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

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2012:

Hello lisabeaman,

Yes, the hike into Walnut Canyon is challenging for sure! Just think of the Indians who used to do it without the steps and railings as provided in many spots today. It would have been even more challenging! Nice to know that you have seen and enjoyed this beautiful spot. Appreciate your comment.

lisabeaman from Phoenix, AZ on May 09, 2012:

I love Walnut Canyon! We went there a few years ago when we first moved to Arizona. It's an incredible place to visit and on my list to go back to again. The hike was a killer... but it was worth it!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 08, 2012:

Hi Alastar,

The elevations are high enough at Walnut Canyon and the nearby Grand Canyon to get lots of snow in the winter. Glad that you enjoyed learning about this area and the Indians who used to call it home. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 08, 2012:

Hi Don,

Am sure you would like seeing Walnut Canyon and with your love of history, the Indian lore would also be of interest to you. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 08, 2012:

Hi viking305,

Most people coming from afar want to see the Grand Canyon and, of course, it is worth seeing. Walnut Canyon and many other areas in Arizona are also worth visiting especially if one is interested in ancient Indian culture and indications of how they lived in the past. Thanks for this visit, your votes and your sharing.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 08, 2012:

Huffing and puffing- haha have a friend who does that going a hundred feet up a baby mountain! No, seriously those elevations will get ya sometimes for sure. Hi Peggy, so glad you shared y'alls trip to Walnut Canyon- another unknown history and gem here. Thoroughly enjoyed my virtual trip to the canyon with you Peggy- Thanks! Oh, pics are great and videos too, kinda surprising to see snow.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 08, 2012:

Hi Peggy. Walnut Canyon certainly looks worth seeing.I would like to see it and learn more about the Indians that used to be there.Voted up,beautiful and interesting.

L M Reid from Ireland on May 08, 2012:

I visited the Grand Canyon a few years ago from Ireland. It is a shame I did not know about the Walnut Canyon as well. I would definitely have gone there too.

I love reading history from any country but have always had a fascination with the Native American culture.

Your article on the Sinagua Indians was interesting and love the photos of their cave homes too.

Thanks for SHARING. Up, awesome and interesting

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hi Hanna,

So glad that you enjoyed reading this and learning about the Walnut Canyon. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hello frogyfish,

So glad that you could accompany us on this Internet tour of Walnut Canyon. So many people focus all their attention on the Grand Canyon and miss seeing these other interesting sites in Arizona. Thanks for your comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 05, 2011:

A detailed, comprehensive and information hub. What can I say more? It was fantstic to read.

frogyfish from Central United States of America on November 05, 2011:

Greatly enjoyed your hub and videos...it was fantastic to follow the trail and then be IN that cave-house too. You did an intriguing job of detailing it all, and I vastly enjoyed the trip! Had to get down here and comment before I could go visit some more of your western titles! Thank you!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hi Eiddwen,

I agree, the videos add to my pictures when enjoying what there is to experience at Walnut Canyon. We have never gotten into making our own videos...but happily others have and they can be shared via youtube. Thanks for your comment.

Eiddwen from Wales on November 05, 2011:

Another gem for me to bookmark my friend.

The video clip enhanced the beauty and interest even further!!!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hi marcoujor,

So glad that you enjoyed this hub about Walnut Canyon! Thanks for your appreciative comment. :))

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 04, 2011:

Dear Peggy,

This is such a professional, educational and comprehensive job on a fascinating locale. There is a great blend of information and awesome photography. Thanks so much for sharing this-- voted UP & UABI, mar.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 04, 2011:

Hi Genna,

I know what you mean about feeling those elevation changes. Not only are we almost at sea level but around Houston the topography is also so flat. So, when you visit Walnut Canyon...just take your time when doing that hike down into the canyon...huff and puff...and back up. Ha! Thanks for your comment.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on November 04, 2011:

