Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National and the adjacent Sunset Crater Volcano national monuments are often overlooked by tourists in a rush to get to Grand Canyon National Park. But visitors should consider a side trip to these parks, even if it's only taking the scenic loop road and skipping some of the attractions.
Take U.S. 89 out of Flagstaff a dozen miles north to Sunset Crater and then continue on to Wupatki. This scenic detour adds an hour of driving time but the rewards are many if you take the time to explore the Wupatki pueblos.
Plus, this side trip brings travelers to the scenic East Rim Drive and Desert Watchtower upon entering Grand Canyon National Park. The east entrance gate is also less crowded than the South Rim entrance north of Tusayan.
Wupatki itself is 104-room pueblo revealed along a half-mile roundtrip trail. The pueblos, including Wupatki, Wukoki, Lomaki and Box Canyon, are about 800 years old. Wukoki pueblo is reached by a trail of a few hundred yards.
American explorers first discovered Wupatki during an 1851 expedition led by Capt. Lorenzo Sitgreaves. They followed the Zuni, Little Colorado and Colorado rivers from Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico to Yuma. At that time, the Wupatki pueblos were vacant.
Anasazi, Cohonina and Sinagua people lived at Wupatki for about 150 years, leaving around 1225 A.D. when farming the arid land failed. The Wupatki Basin was home to as many as 4,000 people before the area was abandoned. Some may have migrated to Verde Valley and others went northeast to a Kayenta Anasazi region.
The eruption of Sunset Crater circa 1066 spread cinders and ash over a 1,000-square-mile area that made much of the land suitable for farming. But by 1200 ecological conditions changed and the pueblos were gradually abandoned.
The 35-mile (56-kilometer) scenic loop road offers views of the San Francisco Peaks, Wupatki Basin and Painted Desert.
It descends about 2,000 feet from Sunset Crater to Wupatki.
Admission is $25 per vehicle, allowing entry to both Sunset Crater and Wupatki. There is no camping at Wupatki.
Elevation: 4,300 to 6,000 feet
Annual visitation: 194,448*
*The northwestern entrance to Wupataki was closed for several months because a wildfire shut down Sunset Crater National Monument in the spring of 2022.
A detailed Wupatki report from the Museum of Northern Arizona:
Learn about neighboring Sunset Crater National Monument: