Nestled among 500 acres of towering Ponderosa pines, Little America Hotel may appear unassuming at first glance. Exiting the I-40 and taking a right by the Sinclair gas station, it is only upon approaching the front entrance that you begin to glimpse the magic and grandeur of this AAA Four-Diamond hotel. One beautiful autumn weekend, I made the trip to Flagstaff from Durango and thought I’d sojourn at Little America. After six hours on the road, I reached my destination and contentedly walked up the front steps and into the welcoming and luxurious lobby. The rugged, dark wood accents evoke memories of mountain chalets while the brighter notes echo desert tales. I was greeted immediately by smiling staff who got me checked in, and, in no time at all, I was headed to my bright, spacious room.
Leaving the lobby, I wound my way around the main building through a shaded parking lot over to my lodge, found my room and dropped my bags in the spacious entryway. I pulled on my jacket and set out for exploration against the crisp fall breeze. The grounds alone make the hotel worth a stay. Little America encompasses a series of buildings consisting of 247 guest rooms and as of 2018, nearly 14,000 square feet of newly renovated meeting space. Beautifully manicured outdoor living areas boast a hot tub and heated pool, a kids’ playground, and a volleyball or badminton area. The trailhead for a network of trails not only meanders through the 530-acres that constitute the hotel’s grounds but connect with the Flagstaff Urban Trail System.
After peacefully wandering a path—blanketed in pine needles and dappled in the afternoon light—I decided to meander over to hot tub. By this time, my breath cut through the chilling air, but the steaming water was worth the brief walk from my building. Beneath a slowly darkening sky, I settled into the ambient sounds of other guests’ voices floating on the breeze that rustled contentedly through the towering trees. The following day, I had the opportunity to meet with Fred Reese, the hotel’s General Manager, in the elegant and inviting Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar. He described the Little America experience as unique and individual, elaborating that “we are almost like a large version of a boutique hotel, so when you come here, you are going to get that family atmosphere. There is a lot of care and attention to detail.”
Care, attention to detail and providing a family atmosphere are authentic elements of every Little America branch located across the West. Fred explained that the family-owned operation consists of seven hotels and one ski resort, each of them unique to their geographic locations. Robert Holding purchased the first Little America Hotel—established in 1952 in Little America,Wyoming—from the Covey family. From there, Mr. Holding built the next hotel in 1966 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and eventually established all seven hotels around the American West.
“He just kept building the company,” Fred said. “He was a brilliant businessman, and somewhere along the line, he also bought Sinclair Oil. A lot of people get confused. They think he was an oilman who bought hotels. No, he was a hotel man who bought an oil company.” The Flagstaff branch opened in 1973, and it is a perfect home base for abounding adventures. The hotel is only a five or ten-minute drive to downtown, depending on traffic. Partially a result of the original design and recent remodel—headed by well-known interior designer Frank Nicholson—Little America has a genuinely distinct Flagstaff, mountainous Arizona feel. The remodel, having begun in 2016 and performed over about three years, was the hotel’s first extensive renovation.
“It was time to bring it into something that was more indicative of Flagstaff and that Northern Arizona feel,” Fred explained. “Our goal was to give it a feeling that fit the area. When you come here, you feel like you are in Flagstaff, like you are in the Mountains.” The remodel also allowed the hotel to expand its conference space, so they can easily and comfortably accommodate large groups. In fact, during my stay, at least three different groups were staying at Little America and holding meetings there, yet the atmosphere remained calm and peaceful.
The pristinely kept and expansive grounds create plenty of space for guests to spread out and feel a sense of remoteness. The well-maintained network of trails that wind among the Ponderosas surrounding the hotel is a real treat for anyone in need of a breath of fresh air. “No other hotel in this area can claim such a trail system,” Fred said. “We’ve also got beautiful lawns, and it’s landscaped nicely with lots of trees, bushes, and flowers throughout. That’s what really sets us apart: we are in the woods. Just a few steps and you are on a hiking trail on your way back in the beautiful ponderosa pine forest.”
This impression of remoteness and escape also adds a little extra magic to the location during the winter season. “We put over a million lights in our trees every year, and we have our holiday lighting celebration,” Fred said. He also noted that “eight years ago we entered into a partnership with North Pole Experience®.” Each winter from November 15th until Christmas, Little America Flagstaff is transformed into a portal to the North Pole. Families line up from near and far to check-in at the hotel and board the magic trolleys bound for Santa’s workshop. The sparkling lights of the hotel’s already enchanting grounds make it an easy leap for any imagination. I was delighted to stay at Little America Hotel. I enjoyed three nights though I could have easily stayed much longer. From the first-class service and mouth-watering food to the convenient location and gorgeous grounds, Little America Flagstaff is on the top of my list of favorite places to stay. Little America upholds a tradition of genuine hospitality, and I toast them to another fifty years.
“We are so conveniently located to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. It’s just a great place to use as an anchor. You can go out to all of these cool things, and even downtown Flagstaff has become a popular attraction.” - Fred Reese
Story written by: Sara Knight Photos Provided by: Little America Hotel