Chances are you’ve never heard about Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. We certainly didn’t know about its existence before our week-long road trip through the American Southwest. If you are anything like us, then start planning your excursion here with this complete guide to visiting Wupatki National Monument.
The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Wupatki National Monument, Arizona
A place of unusual terrain occupies Northern Arizona. Dry, rugged land with prevailing red shades looks barren. Arizona’s sun burns intensely. No people without proper equipment can survive in this unwelcoming landscape.
Yet centuries ago, the territory of contemporary Wupatki National Monument looked completely different. Buzzing with traders and local residents, it was a cultural and economic center of the Pueblo peoples.
Today, only ancient ruins remind of the heyday of the region. Visiting Wupatki National Monument is the closest you can get to the once thriving communities, their lifestyle and customs.
Sadly, the ancient walls unveil only a small portion of the past secrets. Many more are buried in the ground, under a thick layer of volcanic sediment. This blanket forever changed the region, forcing the indigenous people look for a new home. Only several short walking trails with the ancient ruins scattered alongside (we cover them in the next section of this guide to visiting Wupatki National Monument) are what is left of the thriving region.
Wupatki National Monument in a Nutshell
The 56-square-mile region allured its first settlers as early as the 1100s. Much cooler temperatures along with the wetter conditions provided a welcoming environment. Rich soil served well for growing food. The convenient location made it possible to establishing a popular trading point.
Maybe some new visitors even needed a simple guide to get around the area, known as Wupatki National Monument today. So lively and thronging the region was centuries ago.
An eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano in adjacent Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument brought insurmountable challenges to the area. Tectonics and soil erosion followed, completely reshaping the today’s Wupatki National Monument region. What once looked like a prosperous center turned into a series of abandoned ghost towns on the southwestern Colorado Plateau.
Visiting, moreover living in the Wupatki National Monument region became impossible. The tribes of the Puebloans started leaving the area, one by one. The deserted houses deteriorated with time, leaving little to tell the future generations about the bustling past of the area.
These ancient ruins are the main reasons behind visiting Wupatki National Monument today. Some of them have preserved more information about the ancestors of the Pueblo people. Others give you just a slight hint of what the area looked like some 900 years ago. Yet all of them are the essential guides that welcome you to visit and explore the past of today’s Wupatki National Monument.
YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO VISITING WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT
How to Visit Wupatki National Monument: Location and Direction
Wupatki National Monument is adjacent to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Both landmarks are nestled in Northern Arizona, between the Painted Desert and ponderosa highlands. The best way to visit the Wupatki – Sunset Crater Volcano area is by driving along the 34-mile scenic loop that starts from Highway 89 and runs through both national monuments.
If you drive from Flagstaff, start your adventure with visiting Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, located 12 miles away, and then venture into Wupatki National Monument. The latter sits 26 miles north of Flagstaff.
A Guide to Visiting Wupatki National Monument: Map
The Best Time to Visit Wupatki National Monument
The best part about visiting Wupatki National Monument is that the trip can be done any time of the year. The area welcomes the visitors rain or shine, winter or summer.
If you plan to visit the Wupatki area during the summer months, be sure to bring along a lot of water. The heat in the desert in Arizona is excruciating.
The winter conditions in Wupatki National Monument can also interfere with your visiting plans. Located at a high elevation, the region often gets icy and snowy covers. The road surface can freeze and gusty winds will force you to look for safety anywhere, but the open desert.
A Complete Guide to Visiting Wupatki National Monument: The Best Things to Do
1. Wupatki Pueblo Trail
The Wupatki Puelbo Trail is the most popular area to visit in Wupatki National Monument. Paved, with a small overlook at the beginning, the trail later turns into a well-trodden, dirt path. But even at this point, the walking route is well able to accommodate both strollers and wheelchairs.
Visiting this part of Wupatki National Monument is virtually tracing the footsteps of the first settlers. The remains of a few large settlements sit along the trail. They say the 900-year-old site once had 100 rooms. You can still easily detect some of them.
