Montezuma Castle National Monument: Visit Ancient Cliff Dwellings In Camp Verde, Arizona

Nestled into a towering limestone cliff in Camp Verde, Arizona, stands one of the best preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings in North America. This ancient, five story high rise “apartment” is Montezuma Castle. You can marvel at this early example of architectural ingenuity at Montezuma Castle National Monument — it’s one of the best places to see cliff dwellings in Arizona!

Hiding in the spellbinding desert of Arizona is a place where you can gaze through windows into the past when early Americans known as the Sinagua lived in the Verde Valley.

The Sinagua people were a pre-Columbian culture closely related to the Hohokam and other indigenous peoples of the southwest. They were living in this region as early as 650CE or maybe even earlier.

It wasn’t however until around 1050 CE that the Sinagua began building pueblos and cliff dwellings. Their cliff dwellings often had multiple levels and were accessed using wooden ladders.

Cliff dwellings in Arizona, USA.

Despite being called a castle, Montezuma Castle is actually a collection of 20 rooms that belonged to multiple families, similar to a modern-day apartment building. And despite what European-Americans who discovered the ‘castle’ believed, this cliff dwelling has no connection to the Aztec emporer for whom it was named after.

You can visit this impressive cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument which is situated just off Interstate-17, not far from the popular tourist destinations of Sedona and Flagstaff.

In this complete guide to visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument (it was one of the first four national monuments signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt), you’ll find out what to see in the park, how to get there, and where you can stay nearby.

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Montezuma Castle National Monument At A Glance

  • Where is the park? Camp Verde, Arizona.
  • What are park hours? 8am to 5pm (seven days a week)
  • Is the park closed any days? Yes, Christmas Day and New Years Day.
  • How much is admission? $10 per person (children under 15 are free)
  • How many annual visitors? 350,000 people

Where Is Montezuma Castle National Monument?

Montezuma Castle National Monument is situated just off Interstate-17 in Camp Verde, Arizona. The closest largest cities are Flagstaff and Phoenix. Driving distances from popular travel destinations are listed below:

  • Phoenix: 93 miles (1.5 hours)
  • Flagstaff: 53 miles (1 hour)
  • Sedona: 25 miles (30 minutes)

How To Get To Montezuma Castle National Monument

You can visit Montezuma Castle as a day trip from Phoenix or as a day trip from Flagstaff. Both cities are under two hours drive away.

If you are visiting Phoenix and don’t plan on renting a car, there are several tours that will take you to Montezuma Castle. The two top-rated tours from Phoenix are listed below:

Sedona is very close to the park. In fact, the park is only a quick 30 minutes drive away. So if you’re looking for things to do while you’re visiting Sedona, a day trip to Montezuma Castle is a great addition to your travel itinerary.

Montezuma Castle is located off I-17 (a north-south highway entirely within the state of Arizona). From I-17, take exit 298 to get on Middle Verde Road, then turn left onto Montezuma Castle Road.

Do you need a rental car? We believe Enterprise always have the best rental rates but if you want to shop around check where you can compare rental car prices. Or try vanlife! Search for campervan rentals here.

How Much Does Entry Cost?

Unlike other parks where admission is per vehicle, this park charges entry per person. Admission costs $10 per person and is good for seven days (admission is free for children under 15 years of age). Admission to this park also covers admission to nearby Tuzigoot National Monument.

An America The Beautiful Pass is also valid for entry here. If you don’t have a national parks pass and are planning to visit Grand Canyon National Park during your time in Arizona, it might be worth considering purchasing one.

This is because entry to Grand Canyon costs $35 and if you add the cost of admission to this park (for two people) you are already looking at $55. It’s only an extra $25 for the annual national park pass, and you’ll likely use it again within the next twelve months which will end up saving you money.

Things To Do At Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument is a very small park. The main attraction at the park is Montezuma Castle and there is not much else to see beyond that. Therefore you only need about an hour to visit this park. Here is a list of things to do during your visit.

See Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona.

To see Montezuma Castle you need to walk along a short path to reach the cliff dwelling. The good news is the path is only 0.3 miles and completely paved. Absolutely anyone can do it! Even those with mobility concerns!!

There are multiple sun shelters located right in front of the cliff dwelling so you can take a rest and get out of the sun for a few minutes while you take in the impressive sight.

Montezuma Castle is the main feature of the park so feel free to stay and enjoy the ancient architecture in front of you as long as you like.

Unfortunately visitors are not permitted to access the cliff dwelling. During the 1950s visitors were allowed to access these ruins by climbing a series of ladders, however due to extensive damage to the landmark, access was discontinued.

Walk through lower level cliff dwelling rooms

Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona, USA.

Further along the path past Montezuma Castle are ruins of lower level rooms of the cliff dwelling. Visitors are allowed to walk through these room that are located at the base of the cliff.

It is unclear what these rooms were used for but some experts believe they had been used for storing grains and other food items.

Examine the architectural model of Montezuma Castle

As you return back to the visitor center along the pathway, you’ll come to a display of an architectural model of Montezuma Castle.

