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In 2020 on one of our trips to Flagstaff we stopped at Walnut Canyon. The Island Trail was closed then so we just did the short Rim Trail.
I thought it was nice but I wasn’t blown away. I did want to come back eventually to do the Island Trail and this fall when my parents were here was the time.
We went to Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, and Sunset Crater Volcano in one day before the Grand Canyon the next. Or maybe it was opposite, I don’t remember but it’s also not relevant haha.
When we got there we stopped in the visitor center and I got a mug, then we did the rim trail overlooking the canyon while we made sure we wanted to do the Island Trail.
They make it sound like all 700 stairs are at once that you’ll have to go up on the way out, but it’s 700-some stairs on the whole trail. There are a lot at once but it’s not as bad as it sounds, I promise.
If you hate stairs, it won’t be fun but it’s not a total nightmare. After the Rim Trail, we hit the Island Trail and headed into the canyon to see the dwellings built by the Sinagua people up close. (The park website can tell you about the history better than I could if you want more of that.)
Along the way down and at the bottom of the stairs, you can see even more ruins than from above, both in the direction you can see from above and on the side right below the rim.
It’s so wild seeing these dwellings tucked into these little alcoves I don’t even know how far off the ground. And it felt like everywhere I looked down the canyon I could spot another one!
At the bottom of the stairs, the trail becomes a loop taking you around the island. We went to the right which is the shady side. You can see dwellings across the canyon and you want by/through a few, too.
Along the way there are signs telling you about the ecology, environment, and history of the canyon you’re walking through. On the far end of the loop, the opposite side of the canyon is just pine trees and it’s beautiful!
As your go around to the other side, you’re on the sunny side. You can even tell the sunny vs shady side because of the types of plants growing in them which is pretty cool!
On the shady side, most of the dwellings are on the side you’re walking on but once you get to the sunny side, they’re mostly across the canyon. So they built them to be in the shade!
Soon, you’ll be facing the stairs again and will have to make your up. At least there are benches along the way so you can rest which definitely makes the trek out better.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 and you can get it at the park entrance. It will pay for itself in about three parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip! Homage is donating 5% of sales from the national park collection to the National Parks Conservation Association this year. Buy national park shirts here.
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
Where is the Walnut Canyon Island Trail?
Walnut Canyon is just about 20 minutes from Flagstaff. It’s an easy drive down I40 to the exit and right in to the visitor center. The Island Trail trailhead is right behind the visitor center and so is the easy, short Rim Trail.
How long is the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon?
The Island Trail is just 0.7 miles with 249 feet of elevation gain, but that’s pretty much all on the way out. It’s a short trail and doesn’t take too long, 1-1.5 hours should be plenty of time.
Is the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon hard?
Not really, but if you’re not used to higher elevation or stairs, this one might be a little tougher. Round-trip, there are 700-some stairs but it’s really not as bad as they make it sound.
If you do go in the summer, be sure to bring plenty of water because it does still get really hot. Half of the loop part of the trail is shady but the majority of the trail is sunny. There are benches along the stairs on the way up/down.
Is the Walnut Canyon Island Trail worth it?
I think so! It made me like Walnut Canyon a lot more than just doing the short Rim Trail. You get a great alternative view of the canyon, from the inside and below the rim.
This is a great addition to a trip to Flagstaff, a Route 66 trip, or a trip to Petrified Forest National Park. They’re all right along I40 making it easy to do them all.
Walnut Canyon Island Trail photo gallery
have you been to Walnut Canyon? Did you hike the Island Trail? What did you think of it?