Betatakin and Keet Seel – Outstanding Cliff Dwellings
by Joseph A. Sprince – Photography by Gerald B. Allen
Navajo National Monument is home to two of the finest Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) cliff dwellings in the Southwest, Betatakin and Keet Seel. Both sites were built in the later half of the 13th century, and were inhabited for less than fifty years.
Be aware when scheduling any tours that from March to November, Navajo National Monument and the Navajo Nation observe Mountain Daylight Time (MDT), one hour ahead of the rest of Arizona.
Keet Seel Cliff Dwelling
Keet Seel (Photo, left) may be the best preserved of all cliff dwellings, having been built into a very narrow alcove. Some of the well sheltered buildings are completely intact, up to and including their earthen roofs (Photo below, right) which is an extremely rare occurrence.
The site is about 8 1/2 strenuous miles by trail from the visitor center (17 miles round trip), and is open from about Memorial Day to Labor Day. Backcountry permits are required for both day and overnight hikers, with a limit of 20 hikers per day. Reservations are required to do this trip. There is a mandatory Keet Seel trail orientation held at the Visitor Center, at 3:00 PM the day before your scheduled tour, or at 8:15 AM on the day of your hike (hiker(s) need to be on the trail no later than 9:00 AM). For more information, call (928) 672-2700 or visit the National Park Service’s official guided tour page for Betatakin and Keet Seel.
Upon reaching Keet Seel, a ranger will lead an interpretive tour of the dwellings. Visitors are allowed into Keet Seel only with the Navajo National Monument backcountry ranger. Only five visitors are allowed on each tour with day hikers having first priority. There is a shaded picnic area if you have to wait.
Betatakin Cliff Dwelling
While not as well preserved, Betatakin Ruin is noted for its extremely beautiful and photogenic locale (Photo, left). It is located in a huge alcove in a lush sandstone canyon. Because of the stream there are trees and other lush vegetation, which is rare in this arid country. In autumn, the trees turn color and make a beautiful presentation.
Regular ranger tours to Betatakin are offered from late May to early September. Reservations are not required but the first-come first-served tours are very popular. Currently there are two morning tours per day on two different trails. Both are strenuous; one is a 3-mile round trip, the other 5-mile round trip. (Photo, left) Rock art found at Betatakin ruin.
There is also an excellent overlook of Betatakin Ruin with pay binoculars about a mile by trail from the visitor center.
Read our detailed narrative of both tours in Touring Betatakin and Keet Seel Cliff Dwellings, Navajo National Monument.