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Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments with Kids

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Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot make perfect road trip pitstops for families driving to Sedona or the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Located in beautiful desert settings, these National Monuments are educational and fun for all ages to explore. Here's what to do at Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot with kids.

Montezuma National Monument in Arizona

Montezuma National Monument (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Montezuma Castle History

Named one of America's first National Monuments in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, today over 350,000 people visit Montezuma Castle each year. This 20-room cliff-dwelling was once occupied by the Sinagua Native American tribe. (Sinagua means “without water” in Spanish). The small on-site museum includes exhibits and artifacts depicting the lifestyle, history, and culture of the Sinagua people.

The Sinagua tribe settled here approximately 1,000 years ago and left 400 years later. It is unknown why they abandoned their cliffside home, but it may have been due to changes in weather, crop losses, or strained trading conditions. Miners who discovered the ruins in the 1860s mistakenly thought they had found remnants of the Aztec people and named the impressive building after the Aztec emperor, Montezuma.

Wet Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River, may be flowing or dry, depending on when you visit Montezuma Castle

Wet Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River, may be flowing or dry, depending on when you visit (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore Montezuma Castle with Kids

Follow a self-guided 1/3-mile loop trail past the incredible 5-story Montezuma Castle. The impressive structure was built into limestone cliffs. The trail will lead your family through a shaded Sycamore grove, and along the perennial, spring-fed Beaver Creek. Keep your eyes and ears open for songbirds, lizards, jackrabbits, coyotes and other animals during your hike. Be sure to stay on marked paths because Western Diamondback and Black-Tailed rattlesnakes also call this area home.

My then-5-year-old daughter was fascinated by this Montezuma Castle diorama

My then-5-year-old daughter was fascinated by this diorama (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Montezuma Castle Diorama

A detailed Montezuma Castle diorama brings history to life for children and adults. It depicts the lives of the Sinagua people performing tasks like cooking, climbing a ladder to the cliff dwelling, and playing. Push the button to hear an educational commentary. Then ask kids to pick out which room they would like as their own.

Picnic tables at Montezuma Castle National Monument with kids

Picnic tables at Montezuma Castle National Monument (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Picnic at Montezuma Castle

There is a lovely outdoor picnic area at Montezuma Castle beside Wet Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River. Here, families who pack a lunch can enjoy a meal outdoors. This is best for spring and fall visitors when temperatures are mild. Expect highs in the upper 90s and low 100s Fahrenheit in summer, and temperatures ranging in the 60s in winter months.

Little girl getting sworn-in for her Junior Ranger badge at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona

My daughter getting sworn-in for her Junior Ranger badge (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Montezuma Castle Junior Ranger Program

To get children excited about exploring Montezuma Castle National Monument, stop by the Visitor Center to pick up Junior Ranger materials before setting out. Older kids answer questions about the monument and surroundings like, “Prickly Pear Cactus: What color are the ripe fruits?” and “Cliff Dwelling: Imagine the view! How many people do you think lived inside?”

Junior Rangers take an oath promising to protect nature. Then they receive an official Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Younger rangers (like my then 5-year-old daughter) can do an easier activity like a word find and/or answer simple questions posed by the Park Ranger on duty.

Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

Tuzigoot National Monument (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Tuzigoot National Monument History

You can easily visit both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot in one day. Tuzigoot is one of the best preserved Sinagua pueblo in Arizona. It was built and occupied by the Sinagua people during the same timeframe as Montezuma's Castle, about 1000 – 1400 AD. All 110 rooms at this National Monument were once used as residences and gathering spaces. You won't find many doors, however, because residents accessed rooms via ladders and entrances in the rooftops.

View of the Verde Valley from Tuzigoot

View of the Verde Valley from Tuzigoot (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

What to Do at Tuzigoot

First, follow a 1/3-mile trail around the National Monument. Along the way, read informational signposts to learn more about the structure and Sinagua tribe. Look for the “J” on the mountain in the distance in Jerome, a former mining town that now stakes its claim as America's largest ghost town. Then, view artifacts like arrowheads and pottery in the visitors center. Hikers can take advantage of a 1/2-mile hiking trail here as well.

Young visitors can also participate in the Junior Ranger program at Tuzigoot, or download a Junior Ranger Tuzigoot guide to read before your family's visit.

Near the National Monument, you will see signs for the Verde River access points. This is where many visitors kayak or cool off in inner-tubes. Sign up for a Verde River kayak tour via Viator now!

Verde River near Tuzigoot National Monument

Verde River near Tuzigoot National Monument (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Why Visit Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot with Kids

After I visited these National Monuments when I was a child, I became enthralled by Native American culture. I strapped a baby doll to my back and pretended to grind corn into flour in my desert backyard. It was one thing to read about the history of my home state of Arizona, and quite another to see these ancient dwellings with my own eyes!

1/3-mile walking path around Tuzigoot National Monument

Part of the 1/3-mile walking path around Tuzigoot National Monument (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Which is better: Montezuma Castle or Tuzigoot?

If you only have time to visit one of these National Monuments, then I recommend choosing Montezuma Castle over Tuzigoot. The cliff dwelling structure is fascinating to all ages and the diorama brings Sinagua history to life, especially for young kids. Tuzigoot, while impressive, is a series of stone walled open rooms that may not fascinate families as much as Montezuma.

Montezuma Castle in 2020

My 12-year-old son looking at the Montezuma Castle diorama in 2020 (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Bonus: Indian Frybread

If your family is lucky, then you might stumble across an Indian Frybread stand near Montezuma Castle or Tuzigoot, run by Native Americans. Be sure to stop and get a couple of these delicious treats and shop other native handicrafts.

Frybread typically comes topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, salt, butter, or honey. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Navajo frybread originated 144 years ago, when the United States forced Indians living in Arizona to make the 300-mile journey known as the ‘Long Walk' and relocate to New Mexico, onto land that couldn't easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans.”

If you see a frybread stand near Montezuma Castle or Tuzigoot, STOP and get some!

If you see a frybread stand, then STOP and get some! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Where Are Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot?

Both National Monuments are located in Arizona's Verde Valley in Yavapai County. Montezuma Castle is located in Camp Verde, about 90 minutes north of Phoenix and 45 minutes south of Flagstaff. From Montezuma Castle, drive about 38 minutes to reach to Tuzigoot near the darling town of Clarkdale.

Book your private tour of Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot now!

Arizona sunset with kids

There's so much for family's to explore in Arizona! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore More of Arizona

Headed to Grand Canyon National Park? Be sure to read my tips for visiting the Grand Canyon before you go.

If you'll be spending time in the Valley of the Sun, then take a look at these fun things to do in Scottsdale with kids.

Located about an hour from Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle, discover what to do in Prescott, Arizona's territorial capital.

Things to Do at Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments

Save These Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot Tips

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Do you have any tips or questions for exploring Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: This story originally posted in 2011 and was updated with more tips in 2020 after a subsequent visit to Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, TravelMamas.com. She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. This place looks incredible and I love the amazing view I would love to visit in Arizona someday someday cross fingers!

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