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Chaco Culture National Historical Park Guide — Camping, Night Sky Programs, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located in New Mexico, about 90 minutes from Albuquerque. This national historical park has many archaeological sites to explore, fantastic hiking and biking trails, and rich culture and natural history. Each year, nearly 50,000 visitors come to explore the ancient pueblos, artifacts, and archaeology found in this New Mexican park. 

How To Get to Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Where Is Chaco Culture National Historical Park?

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is in the Four Corners region in Nageezi, New Mexico. The closest major cities to this national historical park are Bloomfield, Aztec, and Farmington, New Mexico, all approximately 90 minutes from the park. 

Chaco Culture National Historical Park Opening Hours and Seasons

The park is open year-round, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. There are times throughout the year when the campground and visitor center are closed. At some point during the year, Loop Road and the archeological sites may also be closed, so be sure to check ahead of time to see if any closures will impact your trip. 

Nearest Airports to Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Let’s look at the 2 most popular airports visitors use to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and see which works for your vacation needs. 

Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)

Albuquerque International Sunport isn’t as close as other options, but it is the most popular airport used by those flying to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. 

Getting to the park from ABQ takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. This airport offers nonstop service to over 20 destinations worldwide, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Airlines served by this airport include Alaska Airlines, Boutique Air, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit. 

Flying into Albuquerque International Sunport is a great way to maximize your travel time. Even though it is a bit further than other airport options, its long list of destinations and airlines served makes it an incredible choice for flying into the Chaco Culture National Historical Park area. 

Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO)

Durango-La Plata County Airport is 101 miles from Chaco Culture National Historical Park and is one of the closest options for flying to the park. 

This airport offers flights to and from Dallas, Denver, Houston, and Phoenix. Airlines served by DRO include American and United.

Bottom Line:

Visitors will need to rent a car from the Durango airport to drive approximately 2 hours to the park.

Driving to Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Those coming from the north will turn onto CR 7900 from US 550. Those coming from the south will use Highway 9.

Detailed on the park’s website are alternate routes and different options for visiting other sections of the park.

Taking the Train to Chaco Culture National Historical Park

There is no train service to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Getting Around Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The best way to get around Chaco Culture National Historical Park involves driving and walking. There are several places to explore in this park, and most visitors will drive to an area near each site and then walk a bit to get a closer view.

The park offers a variety of printable and interactive maps to help plan your excursions. 

What To See and Do in Chaco Culture National Historical Park

There’s no shortage of amazing sights and activities at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. From exploring ancient archeological sites and phenomenal biking and hiking routes to special programs and guided tours, there’s something for every visitor to enjoy while visiting this park.

Archaeological Sites

Una Vida
Image Credit: NPS

Chaco Culture National Historical Park has many archaeological sites to explore during your visit. Several sites are called great houses: large public buildings with incredible masonry, earthen architecture, and kivas (underground ceremonial chambers). These great houses include Hungo Pavi, Una Vida, Chetro Ketl, and Pueblo Bonito.

These sites can be viewed independently while touring the park with a ranger. Seeing these ancient sites firsthand is a terrific way to understand the Chacoan lifestyle and culture. 

Biking

Many visitors enjoy exploring the park by bicycle. This is the perfect way to sneak in physical activity, enjoy the canyon’s views and the park’s wildlife, and experience the environment.

The Canyon Loop Drive is an excellent trail for bicyclists. It is 9 miles long, paved, and mostly level. This road is open from sunrise to sunset. The notable sights along Canyon Loop Drive include Pueblo del Arroye, Casa Rinconada, Bonito, ChetoKetl, and Hungo Pavi.

When biking at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, do your part to protect and preserve the park by leaving any artifacts you may encounter, staying off the fragile walls, and staying on the designated road. 

Guided Tours

Guided tours are one of the most popular activities at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The schedule and information for these tours are found at the visitor center.

Some popular guided tours include the Pueblo Bonito Tour and the Casa Rinconada Tour. Participating in one of these guided tours is a great way to learn about the park and interact with the park rangers. 

Hiking Trails

Several hiking trails wind through the park’s backcountry, including the Peñasco Blanco Trail, Wijiji Trail, Pueblo Alto Trail, and South Mesa Trail. These trails range from 3 to 7.5 miles long. The most popular trail is the Pueblo Alto Trail, which has an incredible mesa-top view of Pueblo Bonito.

No matter which trails you hike, you are guaranteed to enjoy sweeping views of the mesa landscape, the Chacoan great houses, and ancient roads and leave with a better understanding of the Chacoan lifestyle. 

Night Sky Programs

Various night sky programs are offered regularly at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. These unique programs have been offered since 1991 and are loved by the visitors who can attend them. Thanks to its remote environment and clear, dark skies, visitors learn about and view the amazing sights in the sky.

Some programs include spring and autumn equinox events, summer and winter solstice programs, and evening night sky programs that teach about archeoastronomy and cultural history and offer telescope viewings.

Bottom Line:

When visiting Chaco Culture National Historical Park, you want to attend one of the night sky programs to see and learn about the stellar sky over the park.

