- Hours: Sites open daily, but the visitor center is closed Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1
- Reservations: Not required
- Cost: National Park entry fee
- Location: Northwest New Mexico, see driving directions below
- How Long: Allow 1.5 hours to drive from I-40 (each way), at least two hours to visit the park and up to a full day to see everything
- Best Time to Visit: Any time, but Chaco Canyon is especially pretty in May when the wildflowers bloom
Chaco CanyonChaco Canyon was the major center of ancestral Puebloan culture between 850 and 1250 AD., and the hub of activity in Four Corners area. The people who lived in Chaco Canyon left behind a well-organized and planned complex of buildings, laid out on a north-south grid and awe-inspiring for their size and complexity.
The Chaco Canyon visitor center includes a small museum, bookstore and restrooms. Stop to pay your entrance fee and pick up a Chaco Canyon map. Get a permit here if you want to hike any of the four moderately-strenuous trails on Chaco Canyon that lead to remote sites and to the tops of the overlooking mesas.
Rangers offer free interpretive programs May through October, and April through October, the Night Sky program takes advantage of the area's dark skies.
A nine-mile, paved loop drive into the heart of Chaco Canyon stops at five Chacoan sites. Self-guided trails begin at each stop, most of them about a 1/4-mile round trip. Each site on Chaco Canyon takes 45 minutes to an hour. Pets are not allowed on the trails. Be sure to use the helpful trail guides available at each stop. The information they provide, coordinated with numbered stops, will help you understand what you're seeing at Chaco Canyon.
While exploring much of Chaco Canyon requires walking up and down stairs, portions of some trails (Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Casa Rinconada) are accessible with assistance, and accessible restrooms are available.
If you're short on time, visit Pueblo Bonito first, then Casa Rinconada. If you have more time, add Una Vida and then the other sites. The sites are open until sunset.
Camping at Chaco CanyonGallo Campground is one mile from the visitor center. Tables, fireplaces and central toilets are provided. You'll find an RV dump station here, but no hookups, and the sites can accommodate vehicles up to 30 feet. Water is available at the visitor center, but no firewood is available here.
Getting to Chaco CanyonAny route to Chaco Canyon will involve driving some distance on dirt roads which are seldom maintained and may become impassable in wet weather. Call (505) 786-7014 to check the road conditions before you go. The nearest gasoline station is 60 miles from Chaco Canyon. Be sure to fill your tank.
The National Park Service recommends entering from the north. Take US 550 three miles south from Nageezi, NM, (or 50 miles west from Cuba, NM). At mile 112.5, turn onto County Road 7900. Follow the signs to Chaco Canyon entrance, 21 miles away. This route includes 16 miles of rough, dirt road.
If you are approaching from I-40, take Exit 53 and follow Highway 371 north. Don't let the signs you see along the way dishearten you. They show the mileage to the north entrance, but as long as the road is passable, you can get there by a route that's about 40 miles shorter. Follow Highway 371 to Highway 9 east (this turn is not well-marked, so pay close attention), then turn north onto Highway 57 and follow the dirt road for 20 miles.
A third route into the park passes through Pueblo Pintado, north on Navajo 46 for 10 miles, then turn left on County Road 7950 for 16 miles and follow the signs to the park. This route goes over 33 miles of dirt roads.
Don't let your road map fool you. While it looks like Highway 57 from Blanco Trading Post goes into Chaco Canyon, it does not. The road is closed at the park boundary.
If You Liked Chaco Canyon, You May Also Like:
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: Extraordinary cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived in the area from approximately A.D. 600 through A.D. 1300.
- Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico: The community in the Frijoles Canyon on the Pajarito Plateau was settled around 1150 A. D., possibly by refugees from Chaco.
- Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
- Wupatki National Monument, Arizona
- Palatki Heritage Site, Sedona, Arizona
- Montezuma Castle, Sedona, Arizona