Sacred Lands

1/3

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is just an hour from the ever-popular Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Canyon de Chelly is accessible only by guided tour.

Resplendent Structures

2/3

Wupatki National Monument is a series of ancient sites. These resplendent structures–one of which is three stories tall–seem to rise out of the sagebrush from nothing.

Stunning Artifacts

3/3

Learn about geology and history as you explore beautiful the landscapes of Arizona.

Four Days in the Navajo Nation and Nearby Locales

This four-day itinerary has been curated to pack the most history in the most efficient road trip possible.
Prepared By:

Whitney James

Adventure & Storyteller

Arizona’s Natural History

Start / End

Canyon de Chelly, Wupatki National Monument

States Covered
National Parks

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Homolovi State Park, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument

Total Distance

214 miles / 344 km

Suggested Days

At least four

Suggested Seasons

Year-round

#ThisIsMyRoute

Overview

The natural history lover could spend months uncovering the hidden stories of Arizona, from the ghosts of the Apache Death Cave to the wonders of Walnut Canyon National Monument. And while the entire state offers plenty to explore, this four-day itinerary has been curated to pack the most history in the most efficient road trip possible. Welcome to the Navajo Nation, and the outskirts just beneath its borders.

Preparation

Keep in mind that services are particularly limited in the Navajo Nation. It’s wise to always travel with a full tank of gas and spare tire in your 4WD vehicle while exploring more remote areas in the American Southwest. When hiking, take extra water and a layer or two, as the weather can be unpredictable no matter what time of year you visit. And lastly, thank you for always following Appreciate AZ principles while exploring Arizona and beyond.

Itinerary

CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT

Canyon de Chelly Hiking

Begin your trip in one of the Navajo Nation’s most scenic locales: Canyon de Chelly National Monument. This photogenic destination is home to Spider Rock—a freestanding tower that tops out 700 feet above the valley floor. Located just an hour away from the ever-popular Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Canyon de Chelly is accessible only by guided tour, which lends to a truly authentic experience for out-of-town visitors.

Today is all about immersing yourself in the natural wonder of the canyon. A guide can help you discover a handful of nearly 2,700 archaeological sites within the canyon’s walls, while sharing stories about the area you probably wouldn’t find in any guidebook. 

After snapping one final photo of Spider Rock, depart to town for the evening. Junction Restaurant serves up traditional Navajo Fry Bread, juicy burgers, and even features a Pizza Hut Express. That evening you can rest your head at the Native Operated Thunderbird Lodge, a comfortably appointed hotel located within the park boundaries.

APACHE DEATH CAVE + HOMOLOVI STATE PARK
Homolovi State Park, Winslow

Photo courtesy of An Pham

2 HOURS 24 MINUTES – 132 MILES / 212.4 KM

The following day, continue on to Winslow, Arizona. This spot on Route 66 is most famous for its inclusion in The Eagles song, “Take it Easy.” No matter your musical preferences, “The Corner” is absolutely worth experiencing in person. After you’ve had your fill of classic rock, drive just 10 minutes north of town to the nearby Homolovi State Park.

It’s here that in relatively recent history, archaeologists have started to uncover a network of villages settled by the Hisat’sinom people over 700 years ago. These ancient dwellings are especially intriguing, as they make you wonder what else lies just beneath the surface of this high-desert landscape. Stop by the visitor center and museum before taking a hike to one of the historic sites.

Afterwards, carry on to the ghost town of Two Guns where you’ll find the Apache Death Cave. Although open to the public, this haunted cavity is unregulated and not maintained. Translation? Visitors ought to be very cautious should they choose to descend the slope into the cave below. It is here that in 1878, more than 40 Apache were massacred by a local Navajo band. Clearly, this macabre destination is only for the brave!

That evening, enjoy a warm meal and comfortable lodging at La Posada in Winslow, Arizona. You might even opt to camp out at Homolovi State Park, so long as you aren’t perturbed by the thought of ghosts from earlier this afternoon.

WALNUT CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT + MUSEUM OF NORTHERN ARIZONA

Museum of Northern Arizona
48 MINUTES – 52 MILES / 83.6 KM

On day three, it’s time to head further west to discover even more of Arizona’s abundant history. Just before arriving in Flagstaff, turn left towards Walnut Canyon National Monument. Ideal for those who are fascinated by cliff dwellings and a strong desire to stretch their legs, Walnut Canyon is not to be missed. The one mile round-trip Island Trail provides scenic vistas of 25 different cliff dwellings; many of which are within touching distance. (The only catch is the lengthy series of quad-burning steps down to the trail, and then back up.) For visitors who prefer to opt out of voluntary cardio, stick to the Rim Trail up top.

Next, journey on to Flagstaff, Arizona. At 7,000 feet, this is Arizona’s mountain town. But it’s not all craft beer and college vibes. In fact, Flagstaff is the perfect place to continue your Colorado Plateau education. Learn about the geology of the area that you’ve been exploring the past three days at the Museum of Northern Arizona. This beautiful museum also houses a stunning collection of locally- and responsibly-sourced artifacts. You may find yourself wanting to spend several hours inspecting each colorful item in this single hallway. 

After your travels through time, eat up in downtown Flagstaff. Whether you’d like a wood-fired pizza or a speciality from Martanne Burrito, you’re in for a treat. Spend the night in town at one of Flagstaff’s welcoming hotels or bed and breakfasts.

WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT
Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

54 minutes – 44.2 miles / 71 KM

On your final day, hug the base of the San Francisco Peaks as you travel northwards again toward the Navajo Nation. In under an hour, you’ll arrive at Wupatki National Monument. This archaeological wonder is the perfect grand finale for your journey. A series of ancient sites, these resplendent structures–one of which is three stories tall–seem to rise out of the sagebrush from nothing.

Take your time exploring the various sites on the park’s paved pathways. Or, join an off-trail ranger-led hike, offered from October to April. Alternatively, the lottery-controlled Crack-in-Rock overnight hike will beckon to backpackers and archeologist types, as participants get up-close access to rock art and pueblo architecture in an area normally off limits to visitors.

That afternoon, continue on to your next destination–perhaps nearby Sunset Crater National Monument or the Dinosaur Tracks in Tuba City–or reluctantly return home after an educational and awe-inspiring four days. 

 

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Photo by @delajetsette via Instagram.

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