Explore the ancient ruins of Wupatki National Monument and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time

Explore Wupatki National Monument ruins

Wupatki is the Hopi word for “tall house”. It’s also the name of a national monument in Northern Arizona that makes it possible for us to experience dozens of ancient ruins occupied by native dwellers over 900 years ago.

Although the location may not seem inhabitable by modern standards, evidence reveals this area was once bustling with a community of people who subsisted on corn, beans and squash that they grew in the hills and washes.

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It’s hard to imagine surviving the sweltering summer heat and harsh winters with no modern conveniences, but the ancients found a way. They also figured out how to grow crops, harvest wild game and stay hydrated.

Wupatki National Monument ruins fast facts:

  • More than 800 ruins spread across a 55-square-mile park (142 sq km)
  • Largest structure contains over 100 rooms
  • Located 30 miles north-northeast of Flagstaff, AZ
  • Open year round

The largest structure contains more than 100 rooms. 

According to scientists’ best estimates, the people of Wupatki abandoned these villages around 1225 AD. Today, we can walk among the ruins of dozens of preserved ancestral pueblos dispersed across hundreds of acres. The largest structure, adjacent to the visitor center, contains more than 100 rooms.

All of the dwellings are fascinating but my favorite was Wukoki (big house) Pueblo – located 2.5 miles northeast of the visitor center. As I explored this micro-town built by its occupants, it wasn’t hard to imagine a small, thriving community that spanned a few generations under the family tree of a clan that valued quality craftsmanship and expansive views.

Notches and passageways in the three-story structure that was built to last reveal the builders utilized space well and figured out how to moderate temperatures in their homes with strategically placed holes to facilitate air flow.

To the south of the spread of pueblos, linked together like condos, is a relatively flat, smooth slab of flagstone that no doubt served as a place for family get togethers.

While exploring the site, I imagined that each day of toiling for subsistence concluded with a gathering on this massive patio to share stories and watch the sun set. I wonder how many ceremonies were performed on this massive flagstone courtyard in the heart of their little community.

See an overview of all the pueblos on nps.gov

If you’re looking for fascinating sites to explore in northern Arizona, be sure to add the ancient ruins of Wupaki National Monument to your itinerary. It’s only a few miles off Highway 89A that runs between Flagstaff and Page, AZ. Spend a couple hours here and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled many centuries into the past.

Best time to visit

Any time of year is good; however, spring and fall are when you’ll experience the most comfortable weather.

Pass and permit info

Directions from Flagstaff (closest town):

  • Take Hwy 89 north 26 miles and go east (right) onto Loop Road for 13.6 miles to the visitor center.
  • Visit nps.gov/wupa for full details on park hours, tours, special events and more.

Map to Wupatki Ruins National Monument

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About the author

In 2014, Paul Fiarkoski went on a hiking trip to world-famous Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon. After three days of hiking and wading in the turquoise pools beneath 100-foot waterfalls, his perspective of Arizona changed forever. He created an Arizona bucket list and began checking places off.

Arizona Bucket List Adventure Guide & Journal includes his list of top 50 natural wonders.

2 Comments

  1. I’m constantly amazed by the amount of treasures in Arizona that I have yet to stumble upon. Definitely going to add this to the list!

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve been going hard at it for a solid eight years and I’m still checking places off my Arizona bucket list.

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