Keet Seel Trail is a 14.9 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Shonto, Arizona and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, camping, and backpacking and is best used from May until September.

Length14.9 miElevation gain1,768 ftRoute typeOut & back
BackpackingCampingHikingrunningHistoric siteNo dogs
Description
Waypoints (0)
Contact

Make sure you take a lot of water with you - 8 liters or more is recommended as running out can be very dangerous. Backcountry permits are required for both day and overnight hikers to Keet Seel, with a limit of 20 hikers per day.

Arizona Office of Tourism, 2702 N. 3rd St., Suite 4015 , Phoenix, AZ, 85004, Phone: 888-520-3434, Fax: 602-240-5432, mfioritt@pni.com

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Reviews (18)
Photos (34)
Recordings (10)
Completed (35)
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Hypsy Gypsy
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarJune 27, 2019
HikingMuddyNo shade

PERMIT REQUIRED! You must obtain a permit to do this hike the day before you want to hike it. At the visitor center you sign up for an orientation. That took place for us at 3pm. Note that they do not allow people into the canyon on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and if you choose to hike it on Monday, as we did, you’re only allowed to day hike (no overnight), which means you’re doing the 16-17 miles, out and back, in one day. The rangers also ask that you get started at first light and reach the rangers cabin (end of trail) no later than noon, so the ranger has time for the tour and to hike out of there themselves. Again, this is for Monday only; I don’t think they care what time you get out there the other days as long as it’s at reasonable hours. Overall, the trail for us was easy. I think this trail has been rated has “hard” because of the length and the fact that you walk through sand and water (no biggie for us). The only challenging part was the ascent out of the canyon on the way back which in itself was very short. Of course, it’s all relative depending on your experience and strength levels. For most of the hike, it’s flat and easy going. It took us 3.5 hours to get to the rangers cabin and ancient village; we took a 2 hour break for snacks and the tour; then it took us another 3.5 hours to hike back. All this was at a causal pace as well. You will get your feet wet because you follow the river and will cross it several times. It’s generally ankle deep and there’s no getting around getting wet, so I recommend trail runners or similar lightweight shoes that dry quickly. Boots, even “waterproof” ones, will only hold in the moisture and cause injury. I also recommend gators (like Dirty Girls) to keep the bulk of sand out of your shoes, but you will still get wet and sandy no matter what you do, so embrace the suck. We came across several beautiful wild flowers along the hike and even got to hike among wild horses. The rock formations are stunning all along the way. You’ll come across a few waterfalls too (depending on the time of year). Although you are hiking among copious amounts of water, the rangers highly advise against drinking it, even filtered, so it’s recommended that you bring enough water for the entire trail and more if you plan to overnight it. We brought 4 liters of water each, which is about a gallon. The rangers recommend this amount of water per person as well. Please note: this review and opinions are that of experienced cross-country backpackers with thousands of miles under our belts, so...grain of salt or sand ;o)

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Suzanne Mullins
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJune 7, 2019
Backpacking

There are many challenges on this trail. Downhill steps, sand slogging uphill & down, stream crossings, & quicksand in the stream now and then. Water was not an issue, due to partly cloudy skies and temp in the high 70's. Some of the water we cached we poured out before beginning our ascent. The white waypoint posts are very helpful except the last few miles they are a mile apart instead of .5. Camp Sites vary in space and table size. The largest site had the smallest table. The mileage we completed is from the Keel Seel parking trailhead making hike 17.0 miles We were surprised by a small herd of wild horses and Primrose scattered along the trail. The Keet Seel Ranger Station is .5 miles from the CG with the dwelling .25 further. The Grandson of the Archeologist who helped to restore Keet Seel in the 30's was our Guide. He brought the place to life !

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Tom Hall
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 8, 2018
HikingNo shade

Amazing ruins. My #1 hike. Best to plan on camping over night near the ruins, and make it a two day hike. Permit required, be in good shape. Multiple creek crossings, so your feet will get wet. It was an honor to visit Keet Seel ruins.

