Avoiding the Crowds
Between 600,000 and 700,000 people visit the park each year, in part because it is so convenient for cross-country travelers, just a few hundred yards off I-40. Nearly everyone heads down the same 28-mile scenic drive, and the drive's 20 pullouts can get crowded.
There are three good ways to avoid the crowds. One: Arrive early in the day, because there aren't many visitors in the first few hours, it's also before the heat peaks, and the lighting on the rocks is great. Two: Stroll away from the parking areas. The pullouts attract far more people than the trails. Three: The most effective place to get away from it all here is a day hike into the Painted Desert Wilderness.
Seasons & Climate
With an average of just over 9 1/2 inches of precipitation annually, the park couldn't get much drier. Because it averages a lofty 5,800 feet in elevation, however, it's not as hot as many other areas in Arizona. Even in July, daily highs average in the mid-80s (30s Celsius), with nightly lows in the low 50s (10s Celsius). Of course, the park occasionally heats up -- temperatures sometimes top 100°F (38°C) in midsummer. The hottest months, July and August, are also the wettest, with afternoon storms cutting the morning heat and depositing nearly a third of the yearly precipitation. Storms continue into early fall, but the weather dries out as it cools. By winter it can get very cold, and snowstorms occasionally close the park. In January, daily highs average 42°F (6°C) and lows 19°F (-7°C). Spring tends to be blustery and dry, with daily highs increasing from the mid-50s (lower teens Celsius) in March to about 80°F (27°C) in June -- the driest month of all, with just over 1/4 inch of rainfall.
During March, special events mark Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness Month. Call the park office for details.
For about a week both before and after the June 21 summer solstice, rangers meet with visitors from 8 to 10am daily at Puerco Pueblo. The sun shines through a natural crack, directing a beam of light onto a smaller boulder beside it. The beam gradually moves down the edge of the rock to a small, circular petroglyph; it touches the center of the petroglyph on the summer solstice. Archaeologists believe the ancestral Puebloans used this petroglyph to monitor the summer solstice.
On most Saturdays during the summer there are Cultural Demonstrations in the park, which might include silversmithing, weaving, or performing.
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.