Walnut Canyon is one of the most prominent gorges on the landscape surrounding Flagstaff. It begins as modest washes south of town, and gradually widens and deepens into an impressive geologic wonder. It is most famous for its human history. Ancient Native Americans lived in cliff dwellings within the curved canyon walls and farmed on the rim. Walnut Canyon National Monument is the place to tour the ruins, but the greater canyon makes for an adventurous hiking journey.
What Makes It Great
The national monument and its historic significance is how most people know Walnut Canyon. It is fascinating to peer into the well-preserved remnants of stone houses that were lived in thousands of years ago. There are two main trails in the park, the half-mile Rim Trail and the one-mile Island Trail loop. The Rim Trail provides a nice overlook of the canyon and interpretive signage on its flora and fauna, but the Island Trail is the way to experience the ruins. Cut into the cliffside and protected with handrails , this trail passes right by many of the dwellings and has signs explaining the lifestyle of their former inhabitants. The park also has a nice visitor center with informative exhibits.
If you want to escape the bounds of the park and explore Walnut Canyon as a wild place, start hiking on the urban trails from J.W. Powell Blvd near Pine Canyon Golf Club and head south then east, linking up with the Arizona Trail. This will take you to the head of Walnut Canyon. Instead of going up to Fisher Point, instead go down into the narrow gorge. This little-traveled passage will take you to dense forests, towering walls, and dark caves. The trail gets hard to follow if you go far enough, so you may have to resort to bushwhacking, but this place is worth exploring for an entire day, or even multiple days.
Who is Going to Love It
Located right off Interstate 40 just east of town, the park makes a great stop if traveling through Flagstaff. It is a worthy addition to a Southwest roadtrip ticklist, and is obviously great for anyone interested in Native American heritage. The hiking in the park is easy and short, but packed with historical attractions. If you are looking for physical activity, try the backwoods version of Walnut Canyon, starting from Flagstaff and seeing how far you can get. Adventure lovers won’t be disappointed with this trek.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the national monument, take I-40 exit 204 and follow signs to Walnut Canyon. Entry is $8.00 per person. As with all parks in the national park system, the America The Beautiful Pass is good for once vehicle entry.
To access the head of Walnut Canyon, which is public land with no fee, start from the urban trail parking on JW Powell Blvd. Hike or bike past Pine Canyon Golf Club going south then east to link up with the Arizona Trail. About 3 miles from the car you will come to a meadow within a wide canyon. The Arizona trail leads up to Fisher Point, but you should instead enter the narrow gorge with a cave feature in the left wall. This is the start of Walnut Canyon. You get also get here by hiking down canyon from Canyon Vista Campground on Lake Mary Road.