In the vast red desert landscape of Arizona, in the same state as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, there is a unknown canyon that is comparable to these two famous national parks, both in terms of its beauty and splendor.
We are talking about the Canyon De Chelly National Monument, a protected natural area of about 131 square miles located in Apache County, in the northeastern corner of Arizona, established as a National Monument in 1931.
The Canyon De Chelly, located within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, is without a doubt a majestic place, with its two protruding sandstone soaring walls that form imposing cliffs up to 984 ft meters high.
Deep in the canyon it’s easy to see the Chinle Wash, unusual vegetation and spectacular centuries-old adobe settlements of the ancient Anasazi (which you can also find in the Mesa Verde National Park) built directly into the cliffs.
Canyon de Chelly, which in turn is formed by two canyons (Muerto Canyon and Monument Canyon), branches out into numerous smaller canyons, creating an intricate maze of over 25 miles.
What is the Best Way to Visit Canyon De Chelly?
This natural wonder is well-protected by the Navajo, who do not allow excursions inside the canyon except by guided tour (strictly organized by them). The only exception is the White House Ruins Trail, which leads to the only Anasazi ruins that can be visited for free admission.
Alternatively, you can explore the along the edges of the canyon, where there are a series of ten outlooks spectacular views that stretch across South Rim Drive and North Rim Drive (we’ll talk about it in a few minutes).
The other option is to book tours with Navajo guides who will accompany you at the bottom of the canyon. The tours are available in vehicles, horseback or on foot and are run by several companies, which you can find here.
The White House Ruins Trail
This is the only point where you can access the bottom of the canyon without a Navajo guide and it takes about 40 minutes to walk down and an hour to climb up. The steep trail is beautiful and at the end you will get a close view of the ruins. You will find facilities both at the beginning and the end of the trail (no pets allowed).
Visit Canyon De Chelly from above: The Overlooks along the Edges
Calculate 2 hours to visit the 3 viewpoints on North Rim Drive, where the best pictures are taken in the morning; spend another 2 hours visiting the other 7 overlooks on South Rim Drive, where better pictures are taken in the afternoon.
Here are some sights that you won’t want to miss:
- Junction Overlook: Above the point where the 2 main canyons branch off.
- White House Overlook: Where the trail mentioned above starts.
- Sliding House Overlook: Provides a good view of more Anasazi ruins.
- Spider Rock Overlook: A phenomenal view of two twin pinnacles 78 ft high just 197 ft from the edge of the canyon.
- Massacre Cave Overlook: Where, in 1895, about one hundred Navajo were massacred by a Spanish expedition.
- Mummy Cave Overlook: Here you can admire other incredible and well-preserved Anasazi ruins.
- Antelope House Overlook: Here there are truly magnificent scenic views.
Canyon de Chelly Map
There is no fee to enter Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
Places to Stay near Canyon de Chelly
Hotels in the immediate vicinity (e.g. the Thunderbird Lodge, where you can also book Canyon de Chelly tours) fill up quickly, so it’s best to look in advance.
In any case, if you are not set on sleeping immediately next to the canyon but are content to stay somewhere at a short and reasonable distance instead, you can look in the town of Chinle, where you will find the Holiday Inn Canyon De Chelly, one of the more popular hotels, with cabin-style furniture, many amenities and excellent cuisine, all at just a 10 minutes drive from the park.
Even those traveling farther distances, about 3 hours from Canyon de Chelly, you can choose to stay in Page, which is also great for visiting Antelope Canyon, as well as Flagstaff, which is ideal if you also visit the Grand Canyon.
How Many Days? Tips to Plan an Itinerary
- In half a day you can see all 10 overlooks on Scenic Drive.
- If you have a full day, in addition to the edge tour, you can also go on the White House Ruins Trail, or on a half-day paid tour.
- In 2 days you can combine the scenic tour and the White House Ruins Trail with a paid full day tour.