Ancient homes built on the sides of cliffs. That’s Navajo National Monument, which offers free tours of the Ancestral Puebloan’s remarkably well preserved cliff dwellings. Marvel at the engineering feats of the Betatakin cliff dwellings on a free guided tour during the summer season. Join one of two daily tours that transports hikers into the ancestral past of many of the Southwest’s American Indian tribes.
For budding explorers, the strenuous 17-mile round-trip hike to Keet Seel tests hikers limits, but rewards with a spectacular archeological site that looks as if the community once there just recently left. Expect steep switchbacks, sandy slopes, rocks, and wading through streams. However, once you see the Keet Seel’s ruins, you’ll be glad you made the trip.
The three cliff dwellings (Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House) at the monument date from 1250 to 1300, and were the home of Ancestral Puebloan farmers. As the nomadic hunter-gatherers who came and went for thousands of years in this area became more adept at farming, they began building villages and forming a distinct culture.
The cliff dwellers thrived for five decades, but then began moving away for reasons still unknown. The dwellings were rediscovered in the late 1800s, and the Navajo National Monument was established in 1909, shortly after President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906—allowing U.S. presidents to proclaim national monuments protecting natural and cultural treasures—into law.
Hikers with a passion for history will especially enjoy exploring this monument. While the cliff dwellings are not easy to get to, the ruins still standing and the cultural treasures preserved are architectural and archeological gems.
The 8:15 a.m. Betatakin Tour follows the Tsegi Point Trail and is a strenuous 5 miles round trip.
The 10:00 a.m. Betatakin Tour follows Sandal and Aspen Trail for a very strenuous 3 miles round trip.
Keet Seel’s self-guided hike requires advanced reservation and a backcountry permit from the Visitor Center. Orientation begins at 8:15 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the day you receive your permit, and attendance is mandatory. All hikers should be on the trail by 9:00 a.m.
Free campgrounds are available at the Sunset View Campground (31 sites) and Canyon View Campground (17 sites). No reservation is required for Sunset View and it has water, restrooms, and is open year-round. Canyon View is closed during the winter months and reservations can be made for large organized books and school groups. Neither campground has a dump station or hook-ups.
*Cliff dwelling tours are closed during the winter
*Keet Seel is closed during the winter and part of spring
Entrance Fee: Free
*Special permits are required for events, filming, photography for publications, and to hike to Keet Seel
Navajo National Monument
PO Box 7717
Shonto, AZ 86045