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Walnut Canyon National Monument: Cliff Dwellings in Grand Canyon State of Arizona

Arizona is a fabulous state filled with beauty and natural wonders. Amazing canyons (Grand!), mountains, and desert scenery await visitors.

Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings

Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings

Vacationing in Arizona

Walnut Canyon is a national landmark that my husband and I visited one year in February. We came away with an appreciation not only for the stunning scenery but also with our heads filled with information about which we were previously unaware.

This is one of many ancient Native American sites in the State of Arizona not far from the Grand Canyon. While the Grand Canyon is a destination definitely worth visiting, so is the Walnut Canyon National Monument.

Welcome Sign near Walnut Canyon National Monument

Welcome Sign near Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon offers two ways to see this historic place. Hiking down into the canyon is one way to be able to fully appreciate this ancient site closeup and get to take photos.

The other option for those who cannot do the steep climb down into the canyon, there is an easy paved path near the rim. One can get an overview perspective from that location.

Overview of Walnut Canyon

Overview of Walnut Canyon

Visitor Center and Rim Trail at Walnut Canyon

There is a Visitor Center at the top of Walnut Canyon worth taking some time to see. It is a museum packed with information and has exhibits on display which tell the story about the ancient Sinagua Indians who called this area home over seven-hundred years ago. The views from this lofty spot some 6,690 feet or 2,040 meters above sea level are stunning.

The Rim Trail allows one to gaze down upon the cliff-lined walls of the canyon populated with many trees, cactus, and verdant greenery at the bottom which is 350 feet below. It is self-guided paved and user-friendly little over a half-mile path where one can also see a restored pit house. A pit house is a dugout depression in the ground where the Indians probably stored food supplies or possibly even lived. This rim trail offers two overlook points.

You probably already guessed it due to the name of this location. There are numerous walnut trees at the bottom of this canyon along with a water source known as Walnut Creek which naturally attracted the Native Americans as well as wildlife to this protected area.

Island Trail at Walnut Canyon

This particular trail is the one that takes one down a series of many steps. While the path is paved, it is very strenuous. It is arduous because of the 185-foot vertical drop at an almost 7,000-foot elevation. The oxygen level is thinner at that elevation.

Living for most of our lives in Houston, Texas which is only 43 feet above sea level, my husband and I definitely did some huffing and puffing and took several times to rest along this trail going down but mainly coming back up. It became an excuse for more picture taking.

We were not the only ones who felt the elevation change and even though it is only around 240 steps plus the paved areas without steps and a one-mile round trip, signs along the way warn about this trail being "strenuous."

An hour before closing time no visitors to the Walnut Canyon National Monument are even allowed to start down this Island Trail as that is approximately the time that most people take to walk this trail. Of course, some may take even longer, so the rules are enforced.

Ancient Indians

The Sinagua (pronounced like "seen aug wah") lived in this area which now encompasses about 3,600 acres of land. They grew crops such as corn, beans, and squash on the upland areas while finding shelter in the limestone cliffs below the rim.

Since the caves already provided a floor, roof, and back walls, the enterprising Sinagua only had to construct side walls and ones in front to enclose the spaces making them more private and also safer from the elements. This they did by hauling rocks and mortaring them in place. Many of these cliff dwellings remain just as they were constructed many years ago.

The Island Trail takes one down to see twenty-five of such cliff dwellings where one can still see the blackened roofs where fires were tended by the ancient Indians those many centuries ago.

By far the vast majority of these cliff and pueblo dwellings—some 300 of them—are off limits to visitors so that this site which became listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1966 can be preserved long into the future.

While spending time in Arizona, it is most interesting to travel just short distances away from the Grand Canyon to see many other historic sites such as this Walnut Canyon National Monument.

The Sinagua Indians lived in places such as the Grand Canyon, near Sunset Crater Volcano, at Wupatki National Monument, at Montezuma's Castle and at other places in this general area.

Reasons are still unknown with certainty as to why the Sinagua seemed to disappear after the 13th century. Other Indian tribes and or severe drought conditions may have played a hand in their departure. Perhaps someday more will become known but so often as time progresses the path to discovery becomes a bit more faded and blurred.

Location of Walnut Canyon National Monument


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

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