While on your Grand Canyon vacation, be sure to explore beyond the national park. Arizona is home to striking national monuments, which are fascinating National Park Service sites and have none of the crowds that parks like Grand Canyon can attract. The state is rich in culture and history, and these Arizona national monuments provide a step back in time and a closer look at the ancient people who once lived here.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
This is a fascinating attraction. Visitors will get to view the 20-room, “high rise” cliff dwelling that is nestled in a towering limestone cliff and discover the legacy of an ancient people, the Sinagua.
A self-guided, 1/3-mile loop trail leads you past an incredible 5-story cliff dwelling, through a beautiful sycamore grove and along spring-fed Beaver Creek, one of only a few perennial streams in Arizona. Ranger programs are also offered daily.
To get there by car, follow I-17 to exit 289 (90 minutes north of Phoenix, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). Drive east (through two traffic circles) for approximately 1/2 mile to the blinking red light. Turn left on Montezuma Castle Road.
Parashant National Monument
Located on the edge of one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Grand Canyon, the Monument’s expansive landscape chronicles natural and cultural history. Visitors can access this monument via dirt road from Nevada, Arizona and Utah. (There are no paved roads within this national monument and this area is quite primitive).
Please be sure to have a detailed map of Northern Arizona, as well as Nevada and Utah if possible. Parashant National Monument covers more than 1 million acres of remote and unspoiled terrain and is a scientific treasure. It has been awarded international “Night Sky Province” status by the International Dark Sky Association. Enjoy views of deep canyons, mountains and “lonely” buttes that jut out of the landscape. The monument encompasses the lower portion of the Shivwits Plateau.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Located in northern Arizona, north of the Grand Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs is a spectacular site to experience. The 3,000-foot escarpment of the Vermilion Cliffs reveals seven major geologic formations in layer-cake fashion.
This remote, unspoiled 294,000-acre national monument is a geologic treasure of towering cliffs, deep canyons and spectacular sandstone formations, containing the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes and Paria Canyon. The area includes famous destinations such as the Wave, White Pocket, and Buckskin Gulch. Inquire at the Kanab Visitor Center about permits needed to travel within some sections of the national monument such as The Wave and South Coyote Buttes. (visitsouthernutah.com)
Trying to decide whether to try for The Wave or go to White Pocket instead? Find a comparison at www.myutahparks.com/things-to-do/neighboring-parks/the-wave-vs-white-pocket/.
There are no paved roads in Vermilion Cliffs. House Rock Valley Road (BLM 1065) is a maintained dirt road. Other roads inside the monument require a 4WD vehicle with high clearance.
To get to Vermilion Cliffs by car, head to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office in St. George, Utah, in the southwestern corner of Utah. St. George is located off I-15 and is southwest of Zion National Park. For more information, visit www.blm.gov/national-conservation-lands/arizona/vermilion-cliffs or call 435-688-3200 during office hours.
Sunset Crater Volcano Monument
Certainly the name of this national monument definitely piques the interest of the curious traveler. Sunset Crater Volcano is the result of a series of volcano eruptions that occurred between 1040 and 1100.
Powerful explosions forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area. Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed. But among dramatic geologic features, you’ll find trees, wildflowers and signs of wildlife.
Enjoy the 1-mile Lava Flow Trail to fully experience this national monument. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is located southwest of the Grand Canyon. To get there by car from Flagstaff, take U.S 89 north for 12 miles, turn right on the Sunset Crater Wupatki Loop road and continue 2 miles to the visitor center.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Located in west-central Arizona in the town of Cottonwood, Tuzigoot National Monument is an ancient pueblo that crowns a desert hilltop.
Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by a culture known as the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures.
The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400. The site covers 42 acres. To get there by car, access via Highway 260, north and northeast of Highway 89A.
Wupatki National Monument
The Wupatki Pueblo is less than 800 years old and is the region’s largest pueblo. Despite its being one of the warmest and driest places on the Colorado Plateau, this pueblo’s people flourished for a time as a meeting place for different cultures.
People gathered here during the 1100s, gradually building this 100-room pueblo with a community room and ballcourt. By 1182, perhaps 85 to 100 people lived at Wupatki Pueblo, the largest building for at least fifty miles.
A self-guided tour begins at the visitor center. Although it is no longer physically occupied, the Hopi tribe believe the people who lived and died here remain as spiritual guardians.
To get there, from Flagstaff, take US 89 north for 12 miles (19km), turn right at sign for Sunset Crater Volcano! Wupatki National Monuments. The Visitor Center is 21 miles (34km) from this junction.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
This is yet another opportunity for visitors to Arizona to experience history and it’s just minutes from Flagstaff, Ariz. Here at Walnut Canyon National Monument, visitors step back 700 years by peering into cliff dwellings built deep in this canyon’s walls.