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Bob Foster
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJuly 6, 2018
Backpacking

I couldn't recommend this hike strongly enough. We feel privileged to have been selected for one of the limited number of permits issued each year to hike into Keet Seel. The hike was recently selected by Arizona Highways as the hike of the month, which will only serve to increase the demand for permits. Our party of 4 decided to do the hike in 2 days vs a single day so we could take our time and fully enjoy the surroundings and exploring the Keet Seel cliff dwellings. We opted to stay at the Monument's camp grounds the night before we hiked into the canyon so that we could get an early start while the air was still cool. I would rate the difficulty of this hike somewhere between moderate and hard. Hard, primarily because of the amount of water you are required to carry and having to traverse thru so much sand. We carried 7 liters of water each into the canyon. We cache about 1/3rd of our water near the first marker once we were in the canyon so it would be available for the climb out. This worked well for us, and we never ran out of water. I would strongly discourage anyone from considering filtering their water. Cattle and feral horse droppings quite literally line the stream bottom. In fact, it's virtually impossible to avoid walking thru it. For shoes I would recommend "WATERPROOF" hikers or trail runners, preferably medium height. You could also consider low gaiters if you prefer low shoes. I definitely would not recommend trail runners that are not waterproof unless you like to remove you shoes every couple miles to dump out the copious amounts of fine sand that will filter into your shoes. Your shoes will get wet as you will be continuously crossing the shallow stream bed. Luckily the Arizona sun will dry your shoes quickly once you get the camping area. The camping area near the cliff dwellings is a beautiful spot, surrounded by fencing to keep the cattle and horses from entering the area. The composting toilets are clean and well kept with virtually no smell. I would highly recommend this backpacking experience. Especially if you enjoy beautiful/remote locations, star filled night skies w/ virtually no light pollution, and some of the most incredible ancient cliff dwellings to found anywhere. Remember your hats, sunscreen and insect repellent.

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Brian Edwards
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJune 26, 2017
Backpacking

I've done this three times now and each time is more amazing than the last. definitely go here. its a must

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Trevor Huxham
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJune 19, 2017
Backpacking

A strenuous hike that takes you from the top of the Navajo Sandstone stratum down into Tsegi Canyon where you walk 8.5 miles to the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in Arizona. This was my first-ever overnight backpacking experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better trail to do it on. Little, if any wayfinding was necessary as you simply follow the white posts the whole way there, which is as simple as keeping your feet on the trail and following the canyon upstream. The feeling of isolation was just right: you’re so far off the grid yet 20 people a day are allowed to hike. The natural environment was fascinating, especially getting to see up-close and personal the erosion of the Navajo sandstone as well as mindblowing populations of cryptobiotic soil crusts literally holding the dirt together in this tough environment. Not much wildlife apart from a pack or two of escaped/feral horses, which don’t seem to mind the humans in the canyon (apart from pooping everywhere). The ruins themselves are stellar: very well-preserved and/or restored in some sections, with potsherds literally everywhere you step, large collections of dried-up corncobs, and in many cases the original woven rooftops made from sticks and reeds. Feels very spooky to be wandering around a place that looks like it was just abandoned yesterday, very similar to the Upper Cliff Dwellings on Tonto National Monument. You have to climb up a 70-rung (ish) ladder that leans against the rockface, so if you have any fear of heights please keep in mind that this may be a little intense. Heights don’t bother me much but I found my adrenaline pumping and was a little shaky when I got up/down…but it’s a very secure ladder so no need to worry. At both the ruins and the campground there are composting toilets and anti-critter backpack bins, so there’s a little bit of creature comfort (ahem) out here in the wilderness. Campgrounds were clean and pleasant, although because of all the moisture (and horse poop in the canyon) there were a lot of bugs so spray your bug spray generously. Very tranquil setting, kind of like an oasis in the desert with the lush trees and grasses. For the actual hike itself, I recommend bringing traditional hiking boots for the mountain descent/ascent and then whatever you prefer for the stream crossings: my backpacking buddies used hiking sandals but I used some old Converses that drained fast and had little fabric/cushion to get soaked. Bring NO LESS THAN 8 liters of water, either by getting one of those plastic/fabric Dromedary bags from MSR (mine holds 6 liters) or by carrying along a few 1.5-liter water bottles from Nalgene (or Smart Water). The creek is 100% contaminated due to the cattle and horses that poop with abandon, plus there may or may not be trace uranium floating about, who knows. Don’t worry about fashion; wear a wide-brimmed or floppy hat to protect your face/neck from the sun, and reapply sunscreen every two hours and you’ll be fine. I did this hike in early June during high summer for Arizona, so the creek was very low (crossings were barely ankle-deep at the highest) and weather was highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s with strong breezes, so a very pleasant hiking experience. I can imagine once monsoon season hits (during July and August) this hike could be very scary given the risk of flash floods and higher water levels. Highly recommend this hike as one of the most isolated, most exclusive destinations in the National Park system!!!

