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Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Arizona

Traveling in Arizona Wupatki

Wupatki  National Monument and Sunset Crater in Arizona are open year-round, except Christmas Day. The Visitor Center hours are from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, and the Wupatki Pueblo is open to the public only when the center is open as you have to go through the visitors center and walk up the path to get to the ruins. The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle which includes everyone in it, good for both Sunset Crater and Wupatki, or free if you have one of the qualifying National Park passes.  Your fee is good for 7 days at both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments.

Explore the Indian Ruins and Wide Open Spaces of Wupatki


Wupatki National Monument is north of Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a great day trip for those interested in Native American history and culture, geology, and the high desert landscape. You’ll see some of the most beautiful and well-preserved Anasazi Indian ruins in the southwest. The loop road through the Monument is also perfect for RV travelers, with camping options available nearby.


Standing at the pueblo known as Wupatki, looking out across vast open space and endless, often blue sky to the horizon-it’s hard to imagine people actually once lived here. But they did.

Until about 800 years ago and for thousands of years before that, Native American cultures made this high desert landscape their home. They grew crops and traded goods among their own and other cultures.

Wahputki Ancient InhabitantsA notable influx of Anasazi, descendants of the modern-day Hopi Indians, occurred following the eruption of Sunset Crater in the 11th century. Ash from the volcano improved the soil for agriculture. Eventually, though — and apparently very suddenly – the residents of Wupatki and other nearby pueblos abandoned these desert dwellings around the year 1250.



Today, the reason these indigenous people left the area is still up for speculation, yet they did leave behind much evidence of their collective life on the edge of the Painted Desert, including several well-preserved Indian ruins constructed from the signature red Moenkopi sandstone found all over the plateau.


Image of Wupatki Ruins

Located about a 20-minute drive from Flagstaff to the entrance of what is now a 56-square-mile National Monument, these pueblos are known as Wupatki (meaning “Tall House” in Hopi), Wukoki, Lomaki, Nalakihu, and the Citadel, which appear to emerge right out of the bedrock. I recommend making the time, if you can, to stop and see them all. Here’s a map of Wupatki and the loop road to help you plan your visit.


Drive the Loop

You can explore the Monument in one direction, driving and stopping at numerous sites along the 35-mile paved loop road – Forest Service Road 545 — beginning (or ending) in two locations, 15 miles apart, along Highway 89 north of Flagstaff.

It could take you about 2 hours to see the 5 main sites within the Monument, but you could easily spent a full day here.


These are the highlights of the loop, beginning at the entrance 12 miles north of Flagstaff….


Sunset Crater Bonito Lava Flow

Bonito Lava flow: This impressive old lava flow covers area of approximately 2 miles. You can view some of it right from the road, which passes through it, or walk alongside the flow on the first two miles of the O’Leary Peak Trail, which departs from Bonito Campground. If you have the time and inclination, you can continue five more miles up the switchbacks on the gated Forest Service Rd. to the summit of O’Leary.


Sunset Crater National Monument and Visitor Center: This is the entrance to Wupatki National Monument as well, so you have to pass through this entrance gate even if you won’t be stopping at Sunset Crater. If you do have the time, though, take an hour or two to visit the Sunset Crater Visitor Center, take a self-guided tour along the easy 1-mile Lava Flow Loop Trail, and maybe climb a cinder cone on the steep, 1-mile Lenox Crater Trail.


Painted Desert Vista: I would take at least a few minutes to pull off and take in the amazing panorama of a rainbow of colors, cinder cones, buttes and lava flows. This is also a great spot for a picnic.
Wukoki Pueblo: Take the spur road and an easy half-mile walk out to this impressive dwelling, which is more like an artistic extension of the huge rock on which it sits than a separate structure.

Wupatki Pueblo and Visitor Center: This is crown jewel of the park, with a beautiful interpretive visitor center, then a .5-mile walk to a true work of art with 100 rooms, a community room, and a ball court. Also don’t miss the fascinating geologic feature called the “blow hole.” (The trail is paved and handicapped accessible to an overlook but not all the way to the pueblo itself.)

• Doney Mountain Picnic Area and trail: This is a beautiful spot for a picnic lunch, located about 9 miles before you get back to Hwy 89. You can also enjoy views of the Wupatki Basin from the short nature trail.
• The Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos: These are very short trails – about .2 miles one way – but they’re a bit rocky and uneven in places. Also very much worth the stop and walks.
• Lomaki and Box Canyon Dwellings: Located about 4 miles from Hwy 89 is this two-story, multi-room structure with smaller structures nearby on the edge of Box Canyon.


RV and Tent Camping Nearby

Just before the entrance to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments is Bonito Campground, which permits RVs and trailers less than 42 feet with a 14-day stay limit. There are 44 first-come, first-served sites available at $22/night but no hookups.  If you have a Senior Pass or the National Park Disabled Pass then the fee is only $11. The campground is open from May through mid-October only.


Another nearby, year-round option to the north of Wapatki National Monument is the Cameron Trading Post RV Park, with pull-through spaces and full hookups at $35 plus tax per night or $350 plus tax per month. These are the 2017 rates. This is a good location if you’re planning to visit the Grand Canyon via the east entrance near Desert View or planning to continue northbound after seeing Wupatki.

If you are RVing, Vandwelling, or Camping in Arizona, we are sure you will enjoy these National Monuments, just check the weather before you go.


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