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Discover Navajo Nation: Canyon de Chelly

Welcome to another article in our series, “Discover Navajo Nation”. Today we are excited to explore the beautiful and historic, Canyon de Chelly, pronounced “canyon d’shay”. The name “Chelly” is based on the Navajo word, “Tséyiʼ”, which means “canyon” (literally “inside the rock” < tsé “rock” + -yiʼ “inside of, within”). Canyon de Chelly was not only home to the Navajo, but also the previous Ancestral Puebloans (or Anasazi) for nearly 5,000 years which is longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. Still today, Navajo families make their homes, raise livestock, and farm the lands in the canyons. As we dive deeper into the Navajo culture and explore everything they have to offer, we want to remind everyone to be respectful when traveling and always read up on local and regional updates for the area you will be visiting.

About Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly is located at 5,500 feet above sea level and has canyon walls that stretch 1,000 feet down or up depending on if you’re looking up or down. Spring can be cool and windy with highs ranging from 50 to 70 and lows of around 35 degrees. It is encouraged to not travel the canyons during any kind of bad weather as you could run into dust storms and canyon flooding. If you’re traveling in the summer, it will be hot and dry with highs ranging from 85 to 100 and lows of around 50 degrees. Fall is often warm and often wet with highs from 60 to 80 and lows of around 40 degrees. If you are making travel plans for the fall, you can expect lightning, thunderstorms, and flash floods so please check the weather before making the trip. Winters are cold and breezy with highs from 40 to 60 and lows of at least 18 degrees. It isn’t uncommon for the canyon walls to see at least 1-4 inches of snow and freezing nighttime temperatures.

What to Do

If you’re looking for ideas on what to do, then we have some ideas for you! The first thing we recommend starting with is the Canyon de Chelly Welcome Center, it is free to enter and you can pick up a park map and browse the park store. The Welcome Center and parking lot gates open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day so make sure to plan accordingly.

If you aren’t big on hiking, then we have the perfect way for you to see the park. Take a scenic drive on the two paved rim drives which lead to overlooks that provide breathtaking views of the canyon below. We recommend allowing two hours to visit the three overlooks on the North Rim Drive. This route is best for morning photos. If you want to do the South Rim Drive, we recommend planning for two hours with stops at six overlooks. This route is best for afternoon photos and it’s important to note that the overlooks are open year-round.

Recommendations Based on Time

2 Hours – Visit all 6 overlooks on South Rim Drive OR all 3 overlooks on North Rim Drive.

1/2 Day – Visit all 9 overlooks on South and North Rim Drive OR take a half day canyon tour.

1 Day – Visit all 9 overlooks on South and North Rim Drives PLUS take a half day canyon tour OR join an all-day canyon tour.

2 Days – Visit all 9 overlooks on South and North Rim Drives PLUS join an all-day guided tour and visit our sister parks nearby at Navajo National Monument or Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site.

Hiking & Camping

If you’re looking for a hike to get a better view and history of the canyons, you can participate in a ranger-led program that includes hikes and talks starting in August. You can check at the Welcome Center for the current activity schedule. You can also plan on camping if you want to spend more than a day taking in the culture and beautiful landscape. Camping at the Cottonwood Campground is first-come, first-serve and there are no showers or hookups. Call Navajo Parks and Recreation Department at 928-674-2106 for details.

Guided Canyon Tours

Enjoy a tour into the canyon by vehicle, horseback, or hiking. There are private companies registered with the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department (NPRD) that provide phenomenal canyon tours within the park. Please contact the companies directly for prices, reservations, and availability. Reservations are recommended from March to October. Use of private vehicles, ATVs, UTV’s or motorbikes for tours is not permitted. A listing of Tour Companies is available at the NPRD office at the entrance of the Cottonwood Campground. Call 928-674-2106 for more information.

Current Updates from National Park Service (as of 12/1/2021)

  • White House Overlook and Trail ClosedWhite House Overlook and Trail, one of seven overlooks and the only public trail on the South Rim Drive, remains closed because of safety and law enforcement concerns.
  • Mask Requirement for COVID-19 Prevention and ProtectionConsistent with CDC guidance regarding areas of substantial transmission, visitors to Canyon de Chelly NM, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask inside all park buildings. The Mask Mandate on the Navajo Nation remains in effect.

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