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Montezuma Castle with Kids

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Montezuma Castle with kids makes the perfect family road trip pitstop for an intriguing history lesson and a nature walk. This 20-room cliff-dwelling once occupied by the Sinagua Native American tribe is a must-see for anyone traveling from Phoenix to Sedona or the Grand Canyon. After I came to this National Monument as a kid, I became enthralled by Native American culture, strapping a baby doll to my back and pretending to grind corn into flour in my desert backyard. (Really!) It was one thing to read about the history of my childhood state of Arizona and quite another to see with my own eyes these ancient cliff-dwellings and try to picture the day-to-day lives of the Sinagua people. Here's what to know before you visit Montezuma Castle with kids.

Montezuma Castle with Kids

Montezuma Castle with Kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Montezuma Castle Overview

Named one of America's first National Monuments in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, today over 350,000 people visit Montezuma Castle each year. The small on-site museum includes exhibits and artifacts depicting the lifestyle, history and culture of the once residents of Montezuma Castle, the Sinagua people. (Sinagua means “without water” in Spanish). The Sinagua tribe settled here approximately 1,000 years ago and left 400 years later. It is unknown why they abandoned their cliffside home. 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.

Beaver Creek near Montezuma Castle

Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy by Beaver Creek during cooler months (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 song birds, 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 Montezuma home.

A 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 dwelling, playing, and caring for elderly tribe members. Ask kids to imagine what it would be like to live in the castle so many years ago and to pick out which room they would like as their own.

Montezuma Castle National Monument Diorama ~ Montezuma Castle with Kids

My daughter was fascinated by the Montezuma Castle diorama (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Junior Ranger Program

To get children excited about exploring the 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 and they receive an official Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Younger rangers (like my then 5-year-old daughter) can do a simpler activity like a word find and/or answering simple questions posed by the Park Ranger on duty.

Junior Ranger Oath ~ Montezuma Castle with Kids

Taking the Junior Ranger oath at Montezuma Castle National Monument (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Getting to Montezuma Castle

Follow I-17 to exit 289 (90 minutes north of Phoenix, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). Drive east (through two traffic circles) for approximately 1/2 mile to the blinking red light. Turn left on Montezuma Castle Road.

What is your favorite National Monument or National Park? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I did not receive any discounts or compensation related to this post. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Cool – I had no idea about this place & am now adding it to my Arizona to-do list. Thanks!

  2. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Debi – It’s so funny that you left a comment…I was thinking of sending a link to this story to you because I knew Montezuma Castle would be right up your alley! Thanks for stopping by!

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