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Explore Ancient Cave Dwellings at Tonta National Monument


Summer is a great time to take advantage of our national parks and monuments. Many offer free or low-cost admissions and programs perfect for families. So this summer we will be featuring one of our country’s public lands every week and highlighting things you and your family can do there.

Tonto National Monument

Image description: One of the many cave dwellings at Tonto National Monument. Photo from the National Park Service.

In Northeastern section of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, ancient Cliff dwellings are impeccably preserved at Tonto National Monument. These cliff dwellings house structures that once were filled with ancient people during the 13th,14th and 15th centuries. When you visit Tonto, you get to step back in time and learn how prehistoric people thrived in the harsh desert climate.

When you arrive at Tonto National Monument be sure to stop by and check out the visitors center. At the visitors center you can watch an 18 minute video about Tonto’s past as well as look at the different artifacts found during archaeological excavation.

Once you leave the visitors center you have a variety of different trails you can explore and outdoor activities you can tackle. While tours are only available from November-April at the Upper Cliff Dwelling you can still visit the Lower Cliff Dwelling, only a half mile walk from the visitors center, year round.  

Situated within a cave, the Lower Cliff Dwelling houses the former prehistoric home of the “Salado” people and have been the focus of many archaeological excavations. For more than 100 years visitors of Tonto have been able to walk through the different rooms and structures.  Before visiting these structures be sure to read the site etiquette guide.

Tonto National Monument is also a great place to enjoy the unique desert climate. The Sonoran Desert surprisingly holds a variety of different plant and animal life.  As you would expect, cacti are plentiful, but there are also trees and shrubs as well as an abundance of beautiful wildflowers. Explore the Cactus Patch trail to learn more about the plant life found in the Sonoran Desert.  

A variety of animals also call Tonto home. There are more than 160 species of birds, 26 species of land animals, including badgers and bobcats and 14 species of bats including the big brown bat!

Year-round there is always plenty to see and do at Tonto National Monument!