Touring Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument

February 13, 2017Travel Ideas
Bill Van de Meer, Share the Experience

A one-of-a-kind landscape and the cherished homeland of the Navajo people, Arizona's Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a truly special place. This unique park is located entirely on Navajo Nation land and offers a rich history with countless options for outdoor recreation.

Making a monument

View of the various red and orange hues that run through the colorful cliffs at Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
Ann Hubard, Share the Experience

Chiseled by millions of years of stream-cutting and land uplifts, the colorful sheer cliffs of Canyon de Chelly National Monument may look harsh and barren, although in fact, natural water sources and rich soil make them anything but. These canyons have supported human inhabitants for thousands of years, from the Ancient Puebloans who planted crops and raised families here 5,000 years ago to their descendants — the Hopi people — who cultivated peach orchards and cornfields among the cliffs.

The Navajo — also known as the Dine' — settled in the region much later, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument continues to be a protected land for Navajo people and their culture. The park was established in 1931, largely to preserve its rich archaeological sites, and to this day, the homes and farms of the Navajo are visible from the clifftops.

Things to do

Ancient Pueblo ruins--White House ruins--nestled against the cliffs of Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Ancient Pueblo ruins (White House ruins) at Canyon De Chelly National Monument

Dave Salge, Share the Experience

The wild landscape of Canyon de Chelly is the park’s main attraction, with meandering streams and areas of rich vegetation amid steep rocky canyons. You'll find plenty of ways to enjoy the park: 

  • Scenic drives: South Rim Drive and North Rim Drive, each more than 30 miles long, are excellent driving routes along the canyons. The scenery is spectacular, including the White House Ruin cliff dwellings and the 800-foot sandstone spire known as Spider Rock.
  • Hiking: A self-guided hiking trail is located at the White House Overlook on the South Rim. The 600-foot round-trip hike usually takes about two hours, leading down to the White House Ruin and back.
  • Ranger-led programs: A wide range of free ranger-led programs are available between Memorial Day and Labor Day, including talks and guided hikes into the canyons. Because of the sensitive nature of the canyons' geology and historic artifacts, the only way to enter is with a ranger or an authorized guide from one of the private companies that offer canyon tours.
  • Camping: Primitive campsites are available at the Cottonwood Campground on a first-come, first-served basis. Showers and hookups are not available, and a camping fee is required.

Getting there

Sunset view of the towering Spider Rock monolith and surrounding landscape at Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Spider Rock

Tim Bryan, Share the Experience

There is no entrance fee to visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and the main entrance is just east of Chinle, Arizona. Starting on Highway 191, take Route 7 about 3 miles east to the park entrance and visitor center. Gas, groceries, supplies, and a post office are available in Chinle, and there is also a camp store located at the visitor center, where you can pick up a free park map and activity schedule. The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Nearby parks

A cloud-filled sky soars over the red and orange hues of Petrified Forest National Park
Michael Reed, Share the Experience

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is nestled in a corner of northeastern Arizona where several national parks are within a few hours' drive of each other, including: 

Spanning more than 83,000 acres, Canyon de Chelly National Monument offers an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the wild Arizona landscape, and to learn more about the history of the Navajo people.

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