Tonto National Monument
Tonto National Monument features two Salado-style cliff dwellings dating back 700 years ago. This site tells the story of the Salado people who resided in this part of Arizona. Visitors can learn about the architecture, agriculture, pottery and other artifacts with beautiful views of Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake.
History & Nature
Perched on the side of steep cliffs, the Upper and Lower Cliff Dwellings are not only well protected but also, have great views of the surrounding rugged terrain of the northeastern Sonoran Desert. The cliff dwellings date back 700 years and were occupied during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries. The Salado lived along the Salt River and eventually built these cliff dwellings overlooking the river, which is now Roosevelt Lake. Both sites were built in large naturally formed caves. As a result, they are protected from the elements of weather but face east to get sun early in the morning and shade throughout the afternoon.
Things To Do
The Lower Cliff Dwelling is open year-round and does not require a guided tour. The mile trail opens at 8 a.m. and the trip will take about an hour. Guests can take their time, as these dwellings are intriguing examples of early construction and architecture. The paved trail starts at the visitor center, gains about 350 feet of elevation over about a 13% grade up to the site,
Visitors are allowed to explore once they reach the site and experience the original structure. The rooms showcase original wood that was used, handprints on the walls, and even a few roofs that are still partially intact. The site also looks out at the beautiful Sonoran desert and Roosevelt Lake.
The Upper Cliff Dwelling is available by guided tour only. Tours operate three or more times a week from November through April, and the 3-mile tour lasts three to four hours. Reservations for the tours open in October and usually sell out fast. Visitors will join an intimate group with a park guide and hike a non-paved trail that gains 600 feet of elevation over 1.5 miles. This site has twice as many rooms as the lower cliff dwelling, pieces of original pottery, and a different experience showcasing the history of the Salado.
*Service animals are allowed in the visitor center and in the cliff dwelling sites. Any pets that are not service animals are allowed on the trails, but not in the cliff dwellings sites. They must remain on a leash at all times.
“These people that were living here and the tribes still associated, they knew this landscape so intimately and that is something we want to celebrate here at Tonto National Monument. It is something we want visitors to enjoy and explore and there are a number of ways to do so. Whether it is hiking up to the cliff dwellings and seeing the ruins for yourself, making the reservation for the longer guided hike, or coming through the museum area and talking to the ranger at the desk to see physical pieces of pottery, everyone visiting will take away something unique or special to them.”
- Lindsey A Brendel, NPS Park Ranger
Wildlife, Flora & Fauna
The vast Sonoran Desert offers many opportunities to experience wildlife and flora at the monument.
Some of the animals that roam the area are rattlesnakes, javelinas, ringtails, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and bats. There are also various species of birds that either migrate through the park or are residents of the area. A few to name are Arizona’s state bird, the cactus wren, phainopeplas, cardinals, and the rock wrens that enjoy hopping through the cliff dwellings. The chances to see wildlife are much higher early in the morning. Every December, the rangers conduct a Christmas Bird Count, and visitors are welcome to join and learn about the various species that call the monument home.
There are many types of cactus in the park, from the large barrel cactus to prickly pear cactus. In the spring, visitors can experience beautiful blooms of flowers on the cacti, which will then drop fruit in the late summer.
Hotels, Lodging & Camping
While the monument doesn't allow camping, the surrounding Tonto National Forest offers numerous campgrounds. For tent sites that sit along the water, check out the Bermuda Flats Campground, or camp at the Windy Hill Campground which is the closest one to the monument. Hundreds of sites for tents and RVs around Roosevelt Lake are just 15 minutes from the monument, so guests easily have time for lots of other outdoor activities. Bring a boat, paddleboard, or canoe and enjoy time on the water at Roosevelt Lake or Apache Lake.
Hours & Pricing
Visitor Center is open daily, year-round, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Christmas Day.
The Lower Cliff Dwelling Trail hours (Please verify hours on the website.):
- September – May: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- June – August: 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
The Upper Cliff Dwelling Trail is only accessible by guided tour. To make a reservation, you must call (928) 467-2241.
Park Entrance Fees:
- Adults: $10/day
- Children (15 and under): Free
For More Information
Tonto National Monument
26260 N. AZ Hwy 188
Roosevelt , AZ 85545