Montezuma Well is a unique geologic feature about 18 miles south of the town of Sedona that produces over 1.5 gallons of water each day. When you visit this place for yourself, you’ll quickly see why it was chosen as a dwelling place by the ancient people whose ruins remain intact over 1,000 years later.
Prior to my first visit to Montezuma Well in December 2021, I had driven past the sign on I-17 for this place dozens of times. Since I had a free day, I took an impromptu solo trip to the Verde Valley to see some of the historic sites in the area. Top on my list was Montezuma Castle, a preserved ruins site nestled into a hillside. I also planned to check V_V (V Bar V) Historic Site off my bucket list, but, as with each of my last three attempts, it was closed this day. This time due to mud.
Since Montezuma Well sits roughly halfway between Montezuma Castle and V_V Ranch, I decided to stop in and check it out. It’s one of several free-admission sites in Arizona managed by the National Parks Service, so I figured why not since I was already nearby.
Not this kind of well
Let’s be real. Isn’t this the image that pops into your head when you hear the term ‘well’? Hardly worth exiting the interstate for when you’re on your way to Sedona or the Grand Canyon, right?
When I first went to Montezuma Well, I was prepared to see an opening in the ground with some water in it. But I wasn’t prepared to witness one of the most mysterious bodies of water in the world or a series of incredibly well-preserved ruins. Bonus: the outlet from the well is truly fascinating.
Much to my surprise, a few minutes into my visit, Montezuma Well vaulted near top of my list of Arizona’s hidden gems. For some reason it just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Honestly, I was more intrigued by this place then the nearby Montezuma Castle ruins that attract visitors in droves.
Cool things to experience at Montezuma Well
- One massive well
- Dozens of ruins
- Cool drainage canal
- Diverse, high desert landscape
As is often the case, I didn’t follow the normal path that most visitors take. If you take the tour as it’s designed, there’s a trail that leads you directly to the well from the parking lot, about 100 yards away. Continue in clockwise fashion and you’re treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding valley and hillsides. Plus, you stroll past several ruins sites that could be mistaken as piles of rubble. A couple minutes later, you can opt for a short side trip down some stairs to the place where the well drains into Beaver Creek.
I started my journey where most people exit. By proceeding in a counterclockwise direction, I checked out the creek first. Think of it: a stream flowing through the parched Arizona landscape fed by a perpetual spring that bubbles up from deep beneath the earth’s surface.
After enjoying a few peaceful minutes overlooking the creek and inspecting the place where the well drains into it, I meandered uphill in the direction of the well. I noticed a few ruins just off the trail but barely gave them a glance as the massive opening in the ground pulled me to it like a magnet.
Video: Quick look at Montezuma Well
My first peek over the rim of the well left me in jaw-dropped awe. As if the pond’s shimmering surface and lush swath of vegetation around it weren’t spectacular enough, my eyes quickly made contact with an ancient dwelling built into the opposite hillside. Its presence would not have been evident had I followed the same traffic pattern as most guests and it makes me wonder how many visitors miss it completely.
Full video: You’ve got to see Montezuma Well near Rimrock, AZ
I rounded out my visit to Montezuma Well by descending a set of stairs out of the brisk December wind and into the calm gigantic bowl, mostly filled with water. A short trail along the fairly flat southern shore of the well takes you through a varied landscape of boulders, trees and bushes. Take the trail all the way to its eastern end and you’ll find yourself looking into the ruins of an ancient, hand-crafted dwelling. When I visited, I couldn’t help imagine a once-thriving community that relied on the well for water and food.
Although the well doesn’t support fish due to high levels of carbon dioxide, the water did meet the irrigation needs of the people who once made their homes here.
Montezuma Well quick facts:
- 368 feet across
- 55 feet deep
- constant 70 degrees (F) water temperature
- contains over 15 million gallons
- replenished with 1.5 million gallons per day
- doesn’t support fish life due to high carbon dioxide levels
- overflow water exits through a long, narrow cave into an ancient canal system
- many nearby structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Where is Montezuma Well located?
Montezuma Well is about 18 miles south of Sedona, AZ. From Interstate 17 at exit 293, go east on Forest Service Road 618 for half of a mile. When you see the turn off for Montezuma Well and head south another 3 miles. Follow the signage to the parking lot, where you can park and explore.
See Montezuma Well on a map
Frequently asked questions about Montezuma Well
Can you swim in Montezuma well?
No. Not only is it against the rules, swimming in the well wouldn’t be smart since it’s loaded with leeches and other things you probably don’t want to come into contact with.
What lives in Montezuma Well?
Biologists have found a variety of leeches, water scorpions and other creatures that have adapted to the cold murky body of water with high levels of carbon dioxide.
How long is the hike to Montezuma Well?
It’s about 500 yards (457 m) from the parking lot to the main lookout point. I’d classify it as more of a walk than a hike. If you walk the entire walkable trail, including down into the well and the short jaunt to the well’s “drain” you won’t log a mile (1.6 km) in total.
Where does Montezuma Well’s water come from?
This is probably the most fascinating feature of Montezuma Well. Geologists agree that the well is replenished by a massive underground spring. Get this: It’s theorized that the water came down as rain and snow 10,000 years ago on mountains up to 40 miles (64 km) to the west.
Make plans to check it out
Do yourself a favor and add Montezuma Well to your Arizona Bucket List and make it a point to check it out the next time you’re in the Verde Valley or Sedona area. The immense size of the well is reason enough to experience it. The ruins, landscape and ancient aqueduct system are icing on the cake.