Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established in 1931, but it’s nearly 84,000 acres lies within the Navajo Indian Reservation. We stayed at Cottonwood Campground near the entrance to Canyon de Chelly NM. It is essentially boondocking (no hookups, generators allowed from 6am-8:30pm). $14/night. Check-out is noon but you can buy a day pass for $5 and spend the day. Sites are level and plentiful. Watch out for sticker plants and ant piles, but enjoy the peace and serenity! The kids loved the freedom to run and play.
To tour the canyon (with the exception of the public White House ruins trail) you must receive a permit from the Navajo Nation and have an authorized guide. The National Park website provides a list of approved private vendors. I highly recommend Justin’s Horse Rentals and suggest touring the canyon by horseback for a fun, family experience.
Justin’s Horse Rentals offers private tours by knowledgeable Navajo guides at an affordable price.
We opted for the 2 hour tour due to the ages of our children, but tours can be as long as you’d like (even overnight!). The rate when we went was $15/person/hour plus you pay $15/hour for each guide. You also pay a Navajo Nation permit fee ($2/person). Justin Tso was very accommodating of our large family. Some of the younger children rode double, and he even had one of our children ride with one of the guides. He wanted to be sure that we all were able to experience the canyon together, while also keeping the safety of everyone in mind.
We had two Navajo Guides, Keshon (pictured above riding with our son) and Urvin (pictured below). Along the trail ride, Urvin pointed out various landmarks, petroglyphs, and pictographs.
If you use your imagination, you may be able to pick out the two rock formations that look like owls. Our owl loving girl picked up on it right away.
Urvin also shared some legends and stories that his grandmother shared with him. The flute player laying on his back is Kokopelli, who is said to chase away winter and bring the spring rains. The hands symbolize life.
Throughout the canyon you will see many petroglyphs and pictographs from the Anasazi and Hopi Indians. If you zoom in on the photo above you will see what they refer to as Newspaper wall with hundreds of drawings.
At the canyon’s mouth, the rock walls are only 30 feet high, but the deeper you go into the canyon the higher the canyon walls rise (up to over 1,000 feet above the floor). In two hours you get just a small taste for the canyon, and I would definitely recommend a longer tour if you are able.
Still, if you are traveling with young children, the two hour tour is a wonderful family experience.
We had smiles on everyone’s faces!
There are 20-30 Navajo families that have homes in the canyon, but only a few live in the canyon year round. It is asked that you respect the privacy of the Navajo families and not take pictures of their homes or property.
There is a lot of wildlife in the canyon, including birds, deer, antelope, bear, mountain lion, and snakes. In Navajo culture, to see a snake would be a bad omen. We did not see any snakes (nor bear nor mountain lions thankfully!), but we did see two wild horses! If you look closely below you may see one of them too!
A big thank you to Urvin and Keshon for sharing your knowledge, culture, and stories with us!
We loved riding on Blondie, Coco, Appy, Anton, and Timmy Cloud, and I think they enjoyed their carrots we treated them to after the ride!
We would love to return for one of the longer rides when the kids are a little bit older. There is so much history yet to be admired! Be sure to check out Justin’s Horse Rentals on Facebook, the travel page on our blog, and follow @pocketful_of_treasures on Instagram for all of our family adventures!