If you’re looking for a day trip that is exciting, educational, and full of adventure, then look no further than Montezuma Castle National Monument. Located in Arizona just off Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, this ancient ruin is sure to inspire explorers of all ages. After a fun pitstop, we are sharing our tips for visiting Montezuma Castle for your next family road trip!
The details: Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle is a National Monument nestled in Arizona’s Verde Valley near Camp Verde, AZ. It is home to a large and awe-inspiring cliff dwelling constructed by the Sinagua people between 1100-1300 AD. The cliff dwelling was a part of the larger Sinagua community in the area. Visitors to Montezuma Castle will see the remnants of the larger town around the castle. Montezuma’s Castle itself is a five story 20 room building constructed on a cliff 100 feet above the valley below. In addition to Montezuma Castle, visitors to the monument will also get to see Beaver Creek. The area is also surrounded by large and beautiful Arizona sycamores.
For the most up to date information about Montezuma Castle, including price of admission and visiting hours, visit the website.
Fun Fact! Despite its name, Montezuma Castle has nothing to do with Aztec ruler Montezuma or his empire in Mesoamerica. In fact, the site a thriving town in the area before Montezuma was born!
Our visit to Montezuma Castle
We visited Montezuma’s Castle on our way to Flagstaff for a weekend getaway to play in the snow. As residents of Southern Arizona, we took the road trip to experience winter.
We arrived at Montezuma Castle at 3pm on Friday afternoon in late February. We got there two hours before closing. Surprisingly, there were a lot of people visiting Montezuma Castle when we arrived. However, as we were leaving the crowd seemed to disperse. We think this was mostly because the gate to Montezuma Castle closes at 4:45pm. We left around 4:00pm spending an hour onsite.
It was easy to visit Montezuma Castle. The national monument is about a 5-minute drive off I-17. And the weather was gorgeous when we visited. It was warm, the sun was shining, and there was a nice cool breeze in the air. This was lovely, especially because there was a snowstorm in the area the day before we visited.
Pro Tip: Check the weather before you visit. Weather conditions can change very quickly in the Southwestern United States. It can be cold and snowy one moment and warm and sunny the next, all in the same day! And especially during the late winter and early spring.
Tips for Visiting Montezuma Castle
1. Plan your road trip to Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle isn’t off the beaten path per se, but it is a bit of a drive from Phoenix, Flagstaff, or Sedona. So, it is important to plan your road trip accordingly.
How far is Montezuma Castle from … ?
This is a common (and good!) question! To help you out, here are some approximate mileages and distances from Montezuma Castle to other cities and towns in Arizona to help with family road trip planning.
- Phoenix – approximately 94 miles or a one-hour drive north on 1-17
- Flagstaff – approximately 50 miles or a one-hour drive south on 1-17
- Sedona – approximately 25 miles or a 40-minute drive south on AZ State Route 179 an I-17
- Tucson – approximately 205 miles or a 3.5-hour drive west on I-10 and north on I-17
For our trip to Montezuma Castle, we drove up from our home in Tucson, spending more than three hours on the road (actually more because we had to drop off Buddy’s cat with Nana!) before reaching Montezuma’s Castle. This made it a perfect fun and educational pitstop for us!
2. Plan on visiting Tuzigoot too!
The entrance fee to Montezuma Castle also covers the entrance fee to Tuzigoot National. Tuzigoot National Monument is home to the ruins of a Sinagua village in the Verde Valley. Tuzigoot is located 22 miles or a 35-minute drive from Montezuma Castle on AZ-260. The Tuzigoot National Momuiment is near both Cottonwood and Jerome, Arizona.
Since the entrance fee to Montezuma Castle also covers the entrance fee to Tuzigoot National Monument, visitors can make a day trip out of visiting both National Monuments and Jerome, AZ from either Sedona, Flagstaff, or Phoenix. Or, if you are spending the weekend nearby, you can visit Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle on different days as your entry to these national monuments is good for up to 7 days.
It is important to note that while the entrance fee to Montezuma Castle also includes Tuzigoot National Monument, it does not include the nearby Montezuma Well, which is a separate entry fee. This is disappointing as Montezuma Well is much closer to Montezuma Castle than Tuzigoot. Located only one exit away on I-17, Montezuma Well has hiking trails, a natural lake, and features ruins of the Sinagua people.
Until we paid our entry fee, and the Park Ranger told us that our entry fee covers both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot, I had no idea. I wish we would have known because I would have planned our trip differently, setting out earlier from Tucson to make the trek to Tuzigoot. Next time, we will do both, skip them and visit Montezuma Well instead!
3. Yes, there are facilities (and snacks!) at Montezuma Castle
Unlike some National Parks and National Monuments, Montezuma Castle has restrooms and a public water fountain to re-fill your refillable water bottle (very important on hot days!). The Visitor’s Center also has a museum and gift shop. And the gift shop sells snacks if you want to grab a quick bite (which we did!). The facilities plus water and snacks makes it a great place for a fun and educational pit stop on a road trip.
