Destination Guides,  National Park Travel

How to Visit All 17 National Monuments in Arizona

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The sun rises over the desert, painting the sky with vibrant pastels. Nocturnal creatures climb into holes and caves, while birdsong and the scent of blooming desert flowers fill the air. I may be a coastal gal, but I love the beauty of the Arizona desert – especially at sunrise and sunset before the heat of the day takes over.

I first remember visiting Arizona when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My parents brought me to visit family friends who lived there, and we hit some of the big touristy spots like the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park. That trip introduced me to the incredibly natural and cultural wonders of the Southwest, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve been able to visit several more times, including a visit to Saguaro National Park and several of the national monuments in Arizona.

National Monuments in Arizona Hero - Chiricahua National Monument

If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon State but want to explore National Park Service sites beyond the parks, I’m here to help. This post includes a list of all 13 national monuments in Arizona as of 2021. You’ll learn what makes each one special, what to do when visiting, and important travel details (like opening hours/days and admission fees) for each of the national monuments in Arizona. After reading, you’ll know which of Arizona’s national monuments you want to visit – and it may be all of them! (It is for me!)

1. Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona

Located in northeast Arizona and part of the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly National Monument may not be as impressive or well-known as other canyons or even other national monuments in Arizona. But it has an equally important part to play in understanding the history of Indigenous peoples who’ve called the area home.

Indigenous peoples have lived in Canyon de Chelly, called Tsegi by them, for 5,000 years uninterrupted – the longest of anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. (As a geography refresher, the Colorado Plateau covers southeast Utah, southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico, and northeast Arizona. It’s home to significant archeological sites like Mesa Verde in Colorado and Chaco Culture in New Mexico.)

If you love learning about ancient cultures but also want it to come from the first-hand experiences of those who still live in those places, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a great spot to add to your Colorado itinerary.

Details about visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument:

  • The visitor center at Canyon de Chelly is open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
  • It is free to visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

2. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

It might not sound impressive based on the fact that it’s located on the outskirts of Phoenix and across the street from a Walmart, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is an accessible way to learn more about the many ancient peoples who have called Arizona home over the centuries.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument protects a 14th century Hohokam complex of buildings. Archaeologists don’t fully understand the role of (what we now call) Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Hohokam culture, nor whether it was a meeting place, landmark, or waypoint in a system of complex irrigation systems.

What makes Casa Grande Ruins great is that it is so easy to visit; it’s less than one hour outside Phoenix.

Details about visiting Casa Grande Ruins National Monument:

  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument has limited hours and access due to the ongoing pandemic.
  • It is free to visit Casa Grande Ruins.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

3. Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona

Driving east from Tucson along I-10, you can easily pass Chiricahua National Monument without realizing it. But if you love the great outdoors, it’s one of those spots you shouldn’t skip if you have the time to stop and visit. At almost 12,000 acres, Chiricahua has is a hiker’s paradise, and reminiscent of rock formation-rich national parks like Bryce Canyon (Utah) or Pinnacles (California).

There are over a dozen hiking trails in Chiricahua National monument, ranging from easy hikes of less than one mile (most of which are pet-friendly too) up to hikes that take 3-8 hours and range from five to almost ten miles in length. For those who are up for it – and bring enough water – the 9.5-mile Big Loop covers all the main sights; it combines the Echo Canyon, Upper Rhyolite Canyon, Sarah Deming, Heart of Rocks, Big Balanced Rock, Inspiration Point, Mushroom Rock and Ed Riggs trails.

Details about visiting Chiricahua National Monument:

  • Chiricahua National Monument is open year-round, and the visitor center is open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm.
  • There is no admission fee to visit Chiricahua National Monument
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

4. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

Overlooked for big brother Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument protects the rest of the Grand Canyon. (Yes, the main national park only protects part of the massive 277-mile long canyon.) It also encompasses a massive tract of land around the canyon, offering a diversity of natural wonders to explore including washes, mountains, and more.

Grand Canyon-Parashant (usually just referred to as Parashant for clarity) is a backcountry monument; it’s not as easy to access as the Grand Canyon, which is why most people never visit. Instead, you’ll need to plan ahead, pack accordingly, and prepare for an extended time in the great outdoors if you want to visit Parashant. That said, for those with a 4×4-equipped vehicle and the right gear, Parashant is the place to escape the crowds and still get all the jaw-dropping vistas.

