Navajo National Monument is tucked off a small road in northern Arizona, about a 90-minute drive from Page. It encompasses a sprawling canyon, which, in its own right, is quite beautiful with the reds and oranges seeping from the canyon walls. An ancient, overgrown forest with gamble oaks, Douglas firs and quaking aspens fills the canyon.
That’s why it’s the ruins at Navajo National Monument that set this site apart from others. Betatakin, which can be viewed from the overlook of Sandal Trail, consists of the remains from an ancient village in an oversized, gaping alcove. These cave dwellings, which were occupied between 1250 and 1300, are the most accessible to visitors; in addition to being able to view them from the rim, there are free guided hikes offered by the National Park Service into the canyon.
Though Betatakin is the main draw at Navajo National Park, for hikers who don’t mind a long day hike or can rough it in the backcountry for a night, there is a 17-mile round-trip trail that leads to Keet Seel, a settlement where up to 150 people lived at a time. Archeological evidence suggests that people lived at Keet Seel as early as 950 and the last people abandoned the site in 1300, when they sealed up storerooms with pottery filled with corn, suggesting that they planned to return some day.
A third ancient dwelling protected by Navajo National Monument, Inscription House, cannot be visited or seen by travelers passing through the park.
Overall, the park is small but well kept and clean. The campgrounds are quiet, dark and shaded. The park rangers we encountered were exceptionally knowledgeable about the cave dwellings, cultural history, geology and surrounding area. Due to its size, you can enjoy the park in a day, unless you’d like to spend the night at Keet Seel before hiking back in.
- The Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time but the rest of Arizona and the Hopi Nation does not. When you visit Navajo National Monument during the summer, it is one hour ahead of the rest of the state.
- There are two guided hikes to Betatakin every morning throughout the summer months, but you have to sign up in advance. The hike is moderately strenuous with a 700 foot change in elevation. It is a five-mile round trip.
- Campsites are first-come, first-served. Try to snag one facing west for a good view of the sunset.
- Drink lots of water—it’s a desert out there!
- Bring something to do in the downtime in the evenings like a book or game because this site has very sporadic evening ranger programs whereas other parks have similar programs every night.
- There is no entrance fee to enjoy Navajo National Monument, but donations are appreciated.