Chaco Culture National Historical Park, located in northwestern New Mexico, is a fascinating cultural site, offering a glimpse into the ancient civilization of the Ancestral Puebloans. Spread over a vast expanse of canyon and mesa country, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a testament to the organizational and engineering brilliance of the architects of this vast canyon that was central to thousands of people between 850 and 1250 CE. The park offers more than cultural and historical insights—read on for five must-do activities at Chaco Culture.
1. Take a Guided Tour of the Cultural Sites
Begin your Chaco adventure by joining a guided tour led by park rangers. These tours provide valuable insights into the history, architecture, and cultural significance of the ancient ruins. Understanding the intricate design and engineering of the structures will deepen your appreciation of this cultural site. There are multiple great houses and kivas to experience, including Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Una Vida, and Casa Rinconada each with its own special architectural and cultural features.
2. Hike the Trails
Chaco offers several hiking trails that allow you to explore the stunning landscape surrounding the ruins. The Pueblo Alto Loop and the Pueblo Bonito Trail are popular choices, offering panoramic views of the canyon and access to lesser-known sites.
Check out some of the hiking experiences at Chaco Culture National Historical Park!
Western National Park Association (WNPA) offers guides for many of the beautiful trails at the park. WNPA trail guides provide park-approved information about what can be found along the trail and at the trail markers. Deepening historical, cultural, and natural understanding of the trail, our trail guides are available online and at WNPA-operated park stores located in visitor centers, the trail guides educate travelers about the park’s architecture, archaeology, and Indigenous communities who once inhabited the sites along the trail.
3. Explore the Park’s Biking Opportunities
Bicycling the nine-mile paved Canyon Loop Drive is an excellent way to take in all the natural beauty and history at Chaco. The road is nearly level, and open from sunrise to sunset. Bike racks are located at the visitor center and the parking areas at the Chacoan sites: Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito and Cheto Ketl, Pueblo del Arroye, and Casa Rinconada. Cyclists are advised to keep alert to traffic and stay on roads designated for bicycles.
4. Camp and Enjoy an Immersive Experience
The Gallo Campground within Chaco Culture has 32 individual sites and 2 group sites. Bring the whole crew and make a lifelong memory as you immerse yourself in the park experiences of natural and cultural beauty. Group campsites are available for reservations. While camping, participate in ranger-led programs both during the day and at night. The National Park Service recommends visiting www.recreation.gov to ensure a camping or RV space on the dates you plan to visit.
5. Stargazing and Night Sky Programs
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is renowned for its incredibly dark and clear night skies. Attend a night sky program to learn about the celestial observations and astronomical practices of the ancestral Puebloans. The park’s natural nighttime darkness, commitment to reducing light pollution, and ongoing public outreach led to its certification as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association on August 19, 2013. The park established an on-going partnership with the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) in 1991. In January 1997, TAAS member John Sefick brought his astronomy equipment to Chaco. He was so impressed with the skies above Chaco that he donated a domed observatory and equipment to the park.
The Chaco Night Sky Program: The park began constructing a permanent observatory at the visitor center in 1997. In May 1998, the park dedicated the Chaco Observatory. The observatory added a new dimension to Chaco’s interpretation of astronomy and now serves many different people.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a true testament to the ingenuity and cultural richness of the ancestral Puebloans. Whether you’re interested in archaeology, astronomy, or simply appreciating the wonders of nature, this park offers a remarkable journey through time and heritage. Plan your trip to Chaco and immerse yourself in this captivating blend of history and nature.
By: Julie Thompson