Walnut Canyon National Monument: The Complete Guide

Walnut Canyon

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Walnut Canyon National Monument

Address
3 Walnut Canyon Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, USA
Phone +1 928-526-3367

Located just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument contains 232 prehistoric sites dating back to the 1100s. The area was once home to the Sinagua people, who built more than 80 cliff dwellings in the span of hundreds of years. After pot-hunters dynamited many of these dwellings in search of artifacts in the 1800s, President Woodrow Wilson established the national monument in 1915 to preserve what was left. Today, only 25 cliff dwellings line the monument's trails, but they provide a glimpse into ancient canyon life.

Things to Do

Activities at Walnut Canyon National Monument focus on the cliff dwellings. The visitor center museum features several exhibits on the Sinagua people, and displays the artifacts they left behind. You can also watch a 20-minute introductory film on Walnut Canyon's history, while kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet and complete the activities.

Ruins can be seen at a distance from the visitor center, but to get the best views, take a self-guided hike along the rim or into the canyon. The park also offers ranger-led discovery hikes, which require advance reservations, and daily ranger talks. Additionally, every March, local archaeologists celebrate Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness month with events, lectures, walks, and activities for kids.

Island Trail
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Best Hikes & Trails

The park has two self-guided trails: the Rim Trail and the Island Trail. As its name suggests, the Rim Trail hugs the rim of the canyon, while the Island Trail descends into the canyon and takes you past cliff dwellings.

  • Rim Trail: This easy, partially-paved trail covers 0.75 miles round trip along the canyon rim. Two overlooks provide views of Walnut Canyon and the cliff dwellings below, and you’ll see a partially rebuilt pithouse and pueblo set back from the canyon’s edge. During the summer, the demonstration garden showcases Sinagua traditional crops. Plan to spend 30 minutes on this trail.
  • Island Trail: Containing 736 stairs, this strenuous hike descends 185 vertical feet into the canyon. But for those up to the challenge, the nearly mile-long trail—which hugs the canyon wall and has steep drop-offs at certain points—passes 25 cliff dwellings. Budget an hour for this hike. During the winter, the Island Trail may be closed due to snowy or icy conditions. Entry to the trail closes at 3:30 p.m.

Where to Camp

There is no camping at Walnut Canyon National Monument, but you’ll find several public campgrounds in Coconino National Forest. Most of the forest service campgrounds are seasonal, so check before you go if you plan to visit during the winter.

  • Bonito Campground: Adjacent to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, this seasonal forest service campground is 21 miles north of Walnut Canyon. With 44 campsites, Bonito offers picnic tables, grills, fire rings, flush toilets, and drinking water, but no hookups. There is a fee of $26 per night; sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Canyon Vista Campground: This seasonal forest service campground south of Flagstaff has 14 single unit sites and features fire rings, cooking grills, drinking water, and picnic tables. There are no hookups, and the toilets are vault, not flush. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis for a fee of $22 per night.
  • Flagstaff KOA: Located on the western edge of Flagstaff, KOA has 200 campsites able to accommodate tents and RVs. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, 50 amp hookups, laundry facilities, flush toilets, showers, a dog park, bike rentals, and hiking trails. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the campground offers family-friendly movie nights and other activities. Expect to pay at least $45 per night for a tent site in summer.

For a complete list of local campgrounds and information about dispersed camping in the area, visit the Flagstaff CVB website.

Where to Stay

Flagstaff offers the closest accommodations to the park. Because the city is home to Northern Arizona University, hotels can fill up at the beginning of the school year, during college football season, and around winter and spring graduations. During the summer, it can also be hard to find a room on weekends when Phoenicians visit to escape the heat. If you can, book your accommodations in advance.

  • Little America: The only AAA Four Diamond hotel in Flagstaff, Little America features 247 recently renovated guest rooms overlooking the property’s private 500-acre forest. Because it is located just off I-40, it makes a great base for exploring the entire area. The hotel has a no-pet policy, though, so if you’re traveling with Fido, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
  • Drury Inn & Suites Flagstaff: Popular with parents of university students, Drury Inn & Suites has many chain standards: free Wi-Fi, free parking, and free breakfast. But it has a few additional perks, too. Every guest gets three free drinks and free food at the bar from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Depending on the night, the food options range from hot dogs and chicken nuggets to tacos and pasta. It’s enough to make a meal, but popcorn is always available in the lobby if you need a snack.
  • Hotel Monte Vista: This historic hotel is perfect for those who want to park their car and explore historic downtown by foot. Like many older hotels, the rooms are small by today’s standards, and some are reportedly haunted. It has an on-site restaurant, a cocktail/coffee bar, and a cocktail lounge with live music three days a week.
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Flagstaff: Located on historic Route 66, on the west side of the city, is DoubleTree by Hilton's Flagstaff location. It has two on-site restaurants, an inviting lounge off the lobby, and three EV charging stations. The hotel is also pet friendly.

How to Get There

Walnut Canyon National Monument is just 7.5 miles east of downtown Flagstaff. To get there from I-40, take Exit 204 and drive 3 miles south to the visitor center.

The National Park Service warns visitors not to use GPS to navigate to the park since it often directs drivers down Forest Road 303, an unmaintained, dirt road that requires a high clearance vehicle. NPS also discourages driving vehicles more than 40 feet long into the park as the turnaround area is limited.

Pueblo ruins
 powerofforever / Getty Images

Accessibility

At the visitor center, two accessible lifts provide entry to the park’s museum, gift shop, and indoor and outdoor observation areas. The restrooms are also accessible.

On the trails, options are limited. The Rim Trail is wheelchair-accessible up to the first overlook, approximately 150 feet. Beyond that point, it does not fully meet ADA accessibility standards. However, because the trail is relatively flat, some may be able to manage it with assistance. Ask at the visitor center about the possibility of continuing before setting out on the trail.

The Island Trail is not accessible due to its steepness and 736 stairs.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The park is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument charges an entrance fee of $15 per person for anyone 16 years and older. It is free for those 15 and younger.
  • You can purchase a Flagstaff Area National Monuments Annual Pass that admits up to four adults for $45. The pass includes free entry for all occupants of one vehicle at nearby Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki national monuments.
  • Leashed pets are welcome in Walnut Canyon National Park. However, they are only allowed on the Rim Trail and the visitor center parking lot. Pets are not allowed in the visitor center or on the Island Trail.
  • Regardless which trail you take, stay on the designated route, and follow the Leave No Trace principles. Do not touch, climb, or lean on the cliff dwellings. Leave rocks, plants, and anything else you find as they are. Don’t feed any animals you encounter, and pick up after your own pet during your visit.
Article Sources
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  1. National Park Service. "History & Culture." Retrieved on August 20, 2021.

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Walnut Canyon National Monument: The Complete Guide