Added by Jeremy Meek
Grandest of Arizona's Anasazi ruins, accessible by permit only! Amazing waterside canyon hike in Navajo country.
Keet Seel is an amazingly preserved pueblo village in the depths of the canyons at Navajo National Monument. First occupied as early as 700-900 AD, it was not until approximately 1250 AD when the current visible structures were built. During that period, Keet Seel was home to about one hundred Anasazi farmers. Now, the ruins are accessible (via a fairly rigorous hike – 17 miles round trip) to those who want to see and walk amidst a fascinating piece of the American Southwest’s history.
The site is often compared to the well-known Mesa Verde ruins in Colorado. Keet Seel has an overall smaller footprint than Mesa Verde, but is made up of about the same number of rooms. The inhabitants of Mesa Verde actually migrated to Keet Seel before continuing to the Hopi Mesas. For more history on Keet Seel, check out this link.
Because preservation is so important at Keet Seel, you must get a permit and make a reservation to visit. Keet Seel is accessible from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. You must obtain a permit to visit the site; only 20 permits per day are available (group size maximum of 10). As of 2016, the number to call to request reservations is 928-672-2700. Reservations can be made starting each February.
Keep in mind that the first three weeks of the season are the busiest (early June). Not only is this the coolest time to go, it is also the time when flash flood risk is lowest, meaning it is less likely that your permit will be canceled.
The Visitors’ Center (where you will check in and begin your hike) is located at the end of AZ-564, which is off of the US Highway 160.
If you are completing the day hike, the easiest place to spend the night if you want a hotel is in Kayenta, AZ – about a 30 minute drive to Navajo National Monument. There are campsites at Navajo National Monument if you prefer camping.
The 8.5 mile hike to Keet Seel has been done in as few as 1.5 hours and also in as many as 10 hours (each way) — it depends on your group’s hiking ability and fitness level how quick a hike it will be! There is a designated campground near the ruins, if you wish to stretch your trip over more than one day. Our group took about 3 hours to get to Keet Seel and 3.5 hours to get back to the trailhead (we are active 20-30 somethings that didn’t do any special training for the hike).
The hike will be in the altitude range of 6300-7100 feet above sea level. While you might suspect that this will mean cooler temperatures, the canyon floor regularly reaches 90-100+ degrees during the open season, even in June. The heat combined with the altitude can be exhausting; bring plenty of water! An orientation is required before you set out on your hike – this can be completed at 8 a.m. the day of the hike or 3 p.m. the day before your hike. In any case, if you are only doing the day hike to Keet Seel, you will not be allowed to go if you are not on the trail by 9 a.m.
If you obtain permits, you will receive detailed instructions from the National Park Service team at your orientation. There are white posts along the trail about every 1/2 mile keeping you on track. As long as you enter the correct canyon of three options, you won’t have a problem (go north after the huge boulder in the middle of the creek and head up the middle of the three canyons).
The hike provides some nice flora and fauna viewing opportunities. In June, we saw primrose, poppies, and datura (angel’s trumpet). We also saw tadpoles in the creek, plenty of butterflies, and even some horses. We were lucky enough to have a nice breeze accompanying us on our hike, which kept the flies, bees, gnats, and mosquitos at bay. Mosquitos in the area have been reported to carry West Nile virus at times, so cover up as much as possible and bring your repellent and apply it liberally!
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