The Wupatki Pueblo Trail nestles right behind the Wupatki Visitor Center. Here are a few other trail facts you might want to know before visiting Wupatki National Monument.
- Length: 0.5-mile loop trail
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time to complete: 30 minutes
2. Wukoki Pueblo Trail
The Wukoki Pueblo Trail allures the visitors of Wupatki National Monument with a three-story tower. The surviving part of the structure sits atop a large sandstone outcrop. Giving its isolated location, the area is fully exposed to the wind. On the other hand, you can walk into some of the rooms or what is left of them.
Hiking uphill may be a little bit challenging, though. Yet the views of the San Francisco Peaks are worth it. For the majority of the travelers they offer an addition reason to visit Wupatki National Monument while road-tripping through Arizona.
- Length: 0.2-mile, round-trip trail
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Time: 15 minutes
3. Citadel Pueblo
More than 50 ancient rooms nestle at the base of the cinder hill. Again, you don’t need any hiking or climbing skills to visit this area of Wupatki National Monument. The views of the surroundings, however, differ from what you’ve seen already. So you might want to check out this easy trail as well.
- Length: 0.3-mile, round-trip trail
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 15 minutes
4. Lomaki and Box Canyon Pueblos Trail
Visit this corner of Wupatki National Monument to find a small Box canyon and earth crack. Furthermore, the Lomaki and Box Canyon Pueblos Trail impresses you with the remains of three ancient buildings. All of them were made out of local material, such as limestone and sandstone.
Once you’ve done exploring the structures, look around. The panoramic views of the surrounding cinder hill and the San Francisco Peaks certainly add something to look forward to while visiting Wupatki National Monument.
- Length: 0.5-mile, round-trip trail
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 30 minutes
Things to Know before Visiting Wupatki National Monument
The Wupatki Visitor Center is open daily, from 9:00 a.m until 5:00 p.m. All trails and restrooms are available from sunrise to sunset.
The visitors must pay $25 per vehicle to enjoy the ancient ruins and short trails in Wupatki National Monument. The pass is valid for 7 consecutive days.
Those who visit Wupatki National Monument while exploring the national parks in Arizona and Utah, can use America the Beautiful Pass to enter the monument. The yearly pass costs $80 and opens the doors to all national parks and the majority of the national monuments in the USA.
Visit Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road
You can visit two national monuments (Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument) at once. The 34-mile scenic road runs through both landmarks. Furthermore, since the areas are adjacent, you need only one day ticket to enter the Wupatki – Sunset Crater region.
No Climbing while Visiting Wupatki
Climbing on the ruins is not allowed. Similarly, you can’t walk into the ancient buildings restricted only for viewing from the trail.
No Off-Trail Walking
No walking off the designated paths is allowed while visiting Wupatki National Monument. Furthermore, those who damage the area’s flora and fauna can be fined.
Visiting Wupatki National Monument with Pets
Dogs must be leashed at all times. On top of that, the four-legged friends can’t “visit” the buildings and trails in Wupatki National Monument.
Some sites and trails may be closed to protect the fragile environment.
How much Time do You Need to Visit Wupatki National Monument?
You need 1-2 hours to visit Wupatki National Monument by car, enjoying the views from the scenic drive. To avoid any danger to the wildlife, speed limit is reduced in the area. Furthermore, you can pull over only in designated areas. The road it pretty narrow, so avoid stopping at random places and creating traffic.
If you visit Wupatki National Monument to see the ancient pueblos up-close, consider spending 3-4 hours in the area. This time is sufficient to hike most of the trails and stop at the Wupatki Visitor Center.
Where to Stay
- The closest place to stay near the Monument is Flagstaff. A gateway to a number of Arizona’s landmarks, including Grand Canyon National Park, the city offers a wide range of accommodations for different budgets.
- Similarly, you can book a hotel room in Sedona and visit Wupatki National Monument along with some other attractions on a day trip.
- For a more rustic feel, head over to Williams. The place is small, but has more than enough lodging options to choose from.