Tonto National Monument: Exploring Cliff Dwellings

Some of Arizona’s history can be seen in the many Native American ruins around the state. Various tribes have established settlements across Arizona over thousands of years, and many of the archaeological sites are well preserved to this day. Tonto National Monument contains dwellings first established by the Salado people several hundred years ago. Visiting the dwellings is a great way to learn more about early life in the Salt River Valley while enjoying some of the desert scenery near Phoenix.

Desert views from Tonto National Monument
Desert views from Tonto National Monument

Getting to Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument sits just under two hours east of central Phoenix tucked up in the desert hills above Roosevelt Lake. From Phoenix, you can take either Highway 87 or Highway 60 to AZ-188. The monument sits a short ways up a canyon just outside of the town of Roosevelt. The park is well marked and there is ample parking.

Entrance Fees

To visit the monument, you must obtain a pass. A Tonto National Monument individual pass can be bought upon arrival and costs $10 per adult. This pass is valid for seven days. Alternatively, you can bring your America the Beautiful annual parks pass, which costs $80. We recommend this if you visit U.S. parks and monuments frequently – it’s worth it!

The visitor's center from above
The visitor’s center from above

Visiting Tonto National Monument

Just near the parking area is the visitor’s center. Inside, there is a gift shop, museum, and restrooms. The museum offers information on the dwellings and the people that built them and there are some artifacts on display. There is also a film viewing area that provides further information.


The visitor’s center is open every day from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and the Lower Cliff Dwelling Trail is open until 4 p.m. In June, July, and August, the lower trail is only open until noon. You must start your hike before closing time. Always check for updates before your visit and if you plan to visit on holidays.

The Upper Cliff Dwelling Trail was closed when we visited due to fire damage. Currently, the trail is open only between November and April and by guided tour only. For more information on tours, click here.

The Lower Cliff Dwelling
The Lower Cliff Dwelling

Tonto National Monument Rules and Regulations

When visiting the dwellings, please respect the area. Do not climb beyond any signs, climb or lean on dwelling walls, or move any artifacts. Please stay on the trail. This will ensure that the area stays well-preserved so that others can learn about and enjoy it too!

Pets are allowed in the parking area and the Lower Cliff Dwelling Trail and must be leashed. However, you cannot bring them in the visitor’s center, within the Lower Cliff Dwelling, or on the Upper Cliff Dwelling Trail. Flying a drone is prohibited in Tonto National Monument.

Inside the walls of the dwelling
Inside the walls of the dwelling

The Upper Cliff Dwelling Trail

As mentioned above, the Upper Cliff Dwelling Trail is open by tour only. Tours begin at 10 a.m. every Friday through Monday when a guide will take you up the canyon to the large dwelling. This hike is 3 miles round trip and is steep at parts. With frequent stops for breaks and to learn about the history of the area, the tour takes around three hours.

Tours fill up quickly in advance, so we recommend calling and reserving ahead if you want to explore the Upper Cliff Dwelling. When we visited, there was a trail closure due to damage from a recent fire. Much of the area had been burned, but luckily neither of the dwellings suffered damage. Even if you can’t visit the Upper Cliff Dwelling, there is still plenty to see and experience at the Lower Cliff Dwelling.

Beautiful desert landscape along the trail
Beautiful desert landscape along the trail

The Lower Cliff Dwelling Trail

The Lower Cliff Dwelling is the smaller of the two accessible dwellings in Tonto National Monument and the trail to reach it is a mile roundtrip. The hike to the cave is all uphill and there is little shade along the trail, but it is short and well maintained with railings and paved walkways for the majority of the path. The view over Roosevelt Lake and the desert is beautiful as you make your way up the hill.

When we got to the Lower Cliff Dwelling we were able to walk through some of the rooms where people resided many years ago. There was a very friendly ranger up there who told us a ton about the lives of the people who occupied the Salt River Valley over the years, the construction of the cliff dwellings, more about the recent Woodbury Fire, and answered any questions we had. The adventure to the Lower Cliff Dwelling and back to the visitor’s center took about an hour.

Inside one of the rooms of the Lower Cliff Dwelling

If you’re feeling up for more adventure after visiting Tonto National Monument, there are quite a few hiking trails and other recreation around Roosevelt Lake.

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