Petroglyph Trail

Spiral petroglyph
Image Credit: NPS

Petroglyph Trail is a quarter-of-a-mile trail that takes visitors to Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Kettle. This trail is along a cliff face and offers mesmerizing views of the petroglyphs throughout the park.

There are multiple places to stop along the trail, each with interesting symbols and drawings to interpret. Visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars for a better view of the petroglyphs. The visitor center has trail guides available for purchase, which can help while walking this trail.

Visitor Center

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park Visitor Center is an excellent place to start your adventures. Visitors can stop by whenever the center is open to explore the museum exhibits that teach about the daily life of the ancestral Puebloans, the Chacoan landscape, and so much more.

A film plays throughout the day and teaches about the rich culture and history of the park’s land. Before heading out on excursions, stop by the bookstore for souvenirs, maps, and books. 

Best Times To Visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park

You can expect a fantastic trip whenever you visit, though some times throughout the year are better than others to visit, especially if you hope to participate in a particular event or activity.

Best Time To Visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park for Ideal Weather

Pueblo Alto
Image Credit: NPS

Spring is the best month to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park for ideal weather. The best month for a visit with nearly perfect weather is in May. The temperatures typically range from the upper 40s to the low 70s, and there aren’t as many days of rain.

Weather can change unexpectedly and drastically, so be sure to come prepared with rain gear and layers of clothing, just in case. 

Best Time To Visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park To Avoid the Crowds

There are many months throughout the year when there aren’t as many park visitors. If you are looking for a time to visit that isn’t too hot, cold, or crowded, plan to come in November. Arriving at this time of year allows you to explore the park at your own pace while enjoying comfortable temperatures. 

Best Time To Visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park for Stargazing

Several times during the year offer spectacular night sky views, including the solstices and equinoxes. One amazing month to plan a park visit to view the objects in the sky is September.

Not only does the sky put on a dazzling show, but this is also the month of the Astronomy Festival. Visitors interested in astronomy will learn from demonstrations, ranger-led programs, guest speakers, and telescope viewings. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Saving money while traveling can happen with proper planning and research. If you hope to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park and go easy on your budget, plan to come in late September.

Flights and accommodations are typically lower once school returns from summer vacation, and you can time it just right to visit the park on National Public Lands Day, the fourth Saturday in September. Entrance fees are waived on this particular day, adding to your savings.

Annual Events in Chaco Culture National Historical Park

There is a long list of regularly scheduled events that take place at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. These events include ranger-led walks, stargazing programs, and tours of historic sites. Some events take place on an annual basis and bring in visitors each year.

Astronomy Festival

Horsehead Nebula taken from Chaco Observatory
Image Credit: NPS

The Astronomy Festival takes place for a weekend in September and celebrates the history of astronomy and the Fall equinox. This event has many activities that are suited for visitors of all ages.

Some activities include night sky programs, tours, talks, children’s programs, and telescope viewing. This is a great way to learn about astronomy and the beautiful sky over Chaco Culture National Historical Park. 

Spring Equinox

The spring equinox event takes place each year in March. This event is open to the first 100 visitors who arrive at the park. Visitors will meet at the visitor center and walk with a park astronomer to Casa Rinconada, a Chacoan great kiva.

Bottom Line:

Visitors can watch the equinox sunrise from this beautiful place in the park. The sight of the sunrise at Casa Rinconada is sure to take your breath away.

Winter Solstice Sunrise

The Winter Solstice Sunrise event occurs annually on December 21 or 22. This event begins at the visitor center early in the morning and is led to Kin Kletso by a park ranger.

The ranger teaches about the winter solstice and leads guests to the best place to watch the sunrise. Visitors are encouraged to bring firewood to build fires to keep warm during the event. 

Where To Stay in Chaco Culture National Historical Park

There are several options for a place to stay when visiting Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Some visitors stay inside the park boundaries, while others remain in one of the towns near the park.

Inside the Park

Gallo Campground
Image Credit: NPS

The only option for lodging in Chaco Culture National Historical Park is camping. Gallo Campground is a developed campground located 1 mile east of the visitor center. The campground is open year-round, and 32 sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Gallo Campground is nestled among the boulders and cliffs of Gallo Wash. Campers enjoy a rugged environment with petroglyphs, inscriptions, desert landscapes, and cliff dwellings encompassing them. 

There is a $20 per night fee and a limit of 6 campers per campsite. Amenities for each site include a picnic table, fire grates, water, and restrooms nearby. Sleeping under the stars at Gallo Campground is the ultimate way to experience the raw beauty and wonder of the park. 

Towns Near Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Several towns near the park would make a great place to set up a base camp when visiting. Each has unique offerings and options for lodging, dining, and recreation.

Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec is an excellent option for setting up a home base. This town is 69 miles from the park and is one of the closest options for dining, lodging, and recreation nearby.

There are plenty of options to choose from regarding lodging solutions in Aztec. From campgrounds and quaint inns to lodges and RV resorts, there’s something that appeals to every visitor. 

No matter what you crave, there’s a hunger solution in Aztec, such as Mexican, Chinese, or Thai restaurants, chain fast food, burger joints, and pizza parlors. The hardest decision you’ll have to make is deciding where to eat. 

Boredom is never an issue as the town is filled with the rich history of the Aztec Indians and the Anasazi. Many structures in Aztec are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and there are dozens of artisan shops, museums, and galleries to explore. For those who enjoy adventure, there are opportunities for mountain biking, car racing, and rafting trips.

Bottom Line:

Aztec is 90 minutes from Chaco Culture National Historical Park and is a wonderful place to stay when planning to visit this incredible park.

Bloomfield, New Mexico

Bloomfield is approximately 61 miles from the park and is an excellent option for setting up a home away from home while visiting Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Accommodations are bountiful; whether you seek affordable motels, RV parks, campgrounds, or a chain hotel, you can find what you are looking for in this town. 

Finding a good place to eat will be easy — there are mom-and-pop diners, popular fast-food restaurants, and several places serving Southwestern cuisine. There’s something for every palate in Bloomfield. 

Adventure seekers are in for a treat when staying where unique recreation areas, wilderness preserves, and ancient ruins exist. Those who prefer indoor entertainment will enjoy frequenting the antique and artisan shops throughout the city. 

Bloomfield makes an ideal location for a home base during a trip to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park. With its many lodging, dining, and recreation opportunities, all your vacation needs will be met in this town. 

Where To Eat in Chaco Culture National Historical Park

There are no places to eat within the boundaries of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, so let’s look at some of the most popular restaurants in the towns nearby. 

550 Brewing and Pizza Parlor

550 Brewing and Pizza Parlor is 68 miles from Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Aztec. Open for lunch, dinner, and late-night drinks, this popular restaurant is loved by locals and visitors alike. 

Craft beer and brick-oven pizza bring in customers all day, every day. Pizzas can be made to order, or customers can order one of the signature creations off the menu. Other menu items include freshly made salads, pasta dishes, and desserts. Some popular dishes include the BBQ Delight pizza, Green Chile Bacon Cheeseburger pizza, and the s’mores calzone. 

After a long day of exploring the park, stop by 550 Brewing and Pizza Parlor for a cold drink and a delicious dinner. It’s the perfect place to refuel after a day of fun. 

Rubia’s Fine Mexican Dining

Rubia’s Fine Mexican Dining is one of the top-rated restaurants near the park and is located in Aztec, about 80 minutes away. Rubia’s is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. 

The restaurant offers authentic, fresh Mexican food and an extensive drink menu. Fajitas, burritos, enchiladas, salads, and tacos are just some of the items you’ll see on the menu. Customers rave about the chili relleno, chimichangas, and carne asada. Be sure to order one of the margaritas or a ruby sangria to enjoy with your meal.

Bottom Line:

For an authentic Mexican meal and a vast drink selection, stop by Rubia’s for lunch or dinner you won’t forget.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park Facts

Pueblo del Arroyo
Image Credit: NPS

1. A New National Historical Park

Chaco Culture National Historical Park was established in 1980. It was declared Chaco Canyon National Monument in 1907 before becoming a national historical park.

2. Fossils Galore

Over the years, countless fossils have been found and studied at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Scientists believe that the land that covers this park was at one time underwater. Ancient reptiles, sharks, fish, and dinosaur fossils have been found within the park boundaries.

3. Chaco Culture Museum

The Chaco Culture Museum is an archeological research collection that documents the prehistoric and historic inhabitancy of Chaco Canyon. This collection can be viewed online or at the Hibben Center at the University of New Mexico Albuquerque campus. 

4. UNESCO World Heritage Site

Chaco Culture National Historical Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. This park is instrumental in preserving a large portion of ancient American Indian civilization. 

5. International Dark Sky Park

Chaco Culture National Historical Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in August 2013. This honor was given due to its extremely dark skies, lack of light pollution, and incredible stargazing opportunities. 

Final Thoughts

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is the perfect place to learn about some of the first settlements in American history.

There’s no shortage of excitement and learning waiting to be discovered, from exploring historic ruins and viewing the celestial objects in the incredibly dark sky to trails showcasing ancient petroglyphs and taking part in ranger-led tours to learn about the park’s cultural and natural history.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Chaco Culture National Historical Park?

It costs $25 per vehicle or $15 per individual to enter Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

How much time should I spend at Chaco Culture National Historical Park?

Spending 2 to 3 days exploring Chaco Culture National Historical Park is recommended. This allows plenty of time to see the highlights of the park and hike some of the trails.

What is the weather like at Chaco Culture National Historical Park?

The weather varies throughout the year at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Winter temperatures dip below freezing, and summer temperatures are usually in the 80s to mid-90s.

Can I take my dog to Chaco Culture National Historical Park?

Pets are welcome to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park. They are allowed in Gallo Campground and on the backcountry hiking trails but must be on a leash and cleaned up after at all times. There are also several safety concerns to be aware of before visiting the park with your pets.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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