Details about visiting Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument:

  • Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is open 24/7/365. There are no visitor centers or other amenities within the park, so plan accordingly.
  • There are no entrance fees or permits required to visit Parashant.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

5. Montezuma Castle National Monument

As a kid, I was endlessly fascinated by southwestern Indigenous culture (so much that I have a Kokopelli tattoo on my foot!); for this reason, my parents took me to many of the cliff-dwelling sites and ruins in Arizona. We never made it to Montezuma Castle National Monument though.

Montezuma Castle is perhaps one of the most structurally impressive remnants of the many cliff-dwelling peoples on the Colorado Plateau. It’s a 20-room structure described as a “high-rise apartment” by the National Park Service. While you can’t enter the building during a visit, there is an easy hiking trail that takes you to a beautiful view and teaches more about how people survived in the harsh climate of this region.

Montezuma Castle National Monument is also a great option for first-time visitors in Arizona; it’s halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff along I-17 and thus very easy to visit.

Details about visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument:

  • Montezuma Castle National Monument is open daily from 8am-5pm except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • There is a $10 admission fee for all over 16 years old (15 and under ar free).
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

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6. Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument in Arizona

Not to be confused with the Navajo Nation (though it is located within tribal lands) or iconic Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument is yet another site where you can learn about the many Indigenous peoples who have lived in this area of northern Arizona – including the Navajo people today.

Not strictly defined as cliff-dwelling people, the Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Zuni, and Navajo who call this area home are better described as “alcove dwellers” by archaeologists. Some still inhabit some of the canyons in this part of the Navajo Nation.

The best part of visiting this area – aside from the cultural and educational opportunities – is that you can take a guided hike into the cliff dwellings here. (Just like at Mesa Verde in Colorado!)

Details about visiting Navajo National Monument:

  • Navajo National Monument is open 24/7/365; the visitor center is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day but hours vary seasonally.
  • There is no admission fee to visit Navajo National Monument.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

7. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

While they might look similar at first glance, don’t confuse the Organ Pipe Cactus and the iconic Saguaro – they’re totally different! In fact, Saguaro National Park (which protects a swath of the cactus near Tucson) is not far from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is located on the Mexico border in southwest Arizona.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is popular for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling – as well as autotouring (the historic name for driving all the scenic roads in various National Parks around the country, which I love!).

Details about visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

  • The visitor center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is open with limited access due to the ongoing pandemic.
  • There is a $25 admission fee to visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, good for 7 days. You can also use your American the Beautiful Pass instead.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

8. Pipe Spring National Monument

Pipe Spring National Monument

Whenever you hear the word “spring” in a desert climate, you know it’s going to be a significant place for the people and animals that call the place home. So it goes for Pipe Spring National Monument, where Indigenous peoples, settlers, and desert flora and fauna navigated a balance of responsible land management to survive in the harsh northwestern Arizona high desert.

Pipe Spring National Monument is located on the Kaibab Indian Reservation. The Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians Visitor Center is the place to get oriented plus see the schedule of guided talks and hikes taking place during your visit. This is the best way to experience Pipe Spring, as you’ll learn context from historians and rangers to make sense of the winding history of the region.

Details about visiting Pipe Spring National Monument:

  • Pipe Spring National Monument is open year-round with seasonal changes in hours of operation.
  • There is a $10 per person admission fee for those 16 and older (15 and under are free) to visit Pipe Spring National Monument.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

9. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Did you know there are two main types of craters, and Arizona is home to both? Meteor Crater, a famous impact crater caused by extraterrestrial debris, is located east of Flagstaff; Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is north of Flagstaff. It was instead the result of volcanic activity right here on earth.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument protects the ancient cinder cone of an old volcano. Its last activity was recorded in 1085 when an eruption transformed the landscape completely. Today, visitors can learn about (and see) the evidence of volcanic activity in the geologic record. Plus you can enjoy hiking during the day and epic stargazing at night. (Y’all know how much I love stargazing!)

Details about visiting Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument:

  • The visitor center at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is open from 9am to 4:30pm daily except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • There is a $25 admission fee to visit both Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument, good for 7 days. You can also use your American the Beautiful Pass instead.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

10. Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument in Arizona

Tonto National Monument encompasses some of the most quintessentially Arizona wonders. That means desert landscapes punctuated by towering Saguaro, cliff dwelling remnants from ancient peoples who lived here, and dark starry skies at night. Best of all, Tonto National Monument is relatively close to Phoenix; it’s a two-hour drive.

