play in the snow. Pop off a perfect snow angel within view of the San Francisco Peaks, Kendrick Mountain, and of course, Kendrick Park. This area is also known as the Kendrick Park Watchable Wildlife Trail, and is fine for additional winter activities like snowmobiling, plus cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at the nearby Peak View Winter Recreation and parking area – which is approximately 14 miles.
Kendrick Park is located off Highway 180, approximately 20 miles north of Flagstaff. For up-to-date information, visit the Walker Lake webpage at the USFS website, or call the Winter Recreation Hotline at 1-844-256-SNOW.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in November 2015. Janessa Hilliard and Lauren Cusimano contributed to this article.