Explore Arizona

All roads lead to Flagstaff. OK, not all. But many do — Interstate 17, of course, and I-40. And don't forget U.S. 180, U.S. 89 and State Route 89A. Each has its charms, but none can compare with Forest Highway 3, also known as Lake Mary Road.

Coming off the Mogollon Plateau, the paved, two-lane byway takes you through lovely stands of pine and past a couple of lakes where recreational opportunities abound. And the San Francisco Peaks provide a scenic backdrop as you approach Flagstaff.

Things to note along the way:

Clints Well Campground: Campsites are tucked up among tall ponderosa pines, with a number of lakes within easy driving distance. The area is open year-round, although winter storms may temporarily close the campground or roads. The elevation is around 7,000 feet, so bring your woollies if you plan to camp. A gas station/country store near the crossroads sells all the necessities. Just north of the SR87/FH 3 junction. Free. No water and no RV hookups. Fourteen-day stay limit.

Details: 928-477-2255, www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.

Mormon Lake: The largest natural lake in Arizona is usually more of a marshy meadow than an actual body of water; its size depends on how abundant the previous winter's snowfall was. Activities include hiking, camping (May through Sept. 30) and, snowfall permitting, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Details: 928-526-0866, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.

Sandys Canyon Trail: Plenty of pine trees and aspens stand along this trail, and several overlooks provide fine views of the San Francisco Peaks. Within the canyon, you'll find grassy meadows, weirdly eroded sandstone walls and several trail connections for long-distance hikers. From FH 3, turn north into the Canyon Vista Campground (about 6 miles southeast of Flagstaff). Continue through the campground about a quarter-mile to the parking area at the Canyon Vista Trailhead.

Details: 928-526-0866, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.

Don't miss: Upper and Lower Lake Mary, nestled in the ponderosa pines, are great for fishing, boating, picnicking or just plain lounging. Upper Lake Mary is deeper, has a campground (which closes for the season at the end of September) and is open to more types of boating; some years, Lower Lake Mary is so shallow that it dries up during extended bouts of dry weather. You may canoe, kayak and sail on either lake.

Details: 928-526-0866, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.

Total miles: About 345 miles, round trip, from central Phoenix. Take Loop 202 east to State Route 87. Go north to Payson. Continue north on SR 87 to Strawberry, then 24 miles to Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Road). Turn north (left) and go 29 miles to Forest Road 90. Turn left and follow FR 90 about 10 miles as it loops around the west side of Mormon Lake. Once you return to FH 3, turn left and go about 23 miles north and northwest into Flagstaff. From Flagstaff, it's about 140 miles back to Phoenix via Interstate 17.

This article was originally published in The Arizona Republic.