The primary way to explore and experience Tonto National Monument is by hiking to the Lower Cliff Dwelling. This ruin is defined by archaeologists as “Salado-style cliff dwellings” and was inhabited between 1250-1450 CE (same as AD). Currently, you must start your self-guided hike before 12pm each day based on the admission schedule.

During the winter months, park rangers offer guided hikes to the Upper Cliff Dwelling; that makes Tonto National Monument worthy of two visits!

Details about visiting Tonto National Monument:

  • Tonto National Monument is open year-round, but hours vary seasonally. The Upper Cliff Dwelling is only accessible during the winter.
  • There is a $10 admission fee for visitors 16 years and older (free for under 15) to visit Tonto National Monument.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

11. Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

In contrast to the other Indigenous ruins mentioned so far on this list of national monuments in Arizona, Tuzigoot National Monument is not a cliff dwelling site. Instead, it’s a “hilltop dwelling” site; the Sinagua people built a pueblo atop this defensible spot on the Verde River.

The primary activities at Tuzigoot National Monument are to visit the pueblo (by hiking) and explore the Tuzigoot museum. You’ll learn about the people through the artifacts they left behind, and see how they lived. This is yet another great spot for those who love archaeology/history or have kids who do.

Details about visiting Tuzigoot National Monument:

  • Tuzigoot National Monument is open year-round from 8am to 4:45pm except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • There is a $10 fee for visitors 16 and older (15 and under free) to visit Tuzigoot National Monument.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

12. Walnut Canyon National Monument

You’re not tired of cliff dwellings yet, right? Good – because that’s what Walnut Canyon National Monument has to offer! (I should have an Arizona Cliff Dwelling BINGO game or something!)

Walnut Canyon National Monument is located just east of Flagstaff (just 20 minutes drive). This makes it a super accessible option for those visiting but not up for the long drive it takes to reach some of the other cliff-dwelling national monuments in Arizona.

Hiking is the best way to experience the cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument; there’s the one-mile Island Trail with 25 sites along the way, or the scenic 0.7-mile Rim Trail depending on your interest. Heck – you can easily do both during a single visit.

Details about visiting Walnut Canyon National Monument:

  • Walnut Canyon National Monument is open from 9am to 4:30pm daily except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • There is a $15 fee for visitors 16 and older (15 and under free) to visit Walnut Canyon National Monument.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

13. Wupatki Canyon National Monument

Wupatki Canyon National Monument in Arizona

Last but certainly not least, Wupatki Canyon National Monument is also located near Flagstaff. (It’s a 35-minute drive north, making it great in combination with Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument 20 minutes away.)

Wupatki Canyon National Monument, like many other national monuments in Arizona, preserves the remnants of ancient culture. In this case, that would be pueblo-dwelling people from a number of cultures. There are a number of easy, short hiking trails that allow you to visit different parts of the site including different pueblos and structures. Rangers and volunteers also offer guided hikes, which are a great way to enhance the experience since you’ll get a narrative to make sense of your surroundings.

Details about visiting Wupatki Canyon National Monument:

  • The visitor center at Wupatki Canyon National Monument is open from 9am to 4:30pm daily, except Christmas and New Year’s Day. Trails are open from sunrise to sunset.
  • There is a $25 admission fee to visit both Waputiki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, good for 7 days. You can also use your American the Beautiful Pass instead.
  • Learn more on the National Park Service website.

Bonus: Four More BLM (Non-NPS) National Monuments in Arizona

Did you know that there are also non-National Park Service national monuments? These areas are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) but still count as national monuments in Arizona! I didn’t want to cover each one as extensively as the “official” National Park Service ones, but they’re still worth mentioning!

  1. Agua Fria National Monument – Located 40 miles north of Phoenix, this huge area protects a diversity of landscapes and species, and has a record of human presence including petroglyphs. Learn more.
  2. Ironwood Forest National Monument – South of Phoenix and west of Tucson, Ironwood Forest is a sprawling 129,000-acre area that includes a record of human history dating back 5,000 years. Learn more.
  3. Sonoran Desert National Monument – The most most biologically diverse North American desert, this area ofo Sonoran Desert preserves that land from modern development. Learn more.
  4. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – If you love rock formations, this massive 280,000-acre monument will rival the impressive red rock parks of southern Utah; it’s also home to California condors! Learn more.

Do you have any questions about visiting these national monuments in Arizona? Let me know in the comments, as well as which one you most want to visit!

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