The Flagstaff area is an outdoors paradise in our opinion, full of awesome recreation opportunities throughout the seasons! But just as cool, is the deep history of the Flagstaff area. Long before western expansion in the United States, Native Americans lived in the area. And around 1050 CE Sunset Crater blew up. Its explosion was seen for hundreds of miles and marked in oral stories passed down through generations of tribes that were in the area. Today, Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument preserve what was left behind by those that lived in the Flagstaff area shortly after the eruption. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument helps explain cinder cones and protects some cool lava flows! You’re able to visit and learn about the pueblos, cultures, lifestyles, ancestry, and even mystery. In this blog post we’ll provide insight on what to expect, how to plan, and tips we have based on our trip.
If you’re in a time crunch, all three national monuments can be visited in one day. We suggest starting Walnut Canyon right when they open at 9am and then visiting Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki afterwards. But that’s not what we did because we had multiple days. During our weekend visit afternoon rain showers were in the forecast which influenced our trip.
The America The Beautiful pass will get you into all three National Monuments. If you are curious where else you can use it check out out blog post on it here.
Wupatki National Monument
We suggest visiting both Wupatki and Sunset Crater in one day. The monuments are “sisters” and are separated by a scenic drive that can easily be made into a loop. You can use an America The Beautiful pass or the entry fee for one park gets you into both parks. On Saturday we started with the scenic drive through Sunset Crater to Wupatki. After visiting all of the Wupatki Pueblos we completed the loop by heading south on US-89 and coming back to Sunset Crater for our visit.
Coming from the south you’ll come to Wukoki Pueblo first. After a short drive you’ll find this seemingly isolated 900 year old pueblo standing out against the high desert shrubs, sand, and rock formations. The walk from the parking lot to the pueblo is very short and easy. You can walk within the pueblo and see Humphrey’s peak towering in the distance. No dogs are allowed on this trail. There are vault toilets at the parking lot. Please do not climb on or carve into pueblo walls, and remember to respect these ancestral homes that are still culturally significant.
Next is the visitor center and Wupatki Pueblo; the largest! To walk around everything, expect to walk at least 0.5 miles including stairs and ramps – this is not flat. The Wupatki Pueblo was constructed about 100 years after Sunset Crater erupted and was once home to 100s of rooms, a ball court, ceremonial kiva, and even residence to early archeologists. The Native American and modern day history of Wupatki is quite fascinating. Looking back, not every decision was the best decision. No dogs are allowed on the pueblo trail or in the visitor center.
Citadel Pueblo & Nalakihu Pueblo
Continuing north you’ll come to two more pueblos, Nalakihu and Citadel Pueblos. Nalakihu is right next to the parking area while the Citadel is a short uphill walk. It’s uniquely built using volcanic rock, which is not common in native american pueblos. For us, this stop was quick as there weren’t rooms to check out. No dogs are allowed on this trail.
Lomaki Pueblo + Box Canyon Dwellings
At the final stop, closest to US-89 (4 miles away) is Lomaki Pueblo and Box Canyon Dwellings. It’s about 0.64 miles out and back to Lomaki. Along the way you’ll see the Box Canyon Dwellings that look like they’re sitting in front of Humphrey’s Peak. Lomaki also has a great view of the San Francisco peaks and multiple rooms still standing! Please do not climb on or carve into pueblo walls, and remember to respect these ancestral homes that are still culturally significant.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
After driving 14 miles south you’ll be back at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This time we stopped at the visitor center and asked the park ranger what was open and what she suggested. Our one regret was not bringing lunch, but we held ourselves over with snacks. Based on what we were interested in, we went straight to the Lava Flow Trail. Unfortunately, some of the other trails were closed due to fire damage from 2022. Also open is the Bonito Lava Flow and Cinder Hills Overlook.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
On Sunday we drove to Walnut Canyon National Monument. The park doesn’t open until 9am; we suggest arriving close to opening, especially during the hotter part of the year. We hiked the Island Trail which is a 0.9 mile loop with sheer drops and an 185-foot climb (240 steps) back to the canyon rim, and is not dog friendly. It’s definitely worth it! We also hiked the Rim Trail that overlooks the canyon. This trail is 0.7 miles, is paved, and dog friendly!
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park
If you have time we also recommend visiting the state park in Flagstaff. We learned so much about the history of Flagstaff on our guided tour. It is definitely worth it!
If you’re interested in our hiking gear check out our blog post on it here.