A visit to Navajo National Monument is definitely not a point-and-shoot experience. You're going to have to expend some energy if you want to see what this monument is all about. The shortest distance you'll have to walk is 1 mile, which is the round-trip from the visitor center to the Betatakin overlook. However, if you want to actually get close to these ruins, you're looking at strenuous day or overnight hikes.

Your first stop should be the visitor center, which has informative displays on the Ancestral Puebloan and Navajo cultures, including numerous artifacts from Tsegi Canyon. You can also watch a couple of short films or a slide show.

The only one of the monument's three ruins that can be seen easily is Betatakin, which means "ledge house" in Navajo. Built in a huge amphitheater-like alcove in the canyon wall, Betatakin was occupied only from 1250 to 1300 and may have housed 125 people. A 1-mile round-trip paved trail from the visitor center leads to overlooks of Betatakin. The strenuous 5-mile round-trip hike to Betatakin itself is led by a ranger, takes 3 to 5 hours, and involves descending more than 700 feet to the floor of Tsegi Canyon and later returning to the rim. Between late May and early September, these guided hikes are offered daily at 8:15 and 10am. Remember, daylight saving time is observed here on the Navajo Nation. Other months, tours leave only on weekends at 10am, but call to make sure the tour will be going out. These hikes are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. All participants should carry 1 to 2 quarts of water. While this is a fascinating hike, you will be hiking with a large group.

Keet Seel, which means "broken pieces of pottery" in Navajo, has a much longer history than Betatakin, with occupation beginning as early as A.D. 950 and continuing until 1300. At one point, Keet Seel may have housed 150 people. The 17-mile round-trip hike is quite strenuous. During the summer, hikers usually stay overnight at a primitive campground near the ruins, but in the winter, if the hike is offered at all, it is done as a day hike. You must carry enough water for your trip -- up to 2 gallons in summer -- because none is available along the trail. These hikes are offered between late May and mid-September and reservations can be made up to 5 months in advance. Hikes are sometimes offered in other months. Note that all hikers must attend a mandatory orientation, preferably the day before their hike. Hiking to Keet Seel also requires a free special permit from the Navajo Nation, available by calling the Visitor Center for a reservation; only 20 slots are open per day.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.