There’s a castle with a million dollar view perched high up and built into the side of a cliff in Arizona called Montezuma Castle that nearly 350,000 people visit annually. I can’t blame them, it’s pretty neat and I seriously cannot believe I have lived in Arizona my entire life and it took me until now to get up there and visit. It was always just something I passed when going out of town on a road trip and never bothered to stop at but always acknowledged its presence as I passed.
Technically, Montezuma Well is also part of the National Park although it’s about 15 minutes away from Montezuma’s Castle. I’ll talk about both here and if you have time to visit both, you should (especially since your fee includes both!)
Mistakenly named after the Aztec Emperor, the Sinagua people actually inhabited this oasis along Beaver Creek for over 400 years and used the land below to farm and sustain their way of life. The main castle (cliff dwelling) boasts of 20 rooms and is built into the side of a cliff facing south to utilize the cliff for shade in the hot summers and to help with warming during the winter months.
Although visitors can no longer enter the dwelling itself, the park has evidence of handprints from the inside of the structure demonstrating the work put into building the impressive five-story dwelling.
There are remnants of other castles built nearby as well, such as “Castle A”, which had 45+ rooms, but they are badly deteriorated.
Montezuma Well is just North of Montezuma Castle and is a limestone sink that was formed long ago and is still fed by continuously flowing springs. The Sinagua irrigated their crops using the well water and as you explore, you can even see the irrigation canal that they made in order to keep the water flowing further down towards their dwellings. Right at the well itself, you can also view additional dwellings that once housed additional families and communities.
While we were visiting Montezuma Well, we even had the opportunity to speak to a park ranger who sets up her telescope most days. She had it set on a Great Horned Owl who was resting with her babies in a shadowed inlet of the cliff. This was so cool! It’s not often you get a close up look at wildlife, especially owls. She was so pretty! And, it was nice to have such a chatty volunteer park ranger to fill us in and actually be excited to be there talking to people. (Isn’t that refreshing!?) There are over 200 species of birds living in this area…so if you like to bird watch, this is your spot.
We walked around both Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well with ease–anyone could visit these places. (Seriously, I was in a sling from shoulder surgery a few weeks prior to when we went and I walked around with no issues…other than people staring at me, ha!)
If you go:
Montezuma Castle: Follow I-17 to exit 289 (90 minutes north of Phoenix, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). Go East for about a 1/2 mile and turn left onto Montezuma Castle Road. (It’s at the same turnoff to Cliff Castle Casino).
Adults (16+): $10.00/person (good for seven days at both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments)
Children (under 16): FREE
Montezuma Well: Follow I-17 to exit 293 (4 miles north of the exit for Montezuma Castle). Continue through the towns of McGuireville and Rimrock, following the signs for four miles to the entrance to the Well. There is no fee to enter Montezuma Well.
Definitely kid-friendly! Your children can even become junior rangers! (And, since there’s “technically” no age limit, you can become one, too! Reminisce the good ol’ childhood you once had and do this with your kids. From the NPS website:
The Junior Ranger program at Montezuma Castle National Monument is full of fun activites which help you be more aware of their surroundings and the relationship of the environment to the prehistoric people who lived here over 800 years ago! Pick one up at either Montezuma Castle or Montezuma Well… or download it here before you arrive.
Completing the activity takes some time but the rewards are tremendous. Junior Rangers earn a shiny badge and certificate!
Special Note: There is no age limit to become a Junior Ranger. That means everyone is eligible to become an official Junior Ranger as long as they do the work and earn it!
Have a great rest of the week and weekend! Let me know in the comments if you end up going, and have fun!