Island Trail

Round Trip Distance: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 6487 - 6686 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Walnut Canyon Visitor Center
Fee: $10/vehicle
Attractions: Cliff dwellings, scenic canyon, gift shop, museum

The Island Trail is located in the Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona. Walnut Canyon contains a dense population of over 300 cliff dwellings that date back over 800 years. The trail descends into the canyon where it travels around an island mountain that contains 25 rooms of cliff dwellings. As you look out across the canyon even more cliff dwellings are visible wherever a natural occurring alcove can be found.

The Island Trail begins behind the Visitor Center. Walk around the left  (east) side of the building and follow the sings. The trail closes one hour before the park closes.

The entire length of the Island Trail is paved but it isn't suitable for either wheelchairs or strollers due to the many steps involved.

The inhabitants of Walnut Canyon were called Sinagua which is derived from Spanish and means 'without water'. The name was originally given to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff when the Spanish discovered that the mountains had no perennial rivers or streams. Today the name is applied to the ancestral Puebloans of the area.

There are 240 steps leading down to the Island which is 185 vertical feet below the Visitor Center. The steps make easy work of the steep canyon cliffs. The route that is carved through the blocks of rock lined with trees and brush makes for a wonderful setting for the trail.

A loop begins at the bottom of the steps and travels around the island mountain in a counter-clockwise direction.

The remains of the cliff dwelling walls can be seen anywhere along the trail where there is an overhang.  The overhang made it easier for the inhabitants to build rooms because they would only need to erect a front wall and 2 side walls. A hole in the lower section of the wall allowed fresh air for a fire to draft into the room while a small opening near the top of the wall allowed the smoke to escape.

If you are visiting the trail with children you might point out a pottery sherd and take the time to explain that the ancestral Puebloans would make ceramic pottery to hold everything from water to seeds. The pottery allowed them to store their food in something that would keep it safe from rodents. You should also explain that it is unlawful to take the pottery or any other artifact. All items need to be left right where they are for archaeologist to study them. Something as small as a piece of pottery can indicate how long ago a place was inhabited, where the people came from and who they may have traded with.

The rooms on the north side of the mountain would have been in perpetual shade throughout the winter. It seems that would have made them very difficult to live in during that time of year.

As you continue on around the trail you will come to rooms that are largely intact. Here you can see the smoke vents at the top of the walls. There are also areas where the rooms were completely ransacked by settlers during the initial discovery of the ruins. Countless items were removed for peoples personal collections.

The climb back up the stairs makes for some good exercise. Its fun to count the steps as you go up to see if you can count them all without making a mistake.

There are aspects to Walnut Canyon that show a lot of ingenuity. Some items that come to mind are the ventilation of the dwellings, how they controlled the water that would run down the slickrock and the trails they used to access their dwellings in the middle of the canyon walls. The cliffs would have provided a higher level of defense than perhaps a pithouse or pueblo. The trick may have been defending crops in the fields that were on top of the mesa. Walnut Canyon National Monument is an enjoyable location to visit and if you are interested in the early inhabitants of the southwest then it is probably a must see place to go. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.