One of Arizona’s less known parks is perhaps one of its most unique. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, also known just as Canyon de Chelly, is an enchanting national park located in the northeastern corner of Arizona. While Canyon de Chelly welcomes around five million visitors yearly, only a couple hundred thousand tourists cite it as a destination when visiting Arizona or national parks.
Still, it is a wonderful stop in your national park tour or vacation destination for when you have some time off. Wondering why? Don’t worry, because in this article we’ll tell you all about Canyon de Chelly, its history and significance, top spots to see, and other important information. Let’s get started!
What is Canyon de Chelly National Monument known for?
Canyon de Chelly National Monument’s fame comes from two places: its history and its nature.
We’ll get to the top spots to see later, but for now, believe us when we say that Canyon de Chelly’s natural beauty and landscape are very impressive. The natural offerings of the park are the main draw that attracts tourists and visitors every year. Whether it is their first time visiting or their fiftieth, park visitors are enamored with Spider Rock and Canyon del Muerto time after time. The park itself is vast, sizing at 344 kilometers squared.
Established in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover, Canyon de Chelly National Monument was intended to preserve Navajo history and serve as a historical log of civilization. The first known civilization in Canyon de Chelly was the Puebloan people, an ancient people who resided in northern Arizona. For them, the canyons were a perfect place to live, due to the mineral-rich soil and natural water – it was a great place to grow crops.
Around the 1300s, the Puebloans left the area and it was uninhabited until their descendants, the Hopi, moved in. They utilized the land to plant corn and peach trees. Nowadays, the area is still inhabited by the Navajo, indigenous Americans who have lived there for thousands of years. Those who reside there continue to raise their families and plant crops using ancient techniques, preserving their culture and traditions.
The park is co-managed by the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service.
What are the top spots to see in Canyon de Chelly National Monument?
Every great national park has incredible views – Canyon de Chelly National Monument is no different. While the park is much more than its views, you definitely should take advantage of them when you’re there.
Firstly, our recommendation is to spend a few hours just walking around. The canyon itself is a nice place to walk around and observe the plant life, wildlife, geology, and colors of the canyon. Otherwise, there are two main spots to see in Canyon de Chelly: Spider Rock and Canyon del Muerto.
Spider Rock is a sacred place of the Navajo people, known to be the lair of the Spider Woman – that’s where its name comes from. It is a stone spire that is over 800 feet tall, formed over 200 million years ago. In one of the Navajo creation stories, The Third World, Spider Woman went to the top of Spider Rock and spun her web. Different variations of the story involve her eating naughty children and teaching the Navajo people the art of weaving.
Geologists explain that Spider Rock formed from a stream and hillstone erosion process, the same that makes the canyon both deeper and wider. This process works at different speeds. It worked slower than in surrounding areas at Spider Rock, forming the monolith we see today. Geologists predict that Spider Rock will eventually fall over, just like other monolith spires have in the past. For now, however, it is standing proudly and will continue to do so for years to come.
This site is a must-see when visiting Spider Rock. Previous visitors have raved about its amazing views in the late afternoon when the sun is high. It’s also a remote and quiet area, so don’t worry about too many people fighting over the space. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see it alone.
Canyon del Muerto
Located on one side of Canyon de Chelly is the park’s other main attraction, Canyon del Muerto. The name translates to “canyon of the dead” in Spanish, which is fitting, as it is an ancient burial ground. The prehistoric burials were discovered in 1882 and have been open for viewing since the park has in 1931.
Canyon del Muerto isn’t just any canyon, however, as etched in its walls are prehistoric drawings, paintings, and carvings. It is known to be an incredibly beautiful part of Canyon de Chelly and is accessible in a variety of ways – horseback riding, jeep tour, or walking. We recommend that you go to Canyon del Muerto when it is well-lit so that you can see the etchings on the wall.
Basic Tips & Hiking Information
While it is large, there aren’t many marked trails or hiking opportunities in Canyon de Chelly. Don’t let this discourage you if you’re an avid hiker, however, as its size and beauty make it well worth it to see.
Still, however, there is one trail if you’re looking for a self-guided hike: White House Trail. You can walk the public trail that starts in the South Rim at the White House Overlook. You’ll walk 600 feet up and down the trail to see the White House Ruin; it should take about two hours to do. This trail is moderate to challenging, so definitely pack your snacks and hiking boots.
Otherwise, consider the various other ways to see the park:
- Walking: You can walk around to get to know the canyon at your own pace.
- Tours: If you like tours, there are ranger-led programs and guided tours offered by tour companies.
- Horse: Consider horseback riding if you’re up for an adventure.
- Vehicle: A popular way to see the canyon is by driving; we recommend you spend about two hours so that you can see both of the rims.
Other important information:
- Camping is allowed in the park for a fee at the Cottonwood Campground. It is first-come-first-serve.
- Entrance to the park is free.
- The park is open all year from sunrise to sunset, including holidays.
Where to Stay Near Canyon de Chelly National Monument
While you can embrace the outdoors and camp in the park, we know that camping isn’t for everyone. If not, there’s no need to worry, as there are plenty of lodging and accommodation options in Chinle, Arizona.
A fun option for staying in Chinle is AirBnb. It’s always fun to differentiate from hotels and stay in a cabin or apartment, and this is the best place to do it. If you can’t find an AirBnB to suit your needs, there are plenty of hotels that range in price and offering. Some options we recommend are the Holiday Inn, the Thunderbird Lodge, or the Best Western in the area.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a beautiful, awe-inspiring place to visit when in northeastern Arizona. Whether you spend your days lounging by Spider Rock or taking a horseback tour through the canyon, you’re sure to be enamored by the unforgettable views. Don’t forget to include Canyon de Chelly when you’re in Arizona, you won’t regret it. Consider this article for more places to visit while in Arizona – 14 Things That Arizona Is Famous For.