Added by Michael Wigle
This is the only way to camp and hike at Canyon de Chelly without a Navajo Guide. The hike is a 3 mile loop, but can be extended to 13 miles if you want to check out Spider Rock Overlook.
Canyon de Chelly has been inhabited for over 6,000 years by both the Navajo peoples and the Anasazi peoples. The ruins through the walls of the canyon are from the Anasazi people date back to almost 7,000 years ago. Due to the significance and sacred nature of this area, hiking and backpacking without a local guide is prohibited except for one area of the canyon maintained by William Storyteller, at Spider Rock Campground.
Taking the South Rim Canyon Road from Chinle, drive 12 miles to Spider Rock Campground. Call ahead and make reservations in the busy warmer months. Typically, a reservation isn't needed in winter. Checking weather, there may be snow in the canyon system, but unless there is a large storm it isn't likely there'll be closed roads or the campground.
If you arrive after dark, or if no one is there, campsites and hogans are paid for by the honor system like you might find in any National Park campground. The Hogans are still made traditionally with a couple "creature comforts" like a mattress and wood burning stove. They all face east, to ensure that you wake with the rising sun. In the winter they are plenty warm and in the summer, cool from their heavy insulation.
From the camp, there is a maintained, but sometimes difficult to follow 3-mile loop trail. There are arrows painted on the ground along with rock cairns. You won't get lost, as the trail very simply follows the rim of the canyon.
From the rim you can see cliff dwellings, including one of the highest in the canyon. There are numerous rock ledges that extend over almost 800 feet of air, so be careful, especially with ice in winter. The trail winds through junipers while the windmill at the camp provides a landmark. Allow for 2 hours to really enjoy this hike.
Back in camp, you can walk the road to the Spider Rock Overlook in a 10 mile hike. Yes, it is faster to drive, but the walk gives you a better chance to soak in the undulating hills above the canyon while looking for wildlife. This walk provides an excellent alternative to the relatively nearby Grand Canyon, as it is less visited, and hidden in the Navajo Nation.
The overlook provides 300º views into a nexus of several cave systems at 1,000 ft above the floor. Spider Rock is a 800 foot tall spire of solid sandstone that rises from the floor. Navajo legend teaches that Mother Spider descended from here and taught the first peoples how to weave. Enjoy the views and remember to respect staying on the trails, and hiring a guide to go further into the canyon. Many people can be seen in the warmer months, tending crops and livestock in the canyon floor. This is their home, and they'll gladly invite you on a private tour, which you can arrange from the camp.
If you're looking for something to eat, Garcia's Restaurant in town is usually open. I recommend asking William at the camp where the current place to get some Navajo Fry-bread is. It's harder to find in the winter, but come summer, there are many road-side stands along highway 191 to get your fix!
- Gregory Daypack
- Nemo 3 Season Tent (if you skip the Hogan)
- 30º Sleeping Bag in winter months
- Sunscreen (the elevation is 6,000 feet)
- Firewood (can be purchased from camp for a great price)
- Food for 2 days
- Plenty of Water
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