Preserving some of the largest collections of prehistoric structures on the continent, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is America’s equivalent of Egypt’s Pyramids.
|Park||Chaco Culture National Historical Park|
|Things to do||Sight Seeing, exploration and many more|
|Hotels near Chaco Culture National Historical Park||Quality Inn and Suites, Comfort Suites and many more|
|Camping Location||Multiple Locations|
Because of its remote location, this Park is not the most accessible park to visit, but don’t be put off, as this hidden treasure merits a visit.
In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know about Chaco National Historic Park, from the best time to go to where to stay and things to make the best of your trip to Chaco. Let’s get started!
About Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is not your typical park. Preserving some of the most complex historic structures and ruins in North America, it is one of the most studied archeological sites in the United States, often compared to Egypt’s Pyramids or Stonehenge.
Located in northwestern New Mexico, the park is the most concentrated center of the Puebloan culture who built immense complexes known as “Great Houses.”
This Park is one of those parks people visit for more than just scenery. The astounding collection of ancient ruins that dates back over 1,000 years, the sheer mystery and curiosity of this place attracts a vast number of history buffs and outdoor lovers to enjoy history, solitude, and night skies.
History Of Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The first inhabitants of the Park were the Anasazi, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians.
In the mid-800s, Puebloans began constructing massive stone buildings in the canyon called “Great Houses.”
They developed a series of major construction projects across Utah and Arizona, New Mexico, and Chicago.
The Puebloan society flourished between A.D 1000-1150. Chacoan’s built 16 significant structures that attracted tribal people’s attention for their fantastic masonry architecture, making the Chaco an epicenter of trade, ceremony, and administration.
The first documented trip through the Chaco Canyon dates back to 1823, led by Jose Antonio Vizcarra, a new Mexican governor.
He noticed the ruins of Chaco Canyon and demanded the survey, referring to them as “Built of Fine Grit Stone.”
On March 11, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Chaco Canyon National Monument.
The Chaco Culture National Park was established on December 19, 1980, after an additional 13,000 acres were added to the protected area.
In 1987, UNESCO designated the park as a World-Heritage Site to protect the Chacoan Sites.
Even today, there are over 2,400 archeological sites in the park; only a tiny percentage of these have been excavated.
Things To Do In The Park
This Park is a great place to enjoy history, solitude, and night skies. Still, for the first-timers, the main reason to visit the park is to explore the collection of Puebloan ancient ruins.
Here are the top five major archeological sites to see in the park:
Pueblo Bonito is the most celebrated and meticulously examined site in the Chaco Culture National Park.
The remains of the largest ruin in Chicago are open for tourists to explore on a 0.6-mile walking trail.
The construction on the Pueblo Bonito started in AD 850 and lasted around 300 years.
The complexes covered three acres, stood five stories tall with more than 200 rooms each, and enclosed up to 700 rooms.
The central plaza features several kivas, circular rooms used for religious and political ceremonies. If you’re short on time, this is the place to visit.
Chetro Ketl is the second-largest great house built by Puebloan in AD 1075.
The complex resembles a D-shaped structure, covering over 3 acres, comprising 400 rooms with elevated Kivas that stand 12 feet tall above the canyon floor.
The Chetro Ketl is ½ mile roundtrip with steep rises and short climbs and can be strenuous for novel hikers.
The purpose of the house is still debated; some suggest that it served as a palace by Chacoan royalty.
And, some believed it to be used as a ceremonial center for rites and political meetings in the superior Chacoan Community.
Petroglyph Trail is a short and scenic trail that runs along the cliff face between Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito.
Featuring various petroglyphs scattered throughout the cliff face, it’s one of the unique ancient ruins in the park.
The higher petroglyphs are believed to be created with the help of ladders or standing on roofs.
There are holes in the wall that also indicate the use of some heavy beams to anchor the building into the cliff.
The trail is suitable for all ability levels and takes around 20 minutes to complete.
Pueblo del Arroyo
Pueblo del Arroyo is the fourth largest great house in Chaco, constructed in two short stages from about 1025 to AD 1125.
It is the only great house not built along the cliff face. The D-shaped houses consisted of 300 rooms and 17 kivas, which were believed to make for overcrowding at Pueblo Bonita.
The main features of the Pueblo del Arroyo are its rare triple-walled structure, keyhole-shaped kivas, and well-made walls.
Casa Rinconada is the largest known kiva and the only structure not being embedded in the large complex and sits alone on the top of a small hill.
With a massive diameter of about 70 feet, the Casa Rinconada is partly above the ground and includes T-shaped entrances and underground passageways.
A short trail from Casa Rinconada leads through a small Chacoan village, where visitors can view the wide range of Chacoan buildings and architecture styles.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit the Park is during Spring and Fall. When the temperature is moderate throughout the day but cool at night.
September and October are ideal for visiting the Chaco Canyon as the daytime temperatures are in the low 80s and high 20s, and you can see the weather is mostly stable.
But, be prepared for unexpected storms as they can change things dramatically.
Map Of Chaco Culture National Historical Park
If you want to make the most of your visit, make sure to download the map of this Park and plan your trip.
Familiarize yourself with main attractions, hiking trails, routes, and follow the directions to avoid getting lost or stuck.
You can download the park’s official map from the NPS Website for free.
Hotels Near The Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The Park doesn’t offer any lodging options. But you can find a wide range of accommodation options in the nearby cities.
Here are some best hotels to stay close to the park:
There’s only one campground inside the Park; Gallo Campground. Located one mile east of the visitor center, the campground allows camping in a rugged environment and is open all year round.
Camping sites are available only through the reservation, $20 per night.
Weather Of Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The Park is located at an elevation of 6,200, and weather can be highly unpredictable. At the highest, summer temperatures typically range from the 80s to the mid-90s.
At the same time, winter’s temperatures can drop below freezing point at night.
Thunderstorms are also common, which leads to sudden temperature drops and lightning.
Check out the latest weather forecast before planning a trip to avoid surprises.
Entry Fee Of Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The entrance fee of the Park is $25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle, and $15 per individual/cyclist, valid for seven consecutive days.
The commercial entrance fees are charged based on the capacity of the vehicle and the number of passengers.
The entrance passes can be purchased online before you arrive. For more information and to buy the entry passes online, please visit recreation.gov.
Checklist Of Things To Pack
Here’s a checklist of some essentials you must pack when traveling to this Park:
- A daypack
- Multiple clothing layers
- Waterproof jacket
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Sunscreen & hat
- Insulated water bottle
- High-energy snacks
- Sleeping bag
- Bug repellent
- First-aid kit
Is Chaco Culture National Historical Park Worth Seeing?
If you’re a history buff and want to take a step back in time, Chaco Culture National Park is worth a trip. The combination of well-preserved ruins and stunning settings makes the long trip to this remote location worth it.
How many days should I Spend in Chaco Culture National Historical Park?
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is not a place you can make a quick stop by. You must spend at least 2-3 days exploring the ruins along the 9-mile loop road, enjoy the scenery, and camp under some of the darkest skies in the world.
How do you access the Chaco Culture National Historical Park?
Chaco Culture National Park is located in the remote location of northwestern New Mexico, and you can access it by driving on the dirt roads.