Wupatki National Monument: The Complete Guide

red stone ruins of Wuptaki National Monument

 powerofforever / Getty Images

Map card placeholder graphic

Wupatki National Monument

Address
25137 N Wupatki Ln, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, USA
Phone +1 928-679-2365

Once the tallest, largest, and maybe even richest, pueblo in the region, Wupatki housed up to 100 people in northern Arizona. Then, in approximately 1085 A.D., the nearby Sunset Crater Volcano erupted, covering the region with pellets of lava, making it inhabitable. Forced to abandon Wupatki, the Ancient Puebloans who called it home moved on. Hundreds of years later, ranchers traveling through the area discovered Wupatki and other pueblos in the area, and in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge established Wupatki National Monument to protect it and other pueblos in the park’s 35,422 acres.

A visit to Wupatki can easily be combined with a trip to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument since the two parks share a 34-mile loop drive off US-89.

Things to Do

All activity starts at the park’s visitor center, where you can learn about the Ancient Puebloans and see artifacts. Kids can also pick up Junior Ranger activities here. Behind the visitor center, the Wupatki Pueblo Trail leads to the park’s main ruins, the largest free-standing pueblo in northern Arizona.

Nearby, the Wukoki Pueblo stands three stories tall and overlooks the desert all the way to the San Francisco Peaks. The remaining four pueblos are several miles down the road. Citadel and Nalakihu pueblos appear to be single-family dwellings while the Lomaki and Box Canyon pueblos feature limestone and standstone construction.

Wupatki National Monument
wholden / Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

Hikes in this park fall into two categories: easy walks and backcountry, ranger-led adventures. Since you need reservations for the backcountry hikes, most people are limited to the four easy trails, all less than half a mile. Rangers lead three moderately challenging hikes from October through April on most Saturdays. During the first and last month of that period, you can also reserve a spot on the strenuous, two-day Crack-in-the-Rock trek.

  • Wupatki Pueblo Trail: The most popular trail in the park, this 0.5-mile walk loops around a 104-room pueblo with a ball court and blowhole. It is accessible to the scenic overlook. Plan to spend up to an hour on this trail.
  • Wukoki Pueblo Trail: This 0.2-mile trail goes to a pueblo built on a sandstone outcrop. Accessible up to the base of the trail, it takes about 15 minutes to explore.
  • Discovery Hikes: Offered some Saturdays October through April, these ranger-led hikes leave the visitor center at noon and visit backcountry pueblos otherwise off-limits to the general public. Reservations are required, and the group size is limited to 12 people. All three hikes—Kaibab House, Antelope House, and East Mesa—are moderately strenuous and take about three hours to complete.
  • Crack-in-Rock: Available on certain weekends in October and April, this guided, 18- to 20-mile roundtrip hike follows an unmarked route and requires hikers to overnight in the backcountry. Reservations are required, and there is a $75 fee. Expect extreme temperatures, wind, and challenging terrain. You’ll also have to carry a minimum gallon of water per day plus your backpack.
Citadel Pueblo
 Norm Lane / Getty Images

Scenic Drives

The park itself is located on the Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road, a scenic drive that begins 12-miles north of Flagstaff. From US-89, turn right at the sign for Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. A few miles in, you’ll pass the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument visitor center. Stop if you have the time (see below for more information about Sunset Crater Volcano) and hike one of the trails here.

The route continues past the Kana-a Lava Flow before entering Wupatki National Monument. In total, the Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road winds 34-miles through pine forests before returning to US-89, approximately 15 miles north of where it began. Without stops, the route takes about an hour to drive.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Before reaching Wupatki, you’ll drive past Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Formed after an eruption in 1085 A.D., the crater and the cinder-covered landscape surrounding it forced the Ancient Puebloans who lived in the Wupatki area to relocate.

On a visit to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument today, you can learn about the volcano, local geology, and the astronauts who trained for the lunar landing in the area. You can view the crater from the road, but hiking is the best way to experience it. Take the 3.4-mile Lava’s Edge Trail over loose cinders and rough basalt along the Bonito Lava Flow, or hike the 1-mile Lava Flow around the base of Sunset Crater.

Sunset Crater Volcano
 Peter Unger / Getty Images

Where to Camp

Camping is available throughout Coconino National Forest, which is very close to Wupatki National Monument. However, some of the forest service campgrounds close during the winter. Confirm the campground you plan to stay at is open before you head out. If it is closed, the Flagstaff KOA is open year-round. 

  • Bonito Campground: Adjacent to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, this seasonal forest service campground features picnic tables, grills, fire rings, flush toilets, and drinking water. There are no hookups. A fee of $26 per night is charged for the 44 camping sites, available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Cinder Hills Dispersed Camping: If you don’t mind dispersed camping, this scenic recreation area near Sunset Crater Volcano is a good option, especially if you have an off-highway vehicle. Beware, the ground is covered with volcanic cinder which gets stuck in your shoes and tracked in your tent/trailer. No fee is charged to stay here.
  • Flagstaff KOA: This family-friendly KOA on the western edge of Flagstaff has 200 campsites available plus tents and cabins. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, flush toilets, showers, a dog park, bike rentals, and hiking trails. Expect to pay at least $45 per night for a tent site in summer.

Where to Stay

Flagstaff is the closest city to Wupatki and has a number of excellent hotels, ranging from budget to luxury hotels. Book accommodations ahead of time, if you can. Parents and Lumberjack fans fill the city on weekends to watch Northern Arizona University games while Phoenicians come in the summer to escape the heat.

  • Little America: Located just off I-40 on 500 acres of private forest, Little America is the only AAA Four Diamond hotel in Flagstaff. Although it is one of the area’s top hotels, it has a strict no-pet policy.
  • Drury Inn & Suites Flagstaff: In addition to free breakfast, this chain hotel near the university offers guests three free drinks and food at the bar from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The food options can be substantial; think pasta, tacos and baked potatoes.
  • Hotel Monte Vista: After a day at Wupatki, this historic hotel makes a good base for exploring downtown Flagstaff by foot. However, the rooms are small by today’s standards and some claim haunted.

How to Get There

From Flagstaff, take US-89 north. (There is an exit for US-89 from I-40 on the east side of the city.) Turn right at the sign for Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. This route will pass Sunset Crater Volcano first, then the Wupatki Visitor Center 21 miles from the highway. The route will take you back to US-89, about 15 miles north of where you originally entered the 34-mile loop.

Box Canyon Dwelling
DeepDesertPhoto / Getty Images

Accessibility

Most trails in the park are at least partially accessible. The main trail, Wupatki Pueblo Trail, is accessible to an overlook approximately 200 feet from the visitor center where it begins. Similarly, the Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos Trail is accessible past both pueblos, ending at the base of a cinder hill, while Wukoki Pueblo Trail is accessible to the pueblo. Only the Lomaki and Box Canyon Pueblos Trail is inaccessible.

Additionally, the Wupatki Visitor Center is accessible. In addition to the restrooms, ramps, and automatic entry and exit doors, the visitor center features a film with closed captioning and Braille and large text versions of the park brochure.

Tips for Your Visit

  • A $25 fee per vehicle covers admission to both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki national monuments and is valid for seven days.
  • Pets are only permitted on a leash in the parking lot. They are not allowed on any of the trails, including the Wupatki Pueblo Trail behind the visitor center. Do not leave your pet unattended in your car.
  • To see nearby cliff dwellings, plan a day trip to Walnut Canyon National Monument, just 7.5 miles east of downtown Flagstaff. To learn more about the ancient people who lived in the area, visit the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. 
Was this page helpful?
Back to Article

Wupatki National Monument: The Complete Guide