Nestled amidst the picturesque landscape of northern Arizona lies Flagstaff, a city renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty and home to three National Monuments in the United States National Park Service. From the cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon to the ancestral Pueblos of Wupatki, to the lava fields of Sunset Crater Volcano, these Flagstaff National Monuments offer visitors a glimpse into the region’s remarkable past and provide an opportunity to connect with nature in unparalleled ways.
Disclaimer: Grand Canyon Adventures hosted us on a guided tour of the Flagstaff Area National Monuments in exchange for social media content and this blog post. All opinions and recommendations are our own, and we hope that they make your planning easier and your adventure even better!
Embarking on guided day tours unveils a world of hidden treasures and enhances the overall experience exponentially. Our tour with Grand Canyon Adventures offered valuable insights into the historical significance and geological wonders that abound within these monuments and also ensured that we gained a deep appreciation for their importance in preserving our natural heritage. With our knowledgeable guide, Scott, leading the way, we learned fascinating details about each monument’s formation, indigenous cultures that once thrived there, and modern conservation efforts being undertaken to protect these sacred lands.
In this blog post, we share what it was like visiting Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments on a guided day trip from Flagstaff, Arizona, including what you need to know about each park, an example itinerary, things to see and do, and more!
Table of Contents
About the Flagstaff Area National Monuments
Known collectively as the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, the three parks of Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, and Sunset Crater Volcano are all located within an hour of historic downtown Flagstaff.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument is synonymous with ancient cliff dwellings. At Walnut Canyon, you can see the ancient homes of Native Sinagua inhabitants set within a beautiful canyon. As you walk by over 25 cliff dwellings on the 1-mile Island Trail, you’ll be transported back over 700 years to a time when Walnut Canyon was a bustling community.
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
- Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle
>> Buy your National Parks Pass here for admission to all United States National Park sites, including all the Flagstaff Area National Monuments!
Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument, much like Walnut Canyon, encapsulates the rich history of ancient civilizations. Nestled within its expanse are the remnants of the dwellings of the Puebloan people, showcasing their architectural prowess amidst breathtaking landscapes. As you traverse the trails of Wupatki, the echoes of a vibrant past resonate through the 900-year-old structures, painting a vivid picture of a thriving community.
- Hours: The park is open 24/7 every day of the year
- Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle and includes entrance to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument stands as a testament to the raw power and ever-evolving landscape of the Earth. This site preserves the aftermath of a recent (in geological terms) volcanic eruption that transformed the terrain only a thousand years ago. As you explore the trails weaving through this monument, you’ll encounter the striking aftermath of volcanic activity—vividly colored cinder cones, lava flows, and ash fields blanketing the surrounding area.
- Hours: Sunrise to sunset
- Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle and includes entrance to Wupatki National Monument
Benefits of Visiting the Flagstaff Area National Monuments with a Guide
While a guide is not required to visit the three Flagstaff Area National Monuments, you can definitely enrich your experience by opting to go with one.
- Historical Insight: Our guide, Scott, offered in-depth historical knowledge, providing context to the monuments’ significance, the lives of ancient inhabitants, and the events that shaped these areas.
- Cultural Understanding: Our guide offered insights into the cultures, traditions, and daily lives of the ancient people who once inhabited these areas, enriching our understanding of their way of life.
- Environmental Awareness: Guides often highlight the unique ecosystems, geological formations, and flora and fauna specific to the region, fostering a deeper appreciation for the natural environment. In particular, Scott pointed out visible indicators of recent wildfires in the area, underscoring the extreme dryness of the region and the dangers of human-made fires.
- Engaging Stories: Guides often share captivating stories, folklore, and anecdotes about the monuments, making the visit more engaging and memorable. For example, we learned that Scott makes and plays his own didgeridoos, and he even played a little tune to highlight the acoustics in one of the pueblos at Wupatki.
- Enhanced Experience: If you’re visiting Flagstaff as part of a larger southwest road trip, you’ll appreciate the break from the driver’s seat. All you need to do is enjoy the ride while your guide drives. Plus, they provide snacks, a picnic lunch, drinks, and water, so you don’t have to worry about anything.
- Safety: While there is nothing inherently risky or dangerous about visiting the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, some of them are outside the range of cell phone service. A guide who is familiar with the area and who knows emergency and first aid procedures can provide peace of mind during your visit.
One-Day Itinerary to All Three Flagstaff National Monuments
Morning: Drive from Flagstaff to Walnut Canyon National Monument
Hike the Rim Trail
We started our visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument on the paved 0.7 mil Rim Trail through pinion pine and juniper forest to an overlook, where Scott pointed out several cliff dwellings in the canyon below us. This short walk provided context for the next hike down into Walnut Canyon.
Hike the Island Trail
The Island Trail is the best way to see the cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon. Though the hike is only a mile long, there are 736 stairs on the trail, making it steep and challenging at times. Make sure you bring plenty of water if you hike the Island Trail! The one-way trail circles an “island” in the canyon with 25 cliff dwellings. We visited right when the Monument opened, so it was a very serene and peaceful experience to walk among the ruins and imagine what life in the canyon would have been like.
Please do not touch or disturb any of the artifacts or dwellings you see at Walnut Canyon!
Afternoon: Visit to Wupatki National Monument
Visit Lomaki and Box Canyon
Entering the park from the north off Hwy 89, Lomaki will be the first pueblo you’ll come to the main road through the Wupatki National Monument. Lomaki, which means “beautiful house” in the Hopi language, has 9 rooms and was built in the late 1100s.
If you look closely at the surrounding landscape, you’ll see the walls of other pueblos nearby. At one time, this had been a thriving community, and the box canyon likely served as a water source.
It’s a 0.5-mile walk on a gravel path to get a close-up view of Lomaki and the Box Canyon pueblos. Watch out for rattlesnakes!
Visit the Citadel Pueblo
Next, visit the Citadel and Nalakihu pueblos, which date from the early 1100s. Nalakihu is the smaller pueblo at the beginning of the trail, with the Citadel being another example of the multi-room pueblo structure common at the time.
Visit the Wupatki Pueblo
The largest pueblo at the monument, and the one for which it gets its name, is Wupatki, a massive, 104-room structure near the Visitor Center. Near the main building, there is also a community center and a ball court. Next to the ball court, don’t miss the unique natural blowhole.
Visit the Wukoki Pueblo
The large 8-room sandstone Wukoki pueblo sits atop a pedestal, which gives it a particularly significant aura. You can walk inside the rooms of Wukoki Pueblo, just be careful not to lean against any of the walls or climb on any of the rocks.
This is where our guide, Scott, played his didgeridoo for us!
Late Afternoon/Sunset: Stop at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Hike the Lava Flow Trail
A highlight of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a short walk on the Lava Flow Trail. This is where you can get an up-close look at one of the youngest mountains on earth and immerse yourself amidst the hardened lava rock of the expansive lava fields. The 1-mile-long trail covers some rough terrain, so sturdy shoes are a must. There is also a 1/4 mile accessible paved trail available as an alternative.
Final Thoughts on Visiting the Flagstaff Area National Monuments
Visiting the Flagstaff Area National Monuments is one of the best ways to spend a day on your Flagstaff or Grand Canyon trip. This is the only place I can think of where we’ve been able to visit 3 unique national monuments in a single day and have a full experience at each.
By the way, Grand Canyon Adventures also offers guided in hiking and sightseeing tours in the Grand Canyon. Read about our experience hiking the Hermit Trail on a guided hike here.
Don’t miss these Arizona guides: