Montezuma Castle – “It’s not a castle and Montezuma was never here.”

Where can you find a multi-room high rise apartment built directly in a limestone cliff? Only at the Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona. Montezuma Castle is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the southwest and in North America. If you are in Arizona, you should take a quick road trip out to see Montezuma Castle.

Getting There

It only takes an hour and a half from Phoenix to get to this site and is only 45 minutes south of Flagstaff. Once you get close, the Montezuma Castle road follows a 1,000-year-old irrigation ditch (Beaver Creek). Open hours are from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $10/adult. Schedule at least an hour or more to explore and walk around the grounds.

Montezuma Castle HistoryMontezuma Castle diorama

As the title said, Montezuma Castle isn’t a castle and the Aztec emperor Montezuma was never part of this construction. When the site was found in the 1860s, the ruins were already abandoned hundreds of years before. Montezuma Castle was given that name by European-Americans because they believed that the Aztecs created any and all archaeological sites from that time. What is fascinating about this national monument is the engineering involved in creating this dwelling high above Beaver Creek. The Sinagua Indians planned this well to alleviate the potential threats of the monsoon season flooding of the creek and potential threats from enemy tribes. Ingenious!

The Dwelling

This stone dwelling is set into a limestone cliff 90 ft above Beaver Creek in the Verde Valley of Arizona.  It is one of the best-preserved cliff ruins in North America and one of the first U.S. national monuments designated by Theodore Roosevelt. The five-story, 45-60 room cliff dwelling served as a “high-rise apartment building” for prehistoric Sinagua Indians ( the tribal name means “without water”) over 600 years ago. Which was fitting because, in the dry season, Beaver Creek was dry as a bone. And is probably why the Sinagua left the area and abandoned this site. This dwelling took over three centuries to finish being built. The only part that still exists is a 20-room section of the ‘castle’ where approximately 30-50 people resided in. Beaver Creek during Dry Season - Montezuma Castle

VisitingMontezuma's Castle in limestone cliff - Montezuma Castle

When this national monument opened up all the way until 1951, you could actually climb up ladders and actually explore inside the dwelling.  Over the years the damage to the structure stopped all that. Now you can only walk along the paths and view the monument from the ground looking up.  It is still an impressive sight to see. When you enter the national park, there is an easy 1/3 mile walk to the castle. The trail is lined with white-barked Sycamores, limestone cliffs, and tons of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks.Limestone Cliffs at Montezuma Castle

Summary

Can you imagine who was the person that thought it would be a smart idea to build into the side of a cliff?  That someone saw this limestone cliff and said I want to live here! The first architects of America apparently. Montezuma Castle is an easy destination to stop while driving from Phoenix to Sedona. If you are looking for more ideas for road trips from Phoenix, check out my fellow travel blogger’s post on Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Arizona or other National Parks for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

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