Chaco Canyon National Monument Travel Guide

  • Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon
    Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon
    by AlbuqRay
  • Chaco Canyon National Monument
    by goodfish
  • Chaco Canyon National Monument
    by goodfish

Chaco Canyon National Monument Highlights

  • Pro
    MarkJochim profile photo

    MarkJochim says…

     Remote, uncrowded, spiritual, historic 

  • Con
    valdez profile photo

    valdez says…

     There's not a Stone Cold Creamery nearby! 

  • In a nutshell
    zinneke profile photo

    zinneke says…

     Amazing place to find solitude 

Chaco Canyon National Monument Things to Do

  • Great Houses for Hikers

    A handful of the Great Houses involve longer hikes of 2-7 miles, and two of those are on top of the canyon versus the bottom so you'll be scrambling up the cliffs. Pueblo Alto Trail: Includes Great Houses of Kin Kletso, New Alto and Pueblo Alto plus a prehistoric stairway and fantastic overlooks of Pueblo Bonito, Kin Kletso and Chetro Ketl from the...

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  • Chetro Ketl

    This is a large Great House about 1/4 mile from Pueblo Bonito and linked to it by Petroglyph Trail. Although smaller than Pueblo Bonito, the complex's 500 rooms still covered 3 acres, had three stories, 15 small kivas and one very large one. Chetro Ketl is also roughly D-shaped and is notable for having a large, elevated plaza that rises 12 feet...

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  • Pueblo Del Arroyo

    This Great House is also about 1/4 mile from Pueblo Bonito and was constructed over 200 years later. It had about 280 rooms and is unique for a large, round, triple-walled structure that could have been for ceremonial purposes although archeologists haven't found any of the usual clues. About half of this house is still unexcavated but your...

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  • First things first

    If I had a quarter for every time I've said this...Your first stop at every National Park should be the Visitor Center and Chaco is no exception. Here you can browse the exhibits and see a couple of films for an overview of the park's history, chat with the rangers about best trails, pick up brochures and permits, sign up for guided tours, and...

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  • "Pretty House": Pueblo Bonito

    If you only have time to visit one Great House, this is the one!Pueblo Bonito is the Mother Of All Great Houses: it is the largest, one of the oldest, and the most thoroughly studied. Covering 3 acres, it stood as high as 4-5 stories, contained an estimated 700-800 rooms, and at least 37 kivas. Its distinctive "D" shape is positioned with the...

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  • Wetherill Cemetery

    Richard Wetherill was a rancher who became a pioneer explorer of Southwest ruins after stumbling across the fantastic cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Intrigued by accounts of a massive, deserted settlement in a harsh and barren corner of New Mexico, he convinced two wealthy sponsors from New York to foot the bill, and came to Chaco Canyon in 1896 as...

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  • Pueblo Alto Trail

    If you only have time for one hike, this is the one!Pueblo Alto Trail takes you to the top of the north mesa for stunning panoramas of the canyon and the San Juan Basin, and wonderful overlooks of Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl and Kin Kletso. It also forks off to the complex of Pueblo Alto - a spread-out cluster of 4 ruins - and back along the rim...

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  • Visit the Visitor's Center, but Being...

    Again, I visited this place in 2001, so there are many others that have written more than I have, and have better photos.The visitor's center is an important place to visit in this monument. There are a number of very subtle pieces of the ruins here. For example, the movie in the visitor's center took some hour and a half to describe all the...

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  • Things to know: masonry types

    One of the most fascinating things about the ruins is the masonry! Archeologists have determined 5 different types and they help identify the approximate years a structure was built or new blocks of rooms added to an older house. The oldest ruins (such as parts of Bueblo Bonito) have walls of single stones roughly piled and mortared on top of one...

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  • Petroglyph Trail

    This is a 1/4 mile trail that runs along the base of the north canyon wall between Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito - a fun route between both Great Houses. You can pick up a guide at either end of the trail that explains 13 numbered sites including petroglyphs, pictographs, rubble from fallen buildings and graffiti - both old and, sadly,...

