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Canyon de Chelly Overview

Canyon de Chelly is a National Monument that lies within the Navajo Nation in far northeastern Arizona. Formed over millions of years by water flow and land uplifts, the canyon is breathtaking, with colorful, layered walls rising up to towering heights. The flat, fertile plain within the canyon distinguishes it from many of the other canyons in the southwest United States. With natural water sources, the area was an ideal location for the ancient Puebloan people to settle down, build homes, and raise crops. Ruins from these civilizations can still be visited today.

There are several different points of interest within Canyon de Chelly. One stop I would recommend is the White House ruin (pictured below) — there is an overlook on the South Rim Drive that you can get to on your own, or a relatively short trail you can hike to actually visit the ruin (600′ elevation change, 1.25 miles one way). If you are not up for the long hike to the Keet Seel Ruins, the White House Ruin would be a good alternative, though you cannot walk within the ruins. I would also definitely suggest checking out Spider Rock (pictured above). This impressive sandstone spire can also be viewed from the South Rim Drive; there is an impressive overlook with a great view! If you have time to take a tour (available through privately owned companies), you probably would not regret it!

There is a Visitor Center for the monument, complete with the usual Visitor Center features (short video, gift shop, etc.), with one interesting exception: as at other National Monuments, you can receive a passport stamp at the Visitor Center, which is kind of a fun (free) souvenir!

To be frank, I would not say that Canyon de Chelly alone is enough to be a primary point of interest because it is quite out of the way. However, if you are in the general area for Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and/or Keet Seel, it is worth a visit to Canyon de Chelly, even just a quick one!

White House Ruin Canyon de Chelly Arizona

The White House Ruin viewed from the south rim.

Logistics

Canyon de Chelly is located near the Arizona/New Mexico border. It can be reached using the US-191, which intersects with both the I-17 and the I-40. See the pin on the map to take you directly to the entrance and visitor center. 

Once there, everything is very accessible and well marked (pick up a map at the Visitor’s Center). The overlook drive I mentioned above is paved, so 4-wheel drive isn’t necessary. The hike to the White House ruin is the only hike in the area that is self-guided; all others you will have to utilize a Navajo-led guide service. 

Gear and Gadgets

Very little, if any, special gear is needed for a visit to Canyon de Chelly. If you’ll be hiking to the White House ruins, make sure you have decent footwear and plenty of water. Also, the trail is often exposed to the sun, so lather on the sunscreen and wear a hat. Check out my Day Trip Gear Guide if you need some inspiration on what to bring!

Further Reading

Day Trip Gear Guide

Photography Gear and Gadgets

Outdoors and Wilderness First Aid

National Monument Website

About The Author

Jeremy Meek is a native Arizonan with a passion for adventure and discovery of unique experiences. Whether exploring Arizona or setting out on an adventure abroad, Jeremy is constantly scouting truly great adventures and experiences.

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