4. Bring your Passport to Your National Parks passport book
If you have a Passport to Your National Parks passport book and are collecting stamps, don’t forget to bring your book with you when visiting Montezuma Castle! They have stamps at the Visitor’s Center for your collection.
If you do not have a passport book, you can always get one at a National Park or online. It is very fun to collect stamps at national parks and monuments – especially for the kiddos! Buddy started collecting a few years ago and we look forward to collecting stamps from different regions around the country.
5. No, you cannot enter Montezuma Castle
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed inside the castle. Visitors must take in the site for afar.
According to National Park website, the castle was closed to the public in 1951 after the site experienced extensive damage. Prior to that, visitors could access the castle using a series of ladders leading up the cliffs to the dwelling. The lack of ladders and paved easy loop trail make this site a perfect place to visit with littles or elders.
That said, family travelers keen on climbing ladders to visit pre-Columbian cities should visit Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico, or Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. However, be very careful climbing the ladders!
6. Support local artists and community businesses in Valle Verde
Montezuma Castle is a short drive from the Cliff Castle Casino operated by the Yavapai-Apache Nation. If you want to stop in for a quick bite at the casino restaurants, or to take you chance on a slot machine before or after visiting Montezuma Castle, this is an option.
Another local option is Yavapai Apache Fry Bread & Jewelry that sells fry bread and Indian tacos to go.
I honestly regret not stopping for fry bread on our trip!
7. When to Visit Montezuma Castle
The best time of year to visit Montezuma Castle is during spring or fall when temperatures are mild. During these times, you can expect beautiful blue skies and plenty of sunshine. But do be prepared for a late spring snow flurry. Also, keep in mind that summer days in Arizona can be extremely hot so it’s important to plan your trip accordingly.
8. What to bring for a visit to Montezuma Castle
When visiting Montezuma Castle, it’s important that you come prepared for the weather of the American Southwest. This can mean very hot weather in the summer, snow in the winter, or sunshine and nice temperatures – it depends on the day. So, check the weather forecast before you head out and plan accordingly!
Here are our tips
Wear close-toed walking shoes no matter the season to protect your toes from desert flora and fauna. Leave the flip flops in the car! Make sure you bring along sunscreen, a hat, water bottle, especially in the summer months as it gets very hot! If traveling in the winter, wear layers, that you can adjust as needed depending on changes in temperature throughout your visit. Also, depending on the day, you may want to bring a beanie or gloves.
When we visited on a sunny day in February, we did not need jacket. Instead, we wore layers of clothing and managed just fine. I wore layered tank with long sleeve shirt and jeans ensemble from Stitch Fix with my Columbia Hiking Shoes. And Buddy wore jeans, a T shirt, over a long sleeve shirt and regular shoes.
Visiting Montezuma Castle: A Teen’s Perspective
I mean my mom’s really pretty much covered all the things I was going to say. Montezuma Castle is cool. You get to learn about the people who used to live here, the Sinagua people, and what they used to do and how they used to live. The trail is easy, it is a short and sweet paved loop trail. It is nice to visit a new place and see some nice historical architecture. The river sounds were also great, too. And there are some fun things at the gift shop.
It was nice to just stop and take a break from driving from the road trip that we were on. We drove a straight shot between Tucson and Montezuma Castle so it was nice to take a break, walk around, and enjoy. Also, the weather was magnificent.
I think other teens would like this depending on their interests. For example, if teens are interested in architecture or history or even archeology, they might be interested in Montezuma Castle. But I would say that teens will like it. Especially as a break from a road trip.
Is Montezuma Castle Worth Seeing?
In short, yes. For visitors and locals alike, it is important to know and see the history of Arizona and the Southwest.
However, unlike National Parks like the Grand Canyon, Montezuma Castle is not a site that anchors a family road trip. Rather, we recommend visiting Montezuma Castle as a part of a larger road trip to Flagstaff, Sedona, or Phoenix. Or to plan a day trip from one of those three places to Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, Tuzigoot and perhaps even Jerome, if you are feeling extraordinarily energetic that day!
But overall, it is definitely a nice place to stop by to break up a road trip. You definitely won’t spend all day here.
For a fun and educational road trip pit stop, perfect for families of all ages, be sure to visit Montezuma Castle National Monument when visiting Arizona’s Verde Valley region. With its rich cultural heritage and archaeological significance, visiting Montezuma Castle is a fun way to explore Arizona’s history. You won’t regret taking some time out of your trip to visit this incredible site—it is worth it!
Have you visited Montezuma Castle? If so, let us know in the comments below! Also, we did not get a chance to film a Movement Postcard at Montezuma’s Castle. But we did film one in Flagstaff, stay tuned!
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
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