Explore the Island Trail, a 1-mile roundtrip hike that showcases spectacular canyon scenery and in the form of several cliff dwellings, evidence of the life of the ancient Sinagua people. Or, an easier hike is the Rim Trail, just three-quarters of a mile, roundtrip. This will provide fantastic canyon views, plus a pithouse and pueblo set back from the canyon rim.
To get there by car, leave I-40 at Exit 204, 7.5 miles (12 km) east of Flagstaff; drive south 3 miles (5 km) to the canyon rim. (Warning: Tight turn-around in parking area for towed vehicles; 40 feet (12 meters) maximum length is recommended.)
Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument is located in northeastern Arizona. Here, visitors get a glimpse into the lives and culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people. Explore three intact cliff dwellings, a terrific visitor center and museum and three short self-guided trails.
To get there by car, travel U. S. Highway 160 to State Highway 564. Navajo is located at the end of Highway 564.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Located on the west end of Arizona’s southern border, this monument celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Drive a remote road, hike a trail or camp in the desert. Here you can truly experience the desert, and many people leave changed after being immersed in the calm of the desert. To get there by car, from the north, follow AZ Hwy 85 through Ajo and Why.
The Monument is 22 miles (35.4 km) south of Why. From the east, follow AZ Hwy 86 to Why, then turn south on AZ Hwy 85. From the west, follow I-8 to Gila Bend or I-10 to Buckeye, then turn south on AZ Hwy 85. From Mexico: drive on Mexico Route 2 to Sonoyta, then north to Lukeville.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Here is a home to the longest continuously-inhabited landscape in all of North America. Rich in culture, Canyon de Chelly includes distinctive architecture, artifacts, and rock imagery while providing terrific opportunities for study and contemplation.
Also interesting, Canyon de Chelly also sustains a living community of Navajo people.
This national monument is located in the northeastern region of Arizona. To get there by car, rrom Flagstaff, AZ, take I-40 East then Hwy 191 North; from Gallup, NM, take Hwy 264 West then Hwy 191 North; and from Kayenta, AZ, take Route 59 Southeast then Hwy 191 South.
Chiricahua National Monument
Rocks everywhere. This is what awaits you at Chiricahua National Monument and it’s a sight worth seeing. This forest of rock spires is the result of erosion from layers of ash deposited by the Turkey Creek Volcano eruption 27 million years ago. Enjoy an 8-mile paved scenic drive through this monument, and/or 18 miles of hiking trails that will take you deeper into this unique region. Chiricahua is located in the far southern region of Arizona, 120 miles southeast of Tucson.
To get there by car, take I-10 east from Tucson to the first exit for Willcox. Travel 3 miles into town to the stoplight and turn right. You will follow Arizona State Highway 186 for 32 miles to the junction of Arizona State Highway 181. Turn left and 4 miles later you will be at the Chiricahua entrance station.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Fort Bowie commemorates the bitter conflict between Chiricahua Apaches and the U.S. military! a lasting monument to the bravery and endurance of U.S. soldiers in paving the way for settlement and the taming of the western frontier. It provides insight into a “clash of cultures,” a young nation in pursuit of “manifest destiny,” and the hunter/gatherer society fighting to preserve its existence.
This monument is located in the far southeast region of Arizona. The park is 116 miles east of Tucson, AZ via I-10. To get there by car, from Willcox, AZ drive southeast for 20 miles on State Road #186 to the Fort Bowie turn off, then drive another eight miles on the unpaved road to the Fort Bowie Trailhead. Be prepared to walk the three miles round trip to the ruins and back to your car.
Tonto National Monument
Situated within rugged terrain in the northeastern part of the Sonoran Desert, Tonto National Monument features well-preserved cliff dwellings that were occupied during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries.
Driving time from Phoenix or Scottsdale: 2 hours; from Tucson: 3 hours; from Flagstaff: 3 to 3 1/2 hours. To get there by car, from Phoenix, take State Highway 60 (Superstition Freeway) east to Globe/Miami (75 miles); turn left (northwest) on State Highway 188 and drive 25 miles to Tonto National Monument.
Pipe Spring National Monument
In the far northwestern region of Arizona, this national monument commemorates a spring that American Indians, Mormon pioneers, plants, animals, and others depended on for their survival. Learn about pioneer and Kaibab Paiute life at the Visitor Center, or on a ranger-guided tour of a historic fort.
To get there by car, from Interstate 15, turn onto Utah State Route 9 in Hurricane, Utah. Take Utah State Route 59 east out of Hurricane. This road turns into Arizona State Route 389 at the state line. Pipe Spring is 45 miles east of Hurricane. From Utah Highway 89 and 89A, turn onto Arizona State Route 389 in Fredonia, Arizona. Pipe Spring is 15 miles west of Fredonia.