Round Trip Distance: 2.6 miles
Elevation: 6604 - 7232 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Visitor Center
Attractions: Anasazi cliff dwelling
The Betatakin Cliff Dwelling is located in the Navajo National Monument near Kayenta, Arizona. Betatakin is one of the best preserved Anasazi cliff dwellings that can be found anywhere in the southwestern United States. Those wishing to visit the site must sign up in person for one of the free guided tours that are offered daily at 8:15 and 10:15 MDT between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Both tours are limited to groups of not more than 25 people and may be cancelled due to bad weather.
To get to the Navajo National Monument from Kayenta drive west on Highway 160 for 19 miles and turn north onto AZ-564 and follow it for another 9.5 miles. If coming from the Tuba City direction drive east on Highway 160 for 52.5 miles to get to the turnoff. The Visitor Center is open at 8 am MDT. Unlike the rest of Arizona the Navajo Nation recognizes daylight savings time so be sure to take that into account when planning your visit.
All you have to do to go on the tour is put your name on the list for either the 8:15 or 10:15 tour. After that you can wait outside behind the Visitor Center on their lovely patio. The tours are limited to 25 people. On the day that we were there taking pictures for this post we took the 8:15 tour and we were the only ones on it. When the 10:15 tour came along it had about 20-25 people on it. To help ensure a spot on a tour you might consider planning to go on the earlier one. As an added bonus you will be able to hike out of the canyon before the midday sun heats things up.
From the Visitor Center the route follows the Sandal trail for the first hundred yards or so before branching off onto the Aspen trail.
The guide is always the first one down the trail and the last one up.
The overlook is as far as visitors can go without being part of one of the tours. For a more complete description of the Aspen trail between the Visitor Center and the overlook check out the separate post for the Aspen trail.
Below the overlook the well designed trail begins descending a series of switchbacks.
Portions of the cliff that would be otherwise unmanageable for most people become much easier with the aid of stone and cement steps that create a continuous stairway into Betatakin Canyon. As the trail descends it passes through a gated bulkhead that makes passage impossible without a key to the lock.
Even if there wasn't a cliff dwelling at the end of the trail this hike would have to garner 5 stars due to the beauty of the canyon alone.
Once in the base of the canyon visitors are afforded a bio break at a pair of unisex composting toilets before visiting the actual cliff dwelling.
Betatakin gets its name from the ledges of the alcove that all the rooms are constructed on. You might also hear it referred to as 'Ledge House' or 'House Built on a Ledge'.
Unlike Keet Seel where the tour actually enters the cliff dwelling and climbs some of the ladders the tour of Betatakin stays off to one side below the ruins.
There are both petroglyphs and pictographs around the site. We made a rough outline of 4 images that our guide explained represented the clan symbols of those that lived here. From left to right they are the Deer, Fire, Flute and Water clans. The story of why the symbol for the Flute Clan looks the way that it does was particularly interesting.
When you visit you will want to be sure and bring a zoom lens for your camera if you have one and perhaps a pair of binoculars.
The climb back out of the canyon went quicker than we expected. The guide was in no hurry at all and said that we could take all the time that we needed. There is over 600 feet of elevation change so keep that in mind when deciding whether you are fit enough for the challenge.
If you plan on seeing both Keet Seel and Betatakin then you are going to have to plan on at least 2 days for your visit. On the first day you can visit Betatakin in the morning and then checkout the other trails and the Visitor Center and catch the required 3pm Keet Seel orientation in the afternoon. That will allow you to leave bright and early for Keet Seel, which takes 10 hours on average to hike round trip, unless of course you plan on backpacking and staying at the campground near Keet Seel and splitting the long hike over 2 days. There is no entrance fee for the Navajo National Monument and camping is also free. The restrooms in the campground and at the Visitor Center have running water but you will need to bring all the food, drinks and trail snacks you might want with you. The Betatakin Cliff Dwelling is an amazing site to visit and the expert guides make it an enriching experience. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.