This is the first I have ever heard of Walnut Canyon; your photos and the description of your trip make this a must see. I love to hike, but unfortunately high elevations do a number on me. We visited Estes Park, Colorado last year, and this sea-level hugger (they called us low-landers) was a little surprised at the effects of the elevation. Wonderful hub!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 03, 2011:

Hi WannaB Writer,

Since my knees are a bit (did I actually say bit? Ha!) older than when we followed the steep trail into Walnut Canyon, I am glad that we got to see it then. You are sweet to want to stay by your husband's side. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 03, 2011:

Hello Austinstar,

These photos of Walnut Canyon were taken quite a few years ago but nice to be able to share them here on HubPages while writing about this interesting site. Thanks for your comment. Maybe you'll be packing your bags in the near future with camera in hand?

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on November 03, 2011:

I'd love to see this, but I probably would not take the strenuous hike because my husband would not be able to make it and I would not want to try it alone.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on November 03, 2011:

Good job. I want to travel and take photos too!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 03, 2011:

Hi ripplemaker,

Glad that I could introduce Walnut Canyon to you. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 03, 2011:

Hi CMHypno,

Not your everyday type of lodging and seeing the smoke darkened ceilings of the caves due to fires having been burned over the course of many years...one certainly has a sense of long ago times when the ancient indians would have found shelter in what is now called Walnut Canyon. That would have been quite a communal effort hauling up and mortoring those side and front walls to the caves. Just bringing in food and water...what an effort! It is a strenuous hike with the paved paths and steps. They did not even have that advantage! They were surely hardy souls! Thanks for your inquiry and comment.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on November 03, 2011:

This is the first time I have heard about Walnut Canyon! This is so nice! Peggy, your photos are so interesting. This inspires me to take more photos too! Blessings!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on November 03, 2011:

This looks like a fascinating place to visit Peggy, and I would really like to explore the Indian cave dwellings? What does it feel like when you are in them? Can you feel how old they are?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2011:

Hi Cheryl,

Many people visit the Grand Canyon (and they should!) but often miss the other great sites in the area like the historic Walnut Canyon. Nice to know that you enjoyed learning about it and seeing the photos. Thanks for your comment.

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on November 02, 2011:

Wow. Thanks for sharing the wonderful history of the Grand Canyon State and Walnut Canyon. I am amazed to know that the Sinagua Indians were able to survive and live in that part of the world. Great photos of the artifacts and videos. Another great hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2011:

Hi marshacanada,

I know that you love hiking and exploring new places from reading your hubs. You will also love taking photos in Walnut Canyon. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2011:

Hi Gene,

Well there...wipe that chagrin off your face and put on your hiking shoes! (Smile) I am certain that you could probably make it down Walnut Canyon and back up in good stead given your level of fitness which has always been better than ours...especially with your bike riding marathons. As to timing...you might even take longer than us because of your photography. I would spend a longer period of time there taking photos today also now that I have started writing these hubs. These are old pictures converted from slides...and not that many of them. Thanks for your comment.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on November 02, 2011:

Great hub Peggy W. Thanks-voted up and interesting. I have never hiked in Walnut Canyon and now I really want to go there. Especially since its getting dark and cold and wet in Vancouver. Time for me to dream about migrating south.

Gene Jasper on November 02, 2011:

Peggy, thanks for introducing me to Walnut Canyon. I have never, to my chagrin, never heard of this place. I want to go visit. If Bruce can make it to the bottom and back up, I'm sure I can!


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2011:

Hi acc12,

I will agree that wintertime is probably the best time to visit Walnut Canyon...or at least any other time of year besides the heat of summer. Glad that you liked the photos of the ruins. It really is something to be that close to places where the ancient indians used to live. Thanks for your comment.

acc12 on November 02, 2011:

Very informative hub on Walnut Canyon. When we visited years ago it was June and BROILING HOT! Needless to say, with two young, heat exhausted kids, we did not hike out as far as you did. Love your close up pics of the ruins! Now I feel as if I've really seen the place.

Related Articles