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  • The Great Houses - Main Loop Road

    Six of Chaco's Great Houses are accessible with short walks from parking areas on the loop road. Construction on the oldest two (Una Vida and Pueblo Bonito) began around the mid-800's with newer additions added over the next three centuries. The other four (Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo and Casa Rinconada) were constructed after the...

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  • Climb the Hill

    Climb the trail that goes up the cliffs overlooking Chaco Canyon. It is totally worth it. You get fantastic views of the ruins.

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  • Explore the Pueblos

    There are six sites open to the public that are a very short distance from the loop road, Una Vida, located next to the Visitor Center, Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Casa Rinconada. In addition, there are five other sites accessible by trail: the Pueblo Alto complex, Casa Chiquita, Tsin Kletsin, Peñasco Blanco, and...

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  • Examine the masonry styles

    The Chacoans were skilled masons, that these pueblos still stand is a testament to their skills. Over time, their techniques evolved from simple walls one stone thick held together with a generous amount of mud mortar, to this more elegant style found at Pueblo Bonito

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  • Walk in the back country

    The trail to Peñasco Blanco is about 6 miles roundtrip, and well worth the effort. The trail passes by Pueblo del Arroyo, Kin Kletso, and Casa Chiquita. Beyond Casa Chiquita, there is a spur trail that passes by many petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls. After the spur rejoins the main trail, you continue walking along the Chaco Wash. Near the...

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  • Campground at Chaco Canyon

    The primitive campgound at Chaco Canyon National Historic Park is operated by the National Park Service. There are 47 sites and vehicles up to 30 feet long can park here. The limited facilities include flush toilets, fire grates, and picnic tables.The camping fee is $10 and visits are limited to seven days.

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  • Corner Window at Pueblo Bonito

    On the morning of the winter solstice in December, the rays of the rising sun shine through this window and strike the opposite corner of the room behind it.

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  • Chaco Canyon (Pueblo Bonito)

    The builders of Pueblo Bonito knew when they started that they were going to build four or five stories but the walls weren't erected in a single operation. As the height for each story was reached, beams were built into the wall, and the ceiling covered to provide a platform from which to work while raising the walls another stage.

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Chaco Canyon National Monument Transportation

  • Getting there

    Chaco Culture NHP is located about 170 driving miles northwest of Santa Fe, 70 miles west of Cuba, and about 60 miles, give or take a few, south of Farmington or Bloomfield, NM. Directions will vary depending on where you're coming from so see the park website for exact details but here's some things to know:• There is one recommended route into...

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  • Drive, bike, hike the park (combined...

    After a stop at the Visitor Center for information and any necessary permits, you'll jump on the 9-mile, one-way, paved loop road to visit 6 of the main sites. There are parking lots at each (some with restrooms) and you can pick up printed trail guides here or at the Visitor Center. The sites involve walking 1/4 mile to 1 mile round-trip from the...

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  • The Road to Chaco Canyon

    There are two roads into Chaco Canyon, one from the south and one from the east. The one from the south is entirely unpaved and prone to becoming impassable if muddy. The road to the east is partially paved but can also get full of ruts. The road from the south is more scenic.

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Chaco Canyon National Monument Warnings and Dangers

  • Sacred, wild and fragile

    Many of today's pueblos trace their heritage to the Chacoans, and the canyon is considered an ancestral home. It isn't just a place where people lived but worshiped, died and were buried so the ruins are considered sacred ground. They ask that you please treat them with respect and don't enter areas that are roped off or not clearly marked as...

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  • Artifacts

    Unfortunately, vandalism, theft of artifacts and damage to fragile ecological sites and structures is a huge problem for our National Parks. Many thousands of ancient archeological ruins and burial sites are scattered across America's Southwest, and constant wind, rain and ice erosion often uncover bones and artifacts that provide valuable clues...

