Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument is a unique historical site in Flagstaff, Arizona. The monument has two hikes and the opportunity to see a lot of wildlife. There is also a Visitor Center, and our children enjoyed earning a Junior Ranger badge. 

Walnut Canyon

Walnut Canyon is a unique canyon for ancient ruins.

Walnut Canyon is an ancient ruin site. This site is unique, though because of how the ruins were built. All up and down the canyon, there is a specific soft layer of rock. This layer has eroded more quickly than the layer above or below it, which created a perfect niche for a village of the Sinagua people. Walking along this crack in the rock is like walking along a street in New York and passing apartment buildings, all on the same level. We had never seen an ancient ruin quite like it before. 

The other interesting part of Walnut Canyon is that there is a large “island” in the canyon. There is a small ledge connecting the island to the side of the canyon, and you can walk along this ledge to walk around the ruins on the island. It was fascinating to see how they built their homes here.

This is the island that the ruins are located on. The trail walks around the rock outcropping.

Rim Trail

The Rim Trail is flat, paved, and easy.

There are two hikes leading away from the Visitor Center. The first is a short rim trail hike that allows you to overlook Walnut Canyon. It also passes a mesa top ruin. There are interpretive signs along the way, and each of them gives information about the plants in the area and how they were used by the Sinagua people. The trail is flat, paved, and short, running just 0.7 mile round trip.

There are overlooks along the trail where you can look into Walnut Canyon and spot ruins.
There are also a few ruins along this trail close to the Visitor Center.

Island Trail

This is where the Island Trail goes.

The second hike walks down through the ruins in the canyon. This hike is called the Island Trail because there is a narrow part of the mesa that sticks out into the canyon. The trail drops quite a bit, and then circles the island. The drop includes over 300 stairs and a 185 foot drop in elevation , so this hike might not be for everyone, but it doesn’t go all the way to the canyon floor. It only drops to the soft layer of rock where the homes were built. Of course, what you drop, you must climb back up.

There are a lot of stairs to walk down (and up) on the Island Trail.
Once you are down the stairs, the trail is flat and easy around the loop.

Though many have crumbled, you can walk right along in front of them as they are built back in the crevice in the rock. Not only that, but you can see a few neighboring homes on the opposite side of the canyon. The Island hike would be considered moderate, but our six year old easily made it. 

There are ruins all around the Island Trail. It is so cool to see them built right into this ledge.
There are signs along the way, and some of the sites let you walk inside.
The rocks create a nice overhang for these home. You can still see the fire and smoke scorch marks.
The trail loops back around to where you came down, and then you climb back to that point at the top of the picture.

Tips for Families

Walnut Canyon National Monument has a nice Visitor Center and a good small museum. Kids can work on the Junior Ranger program, which helps them learn a little more of the history of the park. Our boys also enjoyed looking for coati, which are occasionally seen in the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any.

  • The park closes at 5:00, so they don’t allow you to start hiking the trails after a certain time. 4:30 for the Rim Trail, and 4:00 for the Island trail. Make sure to plan your itinerary accordingly.
  • If you don’t want to hike the Island Trail, there is a large overlook so you can see the island in the canyon. You will not be able to view the ruins on the island, but can see a few across the canyon.
  • This park will be hot in the summer. Be prepared if you hit the trail with water and sunscreen.
  • There are lots of things to do near Flagstaff, check out our list. And make sure to visit Wupatki National Monument if you enjoy Native American history.

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