||0.75 miles roundtrip
||Spring, Fall, Winter
- Seeing rare water in a desert environment
- Remains of cliff dwellings
- Learning about the Sinagua people and how they used canals for agriculture
While nearby Montezuma Castle is pretty cool, I found Montezuma Well to be more interesting and unique. This limestone sinkhole is filled with water from an underground spring and remains full even during droughts! The Sinagua people used the outflow of the well for irrigation, allowing them to farm in an otherwise inhospitable landscape. You'll learn more about these people from signs along the trail, all while enjoying beautiful desert scenery.
From the parking lot, follow the paved trail on the right side of the building. A series of stone steps lead uphill, with signs for you to read as you catch your breath. The steps end at a viewpoint on the rim of Montezuma Well, pictured below. The water is highly carbonated with elevated levels of arsenic -- not suitable for drinking -- so as you'll learn from signs here, the Sinagua used it for agriculture instead. While the carbonation prevented fish from populating the well, five endemic species are found here, including a species of leech, snail, water scorpion, algae, and a shrimp-like amphipod.
The blue of Montezuma Well contrasting with the brown desert
Also from this viewpoint, you can see remnants of cliff dwellings, like those pictured below, just below the rim. Various indigenous groups have lived around the well since 700 CE, and the earliest dwellings here are almost 1000 years old. The well is sacred to the Yavapai people, who believe the well is where their people entered the world.
Cliff dwellings along the rim of Montezuma Well
If you wish to hike into the well, take the stone stairs down from the viewpoint. The trail is narrow and steep, so be mindful of other hikers and keep a safe distance. At the bottom, you'll find a surprisingly lush environment -- so lush that it can be difficult to get a picture of the well! At the end of this spur trail, you can see more cliff dwellings, as pictured below, and a cave where you can see bats if you're lucky.
A cliff dwelling near the bottom of Montezuma Well
Returning to the top of the well, turn left to continue on the main trail. After descending to the base of the well, another spur trail on the left leads to a reconstructed canal, as pictured below. Because Montezuma Well was such a reliable source of water, the Sinagua built canals to irrigate their crops, much like the more famous neighboring Hohokam people who lived around present-day Phoenix. Though this canal has been rebuilt, you can see part of the original canal by visiting the park's picnic ground you drove past on the way here.
The Sinagua used canals like this to irrigate their farms
Adjacent to the canal is Wet Beaver Creek (pictured below), the main source of water for the Sinagua in this part of the Verde Valley. Summer monsoons cause the creek to flood, which is the main reason the Sinagua built cliff dwellings like Montezuma Castle.
The lush banks of Wet Beaver Creek
The end of the hike features long desert vistas on the left side of the trail, as pictured below. In the distance, you can see the Black Hills (not the more famous Black Hills
of South Dakota) that form the western boundary of the Verde Valley. Soon, the parking lot will comes into view and the hike will end.
Puffy clouds above the distant desert mountains
There is so much to learn while on this hike, all while being surrounded by beautiful desert. Definitely stop here next time you're driving on Interstate 17! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter
Unlike many national park sites, dogs are allowed on leash! This hike is short and educational, making it perfect for the whole family -- just note there are stairs involved. While the park is open all year, summer afternoons should be avoided due to the oppressive heat and lack of shade. No matter when you go, bring water and wear sunscreen! This is a prime stop along Interstate 17, so expect to see people when you visit, though fewer visit here than Montezuma Castle.
From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north towards Flagstaff. Take the exit for County Road 30/Montezuma Well, then turn right. Continue straight through town, then turn right onto Montezuma Well Road after the sign for the park. Park at in the lot at the end of the road.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Parking is free at Montezuma Well! There are pit toilets and a small, staffed building near the lot.