Arizona Adventures: Wandering the Cliffs of Walnut Canyon
Located just 10 miles southeast of downtown Flagstaff, Arizona, near Interstate 40, sits one of Northern Arizona’s greatest hidden gems, Walnut Canyon National Monument. This national park offers a exceptional combination of historical dwellings, stunning scenery, and varied plant and animal life, making it a must-see for anyone in search of some Arizona adventures.
Discover the sights and sounds of Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon is home to a diverse range of animals and plants, along with awe-inspiring geological formations – not to mention the canyon itself, which runs 20 miles long and 1/4 mile wide, and was carved over 60 million years. The rim has stunning curved walls and an elevation of 6,690 feet, with the canyon floor 350 feet below. Within the 3,600 acres that make up this stunning park, 6 miles of the canyon’s length are protected, ensuring the varied ecosystems continue to thrive.
The former homes of the area’s ancient inhabitants still dot the canyon as arguably the most interesting aspect of visiting Walnut Canyon National Monument. Though evidence of the area’s human history extends back thousands of years, the most iconic elements of Walnut Canyon’s Native Americans are the cliff dwellings constructed in the limestone alcoves by the Sinagua between A.D. 600 until 1400. They are easily accessible from the park’s trails, giving visitors a chance to look into the past while visiting these mesmerizing dwellings.
Walk in the steps of those who came before
Open every day of the year aside from Christmas Day, Walnut Canyon provides a plethora of activities for families, school groups, and nature enthusiasts. Start your day at the visitor center, where you can check out the museum exhibits and artifacts on display. The visitor center also boasts a bookstore and a picnic area where children can pick up junior ranger activities.
There are two main trails for exploration:
- Rim Trail: Easy and fairly level, this trail is designed for people of all ages and physical abilities. While it’s just under a mile round-trip, there is no shortage of things to see. The trail features two canyon overlooks as well as a pueblo and pithouse set safely back from the canyon rim. You will also see the upland area where the original inhabitants grew crops.
- Island Trail: Categorized as strenuous due to its steep terrain, stairs, and the 185-foot vertical descent into and out of the canyon, Island Trail presents quite a challenge – but it’s worth the effort. You'll feel transported back 700 years to the time of the Sinagua people as you explore the 25 cliff dwellings on the mile-long trail. As you’re making your way into the canyon, be sure to make note of the retaining walls and stairway along the trail which were recently rebuilt by the 21 Century Conservation Service Corps, thanks to a National Park Foundation grant. This trail also boasts superior canyon views and diverse plant life.
While both trails can be navigated as self-guided hikes, there are also interpretive programs available. You can join a park ranger for a guided tour of the Rim and Island trails, or participate in discovery hikes when visiting in July through Labor Day. There are two discovery hikes to choose from: Canyon Ledge (strenuous) or Ranger Cabin Walk (easy). Make sure to plan ahead, as these are reservation-only!
Whether you visit Walnut Canyon National Monument as the last of your Arizona adventures or as the jump-off point to exploring other Flagstaff-area national monuments, children and adults alike will be delighted by the mix of spectacular present-day scenery and glimpses into the past.