Cliff Dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument is east of Flagstaff, Arizona and has beautiful cliff dwellings in a serene forested canyon. There is a paved walking path inside the monument with excellent interpretive signage describing the ruins and the Sinagua people that once lived here. There are also great descriptions of the plant and animal life as you walk the trail.

Some of these dwellings are near the bottom of the canyon and close to the once flowing river (it was dammed to create Lake Mary and provide water for Flagstaff) – but even back when the Sinagua inhabited the area, the river did not flow year round and the natives had to store water for the dry times.

The monument lies within the Coconino National Forest and there are several great campsites in the forest surrounding the monument. These campsites make the perfect base camp for exploring Walnut Canyon. But wait…there’s more! The Arizona Trail is just north and west of the monument and accessible from Forest Road 303 (East Old Walnut Canyon Road). West along FR 303 and past the trailhead for the Arizona Trail, there are more trails in Peaceful Valley Memorial Park on Campbell Mesa. There is certainly plenty to do in this area.

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Where in The World?

I’ve found many great campsites in the Coconino National Forest to the north and to the east of Walnut Canyon National Monument.

Camping Elevation: 6,600 feet

North Section

The area north of Walnut Canyon National Monument is a popular place to camp and has many excellent campsites. Since it is more popular, you are more likely to have neighbors than when camping east of the monument.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 10.719’ W 111 29.934’

Directions to Camping Area: From Flagstaff, Arizona take I-40 east and watch for the Walnut Canyon National Monument exit (exit 204 for Walnut Canyon Road). Drive south on Walnut Canyon Road for 2 1/2 miles and turn left (east) on Forest Road 303 (Cosnino Road). This is a popular area for camping and there are several good campsites suitable for RVs on both sides of this forest road.

North Camping Area Map

East Section

The area east of Walnut Canyon National Monument has fewer visitors (than the north section) and is a great place to camp if you prefer more peace and quiet…just avoid camping next to the Northern Arizona Shooting Range, which is about 4 miles down Forest Road 128.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 10.725’ W 111 26.261’

Directions to Camping Area: From Flagstaff, Arizona take I-40 east to exit 211, for Winona. Head south on Winona Ranch Road (FR 82) for about 1 1/2 miles until you reach FR 128 on your right. Head west on FR 128 and you will find campsites along this forest road and roads branching from it.

East Camping Area Map

Walnut Canyon National Monument RV Camping Journal

September 6, 2011

I’m camped off FR 9172P north of Walnut Canyon National Monument.

This campsite is very open with juniper and pinyon pine trees spread out on the grassy hills. It’s a great spot with plenty of sun for solar panels. This is the closest I’ve camped to Flagstaff so far. It feels a bit like the Verde Valley here. The vegetation is mostly small shrubs, juniper trees, and pinyon pines, with a few tall ponderosa pines here and there. There are more ponderosa pines toward the canyon. It is much more open here than in the tall pine forest and I can see the horizon once again.

Recreation: I hiked the Arizona Trail south from FR 303 to an overlook of Walnut Canyon, just inside the monument. The view wasn’t as great as the view found inside the monument along the walking path. However, it was a good hike through ponderosa pine forest.

I took a couple hikes to Walnut Canyon by first biking south on FR 9172P. I found some excellent views of the canyon here. This road becomes rough and is suitable for high clearance vehicles only.

Weather: It’s early September. Coming down from 8,000 feet to 6,600 feet, it feels noticeably warmer here; perhaps 10 degrees warmer. It’s a bit too hot at times with highs in the uppers 80s. Nighttime lows are perfect as it only drops to about 50. I’ve had highs in the 80s every day, but it looks like it may start to cool down to the 70s soon. All I had for rain was a couple sprinkles, until yesterday and last night when we got some good downpours. There are several puddles on the road now. I’ve seen many clouds and storms in the days past, but no substantial rain fell here until now.

Insects: There are quite a number of yellow jackets. It’s been very dry until yesterday and they seemed to be mighty thirsty. Any water thrown outside or used to wash up they would quickly find. The yellow jackets are quite curious and would check me out at times; a few times they’ve landed on me – no stings thankfully! Other than yellow jackets, I’ve had no insect problems.

Cows: I can hear cows to the south of me. Thankfully they are on the other side of the fence and not near my camper.

Peacefulness: I can hear a train not too far off. Gunshots can be heard on occasion. This site is very close to FR 303, which gets a fair amount of traffic – so it’s not super private or quiet. I see the occasional car, or person walking their dog along this road (FR 9172P).

Cell Signal: My Verizon cell phone signal is good. Verizon mobile broadband internet hasn’t been as fast as would be expected. Sometimes all I can get is National Access, unless I use the external antenna, then it is fairly fast 3G.

RV Campsite Rating: 8 out of 10. It’s a super site because there is plenty to do here, but the campsite itself isn’t so peaceful as it’s so close to FR 303, I-40, and Flagstaff.

September 25, 2011

I’m camped east of the monument about 1 mile down FR 128 in the Coconino National Forest.

