After a visit to Monument Valley, we decided to stop at Canyon de Chelly, which is located a little over an hour southeast near Chinle, Arizona. Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a historic park, commemorating the beautiful canyon that has been home to the Navajo people and their ancestors for over a thousand years.
Canyon de Chelly is a bit different from other national monuments we’ve been to because there are native Navajo people living in the canyon. This means that you can drive both the north and south rims of the canyon and stop at the overlooks, but you can’t enter the canyon without a Native American guide. There are several types of tours, but they can be quite expensive, so we opted for the rim drives.
The North Rim is a little over 15 miles to the last overlook. The roundtrip drive can be done rather quickly as it is not even on the national monument, but the overlooks take significantly more time. There are three stops and each one requires a short hike. Both Massacre Cave and Antelope Ruin have a walk of around a quarter mile in order to see the ruins. Mummy Cave is a little shorter, but you aren’t seeing anything from the parking lot. We enjoyed all of these walks to overlooks, and spent over an hour and a half on the North Rim.
The South Rim has many more overlooks. Most of them require walking, but the walks are much shorter, and rarely reach a hundred yards. Only Spider Rock, which is the farthest from the Visitor Center as well as the most beautiful overlook requires a longer walk (again, around a quarter mile).
White House Ruin Trail
The best stop on the South Rim is White House Overlook. This is because it is the trailhead for the only trail in the monument, as well as the one way to get into the canyon without a guide. A short two and half mile trail leads to the canyon floor. The drop is steep, and there is no rail, so keep close to little ones. We found this hike surprisingly interesting, though. As a bonus, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as it looked, either.
The trail to White House Ruin leads through two tunnels down a steep rocky trail. Footing is uneven, but safe. We saw someone attempting to push a stroller down the trail, but that wasn’t a good idea at all. The walk to the canyon floor is beautiful, especially in the morning light.
At the bottom of the canyon the trail turns to the left and follows the river for a short way. Then you can take off your shoes and socks and wade through the ankle deep water (at least that’s how it was in Spring of a very wet year). On the other side you can get a little closer to White House ruin, though a fence keeps you about fifty yards away. There are also locals selling Navajo Art and jewelry.
Be sure to scan the canyon walls. We saw feral goats on the hillside, but cougars, lizards, and even bears are said to be in the area. There are a lot of horses that seem to be lost wandering all over the monument as well.
Canyon de Chelly has a small Visitor Center and giftshop. They have a Junior Ranger program with a booklet than can be printed out online. Our boys were surprised they got a badge, a postcard, a sticker, and an entry into a weekly contest for completing the program.
Canyon de Chelly is an unsung part of the southwest, but it is worth a half day if you are adventuring in northeast Arizona.