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  • Chaco is hot and dry, be prepared!

    If you are planning on doing any walking in the park, be sure you are prepared. Take lots of water, proper walking shoes, and a hat or sunglasses. Drinking water is available at the visitors center.

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Chaco Canyon National Monument What to Pack

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Pueblo Alto trail, Chaco Culture NHP

    by goodfish Updated Oct 23, 2011

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Luggage and bags: Daypacks

    Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Lightweight clothing for summer, sunglasses, hat, sturdy shoes with a decent tread. Pack layers, long underwear and gloves for winter. A poncho for rain is probably a good idea.

    Toiletries and Medical Supplies: If you have specific issues such as diabetes, insect allergies, asthma or other challenges requiring specific or immediate medication, make SURE you have your inhalers, anaphylaxis antidotes, insulin, etc. along as you will be a long way from a hospital. A spare pair of prescription glasses are a good idea too. A first-aid kit, sunscreen and wet wipes are musts.

    Photo Equipment: Extra batteries and memory chips. A zoom lens is great if you have one

    Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: Besides the usual: FOOD, firewood or charcoal (none available at the park), coolers with ice, flashlight, extra batteries and something to haul drinking water in. A thermos for toting hot beverages would be good if visiting during the winter.

    Miscellaneous: For day-tripping: FOOD, cooler with ice, beverages other than water, large water bottles, binoculars, and make sure your gas and radiator tanks have plenty in them and your tires aren't low. Coming in the recommended route, the convenience store near Nageezi is the last and best place to stop and make a double-check to see if you have everything you need. It's 21 miles back there from the park on 13 miles of slow, teeth-rattling, washboard dirt road if you spaced off your lunch.

    Related to:
    • Camping
    • National/State Park
    • Hiking and Walking

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Chaco Canyon National Monument Off The Beaten Path

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Abiquiu Reservoir 2 more images

    by goodfish Updated Oct 23, 2011

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    If you have the time, this is a nice alternative route to Chaco over the Jemez Mountains, through Santa Fe National Forest, and by beautiful Abiquiu Reservoir. The reservoir offers campsites (some with hookups), good fishing, boat ramps, picnics areas and a great overlook from the road. You'll also go through the town of Abiquiu, which is close (13 miles) to Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted for many years.

    To go this route, take 84/285 north out of Santa Fe to Española. Continue through town to the Fairview/Riverside intersection (Walgreen's and the Bank of America are on the corners). Turn left on Fairview to cross the river; then turn right on Paseo de Oñate (U.S. 84). Stay on 84 until you come to the reservoir and the road splits off to 96. Take 96 west, through Coyote and Gallina, towards Cuba. About 4 miles north of Cuba, head west on 550 to the Chaco turnoff, 3 miles south of Nageezi. This route takes about 4 hours to the canyon and while the mountain road is smooth and well maintained, it could have traction issues in the winter.

    See the attached web addresses for info on the reservoir and Ghost Ranch.

    Related to:
    • Camping
    • Arts and Culture
    • Fishing

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Chaco Canyon National Monument Favorites

  • RACCOON1's Profile Photo

    by RACCOON1 Written Jun 29, 2004

    Favorite thing: The trip to Chaco Canyon was on the final leg of our tour through northern New Mexico.
    We drove south from Farmington on highway 44 then took the dirt road turn off to the park ( a 45 minute drive on the dirt road ).

    The drive into the park and out ( south to Interstate 40 ) is quite a journey . We did it in April.

    When you get on to Interstate 40 you realize that you have been somewhere unique. The land is flat and barren .

    Fondest memory: Chaco Canyon is the site of the largest pre-European city north of Mexico . The Anasazi inhabited the scity between 800 AD and 1200 AD.

    There were other tourists in the park when we were there. One lady from Vermont and four people from Germany .

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