This is a great campsite! It’s in a juniper forest and even though the site is fairly close to FR 128, the junipers provide some privacy. FR 128 can be busy at times, surprisingly so. I’m guessing folks coming from the east use the road to access Lake Mary and Anderson Mesa. The last few days have been pretty quiet though.

The campsite is on top of a hill and thunderstorms could be an issue – especially lightning, since these junipers are rather short and not much higher than my camper. Monsoon season is not the best time to camp here. Thankfully there have only been a couple thunderstorms since I’ve been here. It appears monsoon season is coming to an end.

Recreation: I have excellent access to the south side of Walnut Canyon and the National Monument. However, there is no access to the main entrance, as that’s on the other side of the canyon. There are ways to access the bottom of Walnut Canyon, via side canyons. There is a great route to get to Santa Fe Dam by taking FR 128 west just past Onyx Tank. You’ll see a road on your right and this will lead you to the National Monument boundary; from here hike southwest a short ways to a side canon next to the dam. You can take the side canyon to the bottom – it’s not too difficult, but there is some boulder hopping involved.

Accessing Marshall Lake and Anderson Mesa should be pretty easy; just follow FR 128 southwest.

There isn’t a whole lot for hiking directly from camp. It can be difficult to see very far ahead in this juniper forest. However, there are a few faint jeep roads nearby to hike. The best scenery is in and around Walnut Canyon.

Weather: Here in late September I received one good rainstorm which left things pretty wet. I couldn’t start a fire afterwards and had to wait a couple days for things to dry out. Temps during the day have been perfect – mid 70s to low 80s. Lows have been a bit chilly and in the 40s, perhaps a couple degrees below 40 on a few nights.

Wildlife: I awoke the morning of my “big adventure” to hike the bottom of Walnut Canyon, and saw a very large bull elk about 25 feet away out my back window. It was about 7 am. He saw me as well. I got my camera and slowly opened the door, but that quickly scared him away. There aren’t as many birds as there were on the other side of Walnut Canyon. I’ve seen many cottontail rabbits and a few small lizards.

Insects: I’ve had no real problem with insects, though there are some tiny flies, sort of like “eye gnats” but they don’t go for the eyes. They just fly around you and sometimes by your face.

Cows: A few cows have come by my site. Thankfully there aren’t many out here.

RV Solar: Keeping my batteries charged has been easy as there is plenty of sun.

Cell Signal: No problem with Verizon cell phone calls. Verizon mobile broadband internet has worked well with the external antenna placed on my RV roof. It’s fairly fast. I can only get National Access when not using the external antenna.

RV Campsite Rating: 7 out of 10. There is much to see here and accessing Walnut Canyon and Anderson Mesa is easy. The downside is that the campsite is fairly close to the sometimes busy FR 128.

October 3, 2012

I’m camped north of Walnut Canyon National Monument along a minor forest road that branches from FR 303.

This is a very popular area, especially during the fall pinyon pine nut harvest. At this time of year everyone is scouring the forest for these delicious nuts. Many were making a profit by gathering the nuts and selling them to grocery stores. Several were camped here solely to collect pine nuts. The rangers at the monument even had to put up several signs warning the public that no pinyon pine nut harvesting is allowed inside the monument.

I decided to join in on the “fun” and collected a soup bowl full of these nuts, which took a couple hours. It’s not easy to amass a large volume of these tiny nuts. They do take time to collect.

I did meet one other camper who wasn’t there to collect pine nuts; she was actually there to see the monument as I was.

Recreation: The paved paths inside the monument are pretty short. To really stretch the legs, jump on the Arizona Trail, which is routed right through the forest here. Cross county hiking is easy and a good way to explore the monument outside of the developed areas. FR 303 can be taken north to access the forest south of the Cinder Hills OHV area. I took a bike ride north to O’ Neill Crater, then hiked to the top. The view was great.

Weather: It’s the beginning of October now. Highs had been in the mid to upper 70s almost every day. Lows were in the 40s and dropped down into the upper 30s early last week. I had a few days with highs in the low 80s when I first arrived in late September. I had thunderstorms one day which produced a few short showers. Otherwise, it’s been mostly sunny. It’s a bit breezy during the day and calm in the evenings.

Wildlife: Cottontail rabbits, mice under my patio boards (they like to shelter under there!), many birds including ravens, bluebirds, robins, hawks, eagles, and humming birds. I’ve also seen short horned lizards, other lizards, and a few elk.

Insects: A few gnats, some paper wasps, a few flies, but no problems.

Peacefulness: This campsite is set back from FR 303, which makes it a bit more peaceful. I-40 and a very busy train track lies to the north, which can get noisy at times. Juniper trees and pinyon pines add some shade and privacy.

RV Solar: The trees are short here and I get plenty of sun for solar charging.

Cell Signal: Excellent Verizon service here. Mobile broadband internet is very fast and I have a strong cell phone signal.

RV Campsite Rating: 7 out of 10. It’s a great campsite – just don’t camp during the pinyon pine nut harvest if you’re looking for any privacy.

Walnut Canyon National Monument Video Slideshow

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