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Last Updated on April 17, 2023
Inside: Montezuma Castle in AZ: one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in America. Plus TWO BONUS free ancient sites nearby. So. Very. Cool! 😎
Can you imagine living in a 5-story apartment building . . . built into a CLIFF? Oh, and it was built 900 years ago!
Thats Montezuma Castle. It’s the ruins of a five-story cliff dwelling of more than two dozen rooms burrowed into a limestone cliff in central Arizona by the Sinagua People centuries ago. Can you imagine having to climb ladders to get home? Talk about a 5-story walkup! 🪜😳
You can visit Montezuma Castle National Monument as a day-trip from Phoenix, or on your way to points north, such as Sedona or the Grand Canyon. There are SO MANY reasons to visit . . . including getting access to TWO bonus parks for your admission fee!
1. See INCREDIBLE Architecture at Montezuma Castle
What, exactly, is Montezuma Castle? THIS! 👆👆👆 Pretty cool, huh?
Montezuma Castle is a 5-story, 20-room structure, built with stone and mortar. Simple enough, right? But here’s the kicker: it’s built into a cliff, nearly 100 feet above the ground. Suddenly it’s not-so-simple 🧐.
In fact, it’s pretty dang astonishing.
So, what’s the story here?
2-4. Learn about Montezuma Castle: History & People
Visiting provides incredible insight into people that lived in a prior millennium.
I mean, you can read about this stuff until your eyeballs 👀 get scratchy. But sooner or later, you just gotta see it for yourself. (And hopefully reading this blog post will make you want to do just that! 😊)
You’ll see that while in some ways the culture was primitive, in others they were remarkably sophisticated.
2. Discover Who Built Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle was built by the Sinagua people. They established their culture in Arizona from AD 600 through AD 1450.
Experts theorize that the Sinagua settled here to be near Beaver Creek, which flows alongside the cliff. Experts theorize that the “castle” was built so high into the cliff to protect it from periodic flooding from the creek. No leaky basements for these guys!
3. Learn who discovered Montezuma Castle in AZ
Spanish settlers who arrived in the area 1500s gave the name Sinagua to the people that had come before them. The name means “without water.”
The Spaniards marveled at the magnificent structure they had built into the cliff, and arid landscape in which they had thrived. The Spaniards must’ve been scratching their heads, just like we all do! 🤔
4. Understand the name “Montezuma Castle”
Since “Montezuma” is the name of an Aztec emperor, Montezuma Castle in AZ must be connected the Aztecs . . . right? But the words “Montezuma Arizona” don’t exactly go together . . .
Spoiler alert! There is NO connection to the Aztecs. Early Spanish settlers misnamed the site. They assumed something so grand had to be associated with a regal figure like the emperor Montezuma. I suppose in the 1500s that sort of made sense. But it was a big leap . . . and an incorrect one.
Okay, chalk that one up to one of history’s great misnomers! 🤷♀️
5-10: Things to do AT Montezuma Castle in AZ
Once you’ve got your head around the basic history, here are some things you can do while visiting Montezuma Castle:
5. Take the Montezuma Castle Hike
Taking the Montezuma Castle hike gives you access to all that the site has to offer.
There are multiple sun shelters along the way, so you’ve got plenty of protection from the strong Arizona sunshine.
Best of all, the path is paved, and fully-accessible for anyone with mobility concerns! So everyone can experience the magnificence of Montezuma Castle in AZ.
6. Observe the Cliff Dwelling from Multiple Viewpoints
Stop periodically along the hike to view Montezuma Castle from different angles.
The sun will cast shadows on different parts of the structure, depending on where you’re standing.
This will help you get a more accurate 3-D picture of how intricate and sophisticated the structure really is.
7. Walk through the low-level Cliff Dwellings (Cavates)
You can walk through some of the ruins at the base of the cliff.
These low-level rooms, or “cavates,” are located at the western end of the hike, just before it begins to turn toward the river.
No one knows exactly how these were used, but many experts theorize they may have been storage rooms for grains and other living staples.
