Canyon de Chelly National Monument – Chinle, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument – Chinle, Arizona

One of the beautiful sites to see in Arizona is the Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Here you will see steep canyon walls dotted with greenery and hundreds of ancient pueblo ruins.  The pueblos were the homes to some of canyon’s earliest inhabitants.  But the best part is that it is still home to a Navajo Indian community that lives there and raises their sheep and herds them during the summer months.

There are hundreds of prehistoric ruins in the Canyon de Chelly.  They were built between 350 and 1300 A.D. where they were inhabited by the Ancient Pueblo People, otherwise known as Anasazi.  During the 1700’s the Navajo began to make their way west from northern New Mexico and settled in the Canyon de Chelly.  The area was designated as a Naitonal Monument in 1931 and is the only National Park Service site to be completely located within the Navajo Nation.

Here you will be able to see Spider Rock, a sandstone spire which is similar to those that dominate the landscape in nearby Monument Valley.  It truly is a sight to see.

Start your exploration at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument Visitor Center, where you can learn about the area and the Navajo people’s customary Hogan house. Two drives follow the rims of the canyon from the visitor center, and these are the only drives allowed without a guide.

Take the time to explore the well-preserved Puebloan ruins which sit in the 1,000 foot tall rock walls and area accessible only via a guided tour.

SCENIC DRIVES: From the Visitor Center, two paved rim drives lead to several overlooks that provide excellent views of the canyon below. Allow 2 hours on each side to visit 3 overlooks on the North Rim Drive and 7 overlooks on the South Rim Drive.

SELF GUIDED HIKE: About 6 miles from the Visitor Center, there is one public trail to hike at the White House Ruin Overlook. Allow 2 hours round trip to hike about 600 feet down the switchback trail to the White House Ruin. No pets are allowed on the trail.

RANGER LED PROGRAMS: Ranger led activities, including hikes, are generally offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Check at the Visitor Center for schedule of summer activities.

CANYON TOURS: Tours into the backcountry of the canyon requires a backcountry permit and hiring an authorized guide. Permits are free and available from the Visitor Center during regular business hours only. Tours by hiking, horseback or vehicle are provided by private guides and companies.

There is no fee to enter the park but donations are appreciated and can be made at the visitor center.

You do not need a guide or backcountry permit for the North or South Rim drives or the White House trail.  These are self-guided tours and open all year long.

If you plan on camping at the park you will have the option of Cottonwood Campground which is managed by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department.  Reservations are required for group tent sites only.  Individual campsites no not require a reservation.  Call NPRD directly at (928)674-2106 for camping rates and availability.  Remember that there are just limited services in the winter so be prepared for this if you choose to visit during the winter.

Pets are welcome as long as they are on a lease on the North and South Rim Drives and in the campground.  Pets are NOT permitted down the White House trail or on any canyon tours, even in your own vehicle.  Exceptions are made for service animals but get that cleared before you start.

Descendants of the Puebloans, the Hopi migrated into the canyons to plant fields of corn and orchards of peaches. Although the Hopi permanently settled on the mesa tops, the Hopi still hold on to many of their traditions that are evident from their homes and kivas.

Related to the Athabaskan people of Northern Canada and Alaska, the Navajo settled the Southwest between the four sacred mountains. The Navajo, or Dine’ as they call themselves, continue to raise families and plant crops just as the “Ancient Ones” had. The farms, livestock and hogans of the Dine’ are visible from the canyon rims.

The name of Canyon de Chelly was derived from the misspelling and mispronunciation of the Navajo word for canyon.  The Navajos call the canyon “Tseyi” which is pronounced “say-ee”.  Eventually the word became “de chelly” which is pronounced as “de-shay”.

Getting There

By Plane
International airports located in Phoenix, AZ (5 hours) or Albuquerque, NM (4 hours). Municipal airports located in Flagstaff, AZ (3 hours); Farmington, NM (2 hours) and Gallup, NM (1 1/2 hours). Local airstrip for medical transport only.

By Car
The Visitor Center is 3 miles (4.8 km) from Route 191 in Chinle, AZ.

From Flagstaff, AZ, take I-40 East then Hwy 191 North.

From Gallup, NM, take Hwy 264 West then Hwy 191 North.

From Kayenta, AZ, take Route 59 Southeast then Hwy 191 South.

Other Public Transportation
Amtrak train stations and Greyhound bus stations located in Gallup, NM or Flagstaff, AZ.

Navajo Transit System operates buses throughout the Navajo Nation. Call 928-729-4002 for more information.

The Visitor Center is open daily all year from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Christmas Day.

The North and South Rim Drives and the White House Trail remain open all year.  The drives are paved roads accessible by vehicle (4-wheel drive is not required).

During severe weather, the Visitor Center may open at a later time or be closed for the day.

From March through November, the Navajo Nation observes Mountain Daylight Savings Time when the time will be the same as Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The rest of Arizona observes Mountain Standard Time all year.