This model shows what the cliff dwelling would have looked like once upon a time when the Sinagua people lived here. The model is behind a glass case.

There is a button in front of the model you can press to hear a short narration about the cliff dwelling and what life was like inside Montezuma Castle hundreds of years ago.

Learn about Sinagua people at the Museum inside the Visitor Center

Be sure to leave time to explore the museum located inside the Visitor Center. Although small, it is fascinating and covers the geology and history of the area.

Spending even a few minutes in here will give you a better understanding of the Sinagua people which will help you appreciate Montezuma Castle, and other cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people.

Visit Montezuma Well (a sub-unit of Montezuma Castle)

Montezuma Well is a natural limestone sinkhole where 1,500,000 gallons of water emerges each day from an underground spring. The “well” measures 386 feet in diameter from rim to rim and contains a near-constant volume of spring water even in times of severe drought. 

It is geologically similar to the sinkholes and cenotes found in Florida and the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, in that it was formed by a limestone cave that collapsed to expose its subterranean water source.

Montezuma Well in Arizona.

This well sits at the northern end of the Verde Limestone formation, a distinct layer of travertine limestone which was deposited beneath a series of shallow lakes that once covered Arizona’s Verde Valley region between 2 and 8 million years ago.

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have lived in the Verde Valley for at least 10,000 years. Ruins of several prehistoric dwellings are scattered around the rim of the well. These ruins belonged to several indigenous American cultures that occupied the Verde Valley between 700 and 1425 CE, with the most recent being the Sinagua. 

The Sinagua people farmed the land surrounding the well using its constant outflow as a reliable source of irrigation. Part of a prehistoric irrigation ditch is preserved near the park’s picnic ground and portions of the ditch’s original route are still in use today. Learn more about Montezuma Well here.

Map of Montezuma Well.
Map of Montezuma Well. Photo by NPS.

Montezuma Well is a sub-unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument and is located at a separate site 15 miles north. If you have time it’s worth the quick drive to visit the site, however if you are short on time, Montezuma Castle is the can’t miss site of the two parks.

Other Places To Visit Nearby Related To Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Well, located a short drive away, is a sub-unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument. At this site you can see a limestone sinkhole that was created somewhere between five million and 13,000 years ago. The sinkhole is fed by spring water.

Verde Valley Archeological Center located in Camp Verde is a fantastic museum that has displays related to cultures that have inhabited this region over thousands of years including Hopi people and Yavapai-Apache Nation. The museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. Admission costs $10. Learn more here.

Tuzigoot National Monument is located 22-miles north in Clarkdale. This site preserves the ruins of a large, three story dwelling built by the Sinagua people between 1125 and 1400 CE. Tuzigoot is the largest and best preserved of the many Sinagua pueblo ruins in the Verde Valley. Admission is $10 per person but your admission to Montezuma Castle National Monument covers entry into this park too. Learn more here.

Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona.

Where To Stay Near Montezuma Castle National Monument

There are several reputable hotels with affordable room rates near Montezuma Castle National Monument. There are several RV Parks in the vicinity too.

If you’re planning to visit Sedona and would like to keep travel expenses on a budget, you should consider staying in Camp Verde where rooms are inexpensive (Sedona is only a quick 30 minutes drive away).

Cliff Castle Casino: Cliff Castle Casino offers well-appointed rooms without the expensive Sedona price tag. Hotel features include an indoor pool and hot tub, fitness center, and coffee shop. You’ll also have access to a casino with 650 slot machines, four restaurants, a nightclub, and a bowling alley!

Days Inn by Wyndham: This hotel is located right off Interstate-17 about five miles south of the park. The property offers clean rooms at reasonable rates that come with a daily hot breakfast. There is also an outdoor swimming pool.

RV Parks Near Montezuma Castle: The closest RV park is Distant Drums RV Resort which is under two miles away. You can also choose from Verde River RV Resort and Verde Ranch RV Resort which are all within five miles of the park.

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Have you got any questions about visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument? Or do you have any of your own helpful advice about visiting you want to share? Let us know in the comments below.

More Information To Help Plan Your Trip To Arizona

Arizona Bucket List: Looking for more ways to spend your time in Arizona? Here is the Ultimate Arizona Bucket List — a guide to all of the best things to see and do in the state!

Grand Canyon National Park: If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon yet and planning to visit while you’re in Arizona, see this Guide To Visiting Grand Canyon National Park. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can attempt to hike the rim to river trail during your trip!

Arizona Road Trips: Arizona is a fun state to take a road trip! There are several bucket list worthy scenic byways, interesting ghost towns to visit like Jerome, and of course you can take a drive across historic route 66 too.

Rental Cars: If you need a rental car for your road trip, we highly recommend Enterprise Rental Cars. They not only have great rates but good customer service too! But if you prefer to shop around check who compare prices of all rental car companies in the USA.

Campervan & RV Rentals: Consider renting an RV or campervan for your road trip. You’ll save money on hotel rooms and eating out!! Search for RV rentals here and campervan rentals here.

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