Walnut Canyon National Monument is located just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.
We love the Flagstaff area of Arizona – it is nothing like what one thinks Arizona is going to be like; it is mountainous, treed, and generally much cooler (temperature-wise) than if you travel 2 hours south to Phoenix.
Walnut Canyon was established as a national monument in 1915, so 2015 is their centennial year. This 3600 acre park showcases the many cliff dwellings left here by the Sinagua people, who inhabited the area from about 1100 to 1250. Today the park includes a small visitor’s center, and several improved walking trails.
The visitor’s center houses rest rooms, a small gift shop, and a concise museum that shows a short film on the history of the area. There are rangers present in the visitor’s center to answer questions, and there is a lovely overlook area (and another outdoors)…
This was not our first visit to Walnut Canyon, and the older kids had completed their Jr. Ranger program the last time we were here, so it was just Molly doing it this time around.
After Molly picked up her Jr. Ranger worksheet to fill out, we hit the trail. I mean steps. We hit the steps…
Walnut Canyon is definitely not handicap (or stroller) accessible past the visitor’s center and viewing deck. There are well over 100 steps leading down to the Island Trail, which snakes its way around the mountain and past numerous cliff dwellings. (you can see part of the trail just over Jake’s head in the above pic (green hoodie)) This trail is just under 1 mile long, and is moderate; the trail itself is super easy, but all those steps (on the way back up!) could be considered strenuous. Once you get tot the bottom of the steps, the path around the mountain is mostly easy; paved and overall flat, with a few small sets of stairs here and there, nothing big…pretty kid friendly. At least our kids liked it! There were just a couple of places where momma made Molly (5) hold a brother’s hand. We did have Caleb in the backpack for this walk since he fell asleep right as we were getting to the park and was rather grumpy about the idea of going hiking (grumpy about doing anything right then). Really tho, he could have walked it easy.
On our walk, we generally see some lizards (the blue bellied ones are our favorite!), and there are cliff dwellings on the far sides of the canyon to watch for too. Some of the kids keep count, and see who can spy the most (of both).
The trail is a one-way route around the mountain, and takes you past 25 of the cliff dwellings. The stone walls of the homes are still in place, and there are areas where you can still see the smoke from campfires.
We decided that,while the views and location are gorgeous, it would have been a huge task just to retrieve water from the canyon bottom below, let alone store it for when the creek was dry (like now).
Along the path are plaques that talk about different aspects of the Sinagua’s life here in the canyon.
Cozy dwellings, the girls spent their time imagining what it would have been like to live here: to gather food from this steep terrain, to cook over a campfire in a cave, and to have to store everything in pots.
It was chilly the day we went, so I was imagining life without smartwool socks. no thanks.
On the way back to the visitor’s center, there is an extra set of stairs, going up – making 240 stairs on the climb back to the rim. But the walk is a fun one, and the view is beautiful.
After climbing those 240 steps back up to the visitor’s center, we took it all in at the top before going in to the visitor’s center so that Molly could turn in her Jr. Ranger program work.
It was a great afternoon spent out enjoying God’s creation!
Things to keep in mind when visiting Walnut Canyon National Monument:
*Give the park at least 2 hours if wanting to do either trail.
*Due to the elevation of the park, it is generally 10 to 20 degrees cooler than lower elevations (like our RV park!) – don’t forget to dress/jacket accordingly.
*There are no restrooms along the trail – restrooms are located in the front of the visitor’s center, outside access.
*Pets are not allowed on the trails or in the visitor’s center.
*The Rim Trail, located on top, from the visitor’s center, is a shorter, more easily accessed trail. It is .7 miles long.
*Both trails close before the visitor’s center does, so if you are pressed for time, do the trail(s) first and visitor’s center after.
*Pack your own water as there is no access on the trail. There is a drinking fountain on the outside observation deck just below the visitor’s center.
*While the trail is not handicap accessible, but there is a wheelchair elevator that can take you down to the interior overview room and the outside observation deck.
*The parking lot does have RV parking. This time we just daytripped in our van – last time we were here we took our 40′ 5er and had no problem parking, but the park was not busy that day either..
Walnut Canyon is a fabulous place to explore with kids or without. It has beautiful scenery, interesting history, and is a great place to get out and experience a little bit of nature.
You can learn more about Walnut Canyon National Monument in their website here: nps.gov/waca.