8. Study the Architectural Model of Montezuma Castle
At roughly the midpoint of the hike, you’ll find a model of Montezuma Castle in AZ in a glass case.
The model shows a cut-away version of what the castle looked like inside, and how the Sinagua people lived there.
Press the button at the front of the model to hear a short narration about life inside Montezuma Castle.
9. Take in the nature that inspired this ideal building location
There’s a reason the Sinagua chose this location: the beautiful valley with the water of Beaver Creek flowing by.
Take a few moments to stop and observe the tranquil setting and imagine someone 900 years ago coming to collect water.
10. View ancient artifacts at the Visitor Center Museum
Be sure to take some time to explore the small museum in the Visitor Center.
It’s not very large–you can view the whole thing in 10 minutes (if you’re quick!). There are several large posters and some examples of artifacts.
Spending a few minutes here will give you a better understanding of the Sinagua people, and help you appreciate Montezuma Castle in AZ even more!
If you like archaelology and Native American Culture, be sure to check out these posts:
11-15: Things to do NEAR Montezuma Castle in AZ
11. Visit Monetzuma Well (BONUS PARK #1 !!!): 10miles, 15 minutes
This crater-like “pond” is a shocking sight in the middle of the desert and an awesome bonus. Admission here is free.
Walk around the rim, where you can see cliff dwellings, then down to see the cavate structures near the water’s edge. (It’s really cool–literally–the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler down there! 😎)
12. Explore Sedona and the Red Rocks: 25 miles, 40 minutes
Montezuma Castle to Sedona is an easy drive. The magnificent red rocks of Sedona are a short drive up the road.
There you can hike to your heart’s content, shop til you drop, or find your inner Zen at one of the many yoga retreats.
(If you’re staying in Sedona, Montezuma Castle makes an excellent day trip.)
13. Tuzigoot National Monument (BONUS Park #2!!!): 22 miles, 35 minutes
For a sort-of parallel universe view of the Sinagua people, check out Tuzigoot.
This hilltop pueblo was built around the same time as Montezuma Caste, but has a very different look: less ladders, more sprawling.
Just as awesome.
And, like Montezuma Well, admission is included in your ticket to Montezuma Castle–BONUS! 🎉
14. See more cave dwellings at Walnut Canyon: 63 miles, 56 minutes
This part of Arizona could be described as “cave dwelling” central.
The dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monutment were also constructed by the Sinagua people around the same time as Montezuma Castle in AZ.
Take the 1-mile-long “Island Trail,” where you can explore inside the 25 dwellings built along the edge of the mountain.
15. Verde Valley Archaeology Center: 5 miles, 8 minutes
If you want to place the remarkable achievement of Montezuma Castle in AZ into context of the surrounding terrain, this is the museum for you!
Verde Valley Archaelogy Center & Museum has a series of exhibits that compare & contrast the many cultures that have inhabited the region over the millinnea.
Don’t miss the Space Rocks! display, showcasing meteorites that have fallen to earth in the vicinity. 🪐☄️
Visitor information for Montezuma Castle in AZ
- Where is Montezuma Castle located? Montezuma Castle is located right off Interstate 17, 94 miles north of Phoenix and 53 miles south of Flagstaff.
- What does Montezuma Castle cost to visit? Admission to Montezuma Castle is $10 per adult, which is good for 7 days. Children aged 15 and under are free. ***This fee also covers admission to Tuzigoot National Monument.
- When is Montezuma Castle open? Montezuma Castle is open every day from 8:00am to 4:45pm. (Note: closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Park closes at 1:45pm on Christmas Eve.)
- When is the best time to visit Montezuma Castle? The best time to visit is spring and fall, when the weather is mild.
- Can you go inside Montezuma Castle? No, you cannot go inside Montezuma Castle, but you can go inside the cavates at the base of the cliff, below the castle.
- Is Monetzuma Castle worth visiting? I certainly hope you agree that the answer is YES! 👍
Want to learn more about the archaeology at Montezuma Castle? Check out this video from Arizona Project Archaeology (a state-approved educational organization). Go on . . . geek out! 🤓🤩
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