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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 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

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!

  3. This place seems like such a fun place to explore with kids! I know if I were a kid here, I would come up with a whole story as to what this place was all about!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      There are lots of educational signposts that tell the history or Montezuma Castle but, yes, it is super fun to imagine the lives of the Sinagua people here!

  4. That sounds like it would be a ton of fun to visit with the kids. We are ITCHING to go anywhere at the moment, so as soon as we can, we’re going!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I hear you! Nature travel and National Monuments like this are perfect because you can easily social distance!

  5. Matt Taylor says

    I live in Phoenix and my buddy and I have been to Motezuma Castle. It was such an awesome place, and definitely a neat place to take kids.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      So great that you and your friend were able to visit Montezuma Castle. Next time, maybe you can stop at Tuzigoot?!

  6. It looks like it was a great moment spent with the family. Reminds of of the field trip I went together with the kids.

  7. TheHappyMommie says

    This sounds like a fun place, will be adding this to my travel list! thanks for sharing

  8. Gervin Khan says

    You sure travel a lot. These places are so beautiful!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Well, traveling is my job as a travel blogger! 🙂 Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot really are beautiful places to explore and learn!

  9. Lucy Clarke says

    Really glad to have read this. Always on the lookout for educational trips that the entire family can enjoy. While we may not be able to travel to AZ in these times, this sure gave me an idea of what else we can do on our side of the world. Thank you!

  10. Looks like you guys had fun. The Jr. Ranger badge and certificate sounds like an awesome accolade for the kids. Fry bread looks so good!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      My kids loved getting the Junior Ranger Badges when they were young! And that frybread…SO delicious!

  11. Ntensibe Edgar Michael says

    Wow….no questions from me. It is quite the place they got here. I would love to have a tour of it.

  12. The Joyous Living says

    i was a junior ranger before!! totally one of my favorite memories as a child. and that diorama that your son was admiring looks like something i’d be studying too. your kids are lucky to travel as children.

  13. Oh this place looks so wonderful! I would love to visit there with my family.

  14. Marie Phillips says

    This has been on my bucket list for some time. I would still love to go there and take my kids!!!! And that flatbread looks amazing.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I bet your kids love Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot…and I bet they love the frybread even more! :-)-

  15. Emman Damian says

    This is the first time I heard about Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments. I haven’t been in Arizona. I hope to visit it soon.

    • What an awesome place. I love when junior ranger programs are offered because it helps kids gain a love for the outdoors.

  16. 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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