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Native Americans Throughout Time in the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Native American History

When visiting the Grand Canyon it’s impossible to miss the strong Native American influence throughout the canyon’s place names and rim-side architecture. Archeological evidence suggests humans have been living near the Grand Canyon for approximately 10,000 years, but the first signs of life is not year-round establishments. Scientists believe the first groups of people were just passing through the canyon and surrounding area while hunting game and migrating during seasonal changes.

The first significant evidence of year-round inhabitance points to approximately 4,000 years ago when archeologists found several small, split-twig figurines made from willow and cottonwood preserved deep within limestone caves. Before the discovery it was unclear exactly when Native Americans first inhabited the Grand Canyon. During the next several thousand years various Native American tribes lived in and around the canyon

Native Americans 200 BC to 1300AD

When discussing Native American history it’s important to note the early years of human inhabitance within the Grand Canyon. Around roughly 200 BC the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived mostly within the four corners region of the western United States, migrated towards the Grand Canyon area. During this time period the Anasazi people also migrated from the east and began living within the canyon. By 500 A.D. the Anasazi were entering the time period known as the Puebloan people and built adobe houses along the canyon’s rim. These structures skeletons can still be seen today though they are slowly succumbing to the harsh desert climate.

The Anasazi lived near the canyon until approximately 1,500 A.D. when they suddenly abandoned their settlements and fled the Grand Canyon. Though it is still unclear exactly why the Anasazi left, it is widely believed to have been either from drought or hostile conflicts. Whatever the reason, archeologists have determined that the Anasazi abandoned their homes and left for approximately 100 years never to return.

Native Americans 1250 A.D. to 1900 A.D.

As the Puebloan people moved away, new groups of Native Americans moved into the canyon and began to live year round. The two most prevalent tribes, who still reside on reservations today, are the Hualapai and Havasupai.

The Havasupai and Hualapai lived both in and near the canyon migrating between the canyon’s inner depths and the upper plateau throughout the year. During summer months the Havasupai and Hualapai used a complex irrigation system to farm deep within the canyon and as the weather turned they would migrate to the canyon’s rim and outer plateau to hunt game during winter months.

The two tribes lived for hundreds of years until the mid 1800’s when settlers began moving West with hopes of land, gold and untold riches. In 1866, Hualapai chief Wauba Yoman was murdered and the tribe waged a three-year war against the U.S.. Eventually loosing, the tribe was relocated to a reservation where many died due to lack of food and disease. The people banded together and organized an escape, which was successful, but did not guarantee their freedom. President Chester Arthur relocated the tribe to another reservation south of the Grand Canyon after their escape where they still live today.

The Havasupai were more fortunate during this tremulous time period escaping the brutal wars fought by the Hualapai. They did, however, lose their land in 1880 when President Rutherford Hayes, created a small reservation for the tribe totaling 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. The reservation, hardly enough room for the tribe to live, was eventually expanded to its current size of over 150,000 acres.

Native Americans Today

Today both the Havasupai and Hualapai rely heavily on tourism to support their population. The Havasupai are best known for their reservation that features four spectacular spring-fed waterfalls pouring out of the Grand Canyon’s walls into clear emerald green pools below. The pools are a popular tourist destination and widely considered one of the canyon’s most spectacular natural wonders. If you go, make sure to plan on spending the night since the falls are a ten-mile hike into the canyon. There are several lodging options including the Havasupai lodge and campground.

Like the Havasupai, the Hualapai people are working hard to develop their reservation into more of a tourist destination including a luxury hotel, Indian village, and restaurant. In 2007, the Hualapai opened up the Skywalk, a large circular platform extending 70-feet out above the canyon. Though the Skywalk was not popular with all of the tribe’s members, it has boosted tourism to the reservation and brought in some revenue. The Skywalk’s walkway is constructed of solid glass enabling visitors the chance to walk out over 4,000 feet above the canyon’s floor. If you go, expect to pay nearly $80 to step out above the canyon.