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Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established in 1931 in what would become one of the unique partnerships in the United States and Arizona. As a National Monument, the park would be maintained by the National Park System even though it was still owned by the Navajo Nation (typically the Federal government purchases the land). This arrangement continues to this day. Canyon de Chelly National Monument harbors not only Navajo Native American settlements but also Ancient Pueblo People. “Chelly” is an Anglicization of a Navajo word for “canyon.” One of the rock monuments in the park has been featured in several television commercials, shows, and movies.
The closest large town is Chinle, AZ. In addition to a variety of shopping and dining options, the town is best known for being the inspiration for a 2019 Netflix show, Basketball or Nothing. It’s also the site of the closest hospital. The town is about three miles west of the entrance to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Kickstart a one-of-a-kind RV camping adventure in Arizona with a search for an RV in Apache County, AZ.
A relatively short drive from Grand Canyon National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument boasts fantastic views of the canyon floors from the top of the cliffs on either North Rim Drive or South Rim Drive. Enjoy the panoramic, near-birds-eye view of various geological features like Spider Rock and Mummy Cave.
Although Canyon de Chelly National Monument encompasses 84,000 acres, access to the canyon floor is restricted for a couple of reasons. For starters, all of Canyon de Chelly National Monument is privately owned. Also, there are several fragile archeological sites that require protection for future generations to enjoy. That said, visitors can tour the canyon floor provided that they are escorted by a park ranger (free) or by an authorized Navajo guide (typically for a fee). Adventurers can choose to embark on foot, by horseback, or in an all-wheel-drive vehicle. There are over 100 miles of the canyon floor to explore. Lucky visitors who arrive just after a recent rainstorm will be rewarded with the rare sight of waterfalls cascading from high cliffs and flash floods.
There is an exception to the restriction, however. Hikers can hit the trail on the White House Ruin Trail, which is about three miles. Though it seems extraordinarily short, hikers typically take anywhere between one and four hours due to the treacherous, unstable terrain that is, on occasion, exceedingly steep. The trail leads to an ancient Puebloan dwelling that dates back to 1200 AD.
All hikers, whether escorted or not, should be well prepared for adverse, extremely arid conditions, and pack extra water.
Because protecting the cultural sites at the park is a priority, there is no RV camping at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. However, there are a handful of options nearby, which is good because it’s a long drive from the closest hotel. Renting an Airstream means more convenient access to nature and sheer wilderness. Imagine stepping out the front door of a camper rental to be rewarded with a view of dawn coloring the barren desert rose and gold. Or listening to birds sing in nearby bushes.
RV camp near Chinle, AZ, at Cottonwood Campground. The large campground boasts 90 sites and a few basic amenities like restrooms, faucets with potable water, and an on-site dump station.
A few miles southeast of Chinle is Spider Rock Campground, which is found at the foot of Tse Ho Tso Plateau. The small campground has 30 sites, and though there are no hookups, guests can fill up their water and make use of the free wifi. Each site has a fire pit, and there is an on-site convenience store stocked with cold drinks and snacks.
Although this region is one of the more isolated areas in the area, there are still several sights to enjoy and attractions to visit. Many Farms is a charming southwestern town lined with classic adobe- and hogan-style homes. This town has a sad history, though. In the 1950s, its residents were unwilling subjects of medical experiments conducted by various government agencies. Visit the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, which is a living-history museum in nearby Ganado. The Hubbell Trading Post also sells authentic Native American crafts like handmade rugs, tapestries, and blankets, and jewelry.
Hop into a rental motorhome and head a few miles to the east to Window Rock, which is close to the Arizona-New Mexico state border. Navajo Nation Museums spotlights the local tribe’s history, and it displays a vast collection of art, archeological finds, photographs, documents, and other archival content.