Walnut Canyon National Monument
Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Smashed Penny Machine: No
Walnut Canyon is a small park located just outside of Flagstaff. The park is known for the ruins of ancient cliff dwellings and amazing views. The park is not a very large park. Most of it’s land is back country. The main part of the park consist of a small visitor’s center and two trails. The Island Trail, which descends into the canyon, and Rim Trail which is an accessible trail at the top of the canyon.
We arrived at the park just before park opening. We stopped in the Visitor’s Center to get Jr Ranger books. We had spoken with the rangers at Bandelier a few days before and she highly suggested Island Trail. I highly suggest Island Trail but this is a hard trail. If you have problems with taking the stairs do not attempt this trail. Island Trail starts just behind the Visitor’s Center. Part of the Jr Ranger booklet was for the kids to count the stairs they climbed. We counted somewhere around 400 stairs going down.
Once you reach the bottom of the stairs, the trail hugs around the base of a cliff face. Along the trail you’ll pass the remains of about 20 cliff dwellings. There are many more ruins visible along the opposite canyon wall. The trail is a little narrow and you cannot see the bottom of the canyon from the trail so keep kids close and stay on the trail. There were a few spots where the trail went under the cliff face. Taller people may have to duck.
The kids had a great time imagining what life would have been like for the people who once populated the cliffs. We also had the chance to see many lizards sunning themselves in the morning sun and several squirrels. The trail around the cliff dwellings is mostly flat and not a hard walk. The real challenge of the trail comes at the end of your hike. The 400 or so steps you walked down, you now have to walk back up. There are plenty of benches to rest along the way. Be sure you take water with you before you leave the Visitor’s Center. Despite the cool air temperature, we were all very hot and sweaty by the time we got to the top.
The kids finished their Jr Ranger books while other members of our party shopped the small bookstore or watched the film about the people who once called the canyon home in the museum.
Overall: Walnut Canyon is a hidden gem. The park was active on a Monday morning but not crowded. The scenery even from the top of the rim was breathtaking. The Island Trail hike was worth the work if you are able to hike it. Take your time. I would suggest planning to spend an hour or two in the park to explore it. This was unexpectedly one of my favorite stops of this trip.