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Robin Mulvaney
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJune 17, 2017
Hiking

The ruins were in absolutely amazing condition, unlike any others I have seen. As for the hike, be warned the majority of it (at least for us at the time of year we went--mid-june) was in sand. Also, take more water than you think you need, we all took well over 3 liters and all of us ran out or almost ran out by the end. I would suggest taking a separate container and cashing it at the bottom of the canyon just after the descent. The last suggestion I would have is to start early, and if possible try to time things so you aren't climbing out of the canyon during the hottest part of the day. Overall, great hike!

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Lee Homa
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarFebruary 12, 2017

I loved this hike. I did it as a 2 day backpack and felt this was a very doable journey for a middle age guy. The cliff city at the end of the trail is perhaps the most impressive Native American ruin I have visited in the southwest. It's as if the people who lived here had just left.

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Paloma Norton
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarNovember 2, 2016

This hike was amazing. I only advise you to take way more water than you already think you can handle haha there is unavoidable quicksand and you will not be able to avoid water so wear waterproof shoes. If your planning to do this hike as a one day. I'd really advise you not to! It's so beautiful but take your time on this hike and be very very prepared with water!

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DeeAndra Salabye
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarAugust 23, 2016

This trail is certainly challenging but worth the experience.

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Steve Schmorleitz
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarAugust 14, 2010
Hiking
First to Review

Ive hiked in almost every state in the USA, and this is one of the most memorable hikes Ive ever done. I decided to do this trail as a solo, one-day hike. There is an option to take the hike in two days if you decide to camp near the ruins. Another option is a one-day horseback ride. Every one of the 20 people going that day, except for me, went on horseback. The trail follows the old Tsegi Road for about 1.5 miles to Tsegi Point. Make sure you stop and look out over the canyons at this point. The vistas here are vast. You can even see Navajo Mountain far off on the distant horizon. Then the trail turns right (south) and drops around 1000 feet into the confluence of Tsegi and and Batatakin Canyons. Most of the rest of the trip follows a maze of sandy canyon floors. For most of the last 5.5 miles of the hike youll be walking in an inch or two of water down Keet Seel Canyon, so be prepared to get your feet wet. Walking in the canyon is a surreal experience. Majestic red, yellow, and pink, cliffs rise far above your head. Birds of prey soar overhead and wild life abounds. During my visit I heard what sounded like horses galloping towards me. Sure enough, three wild mustangs came charging around a bend in the canyon, their hoofs splashing the shallow water into the air. One passed by on my left and two on my right. Finally, theres the Keet Seel Ruin itself. The size, shape, and location of the alcove in which this magnificent ancient city lies makes Keet Seel one of the best preserved large ruins in the USA. A ranger is there waiting to take small groups on a tour through the ruin. I found it fascinating that there were 450 year old ears of corn still and pottery still laying on the floor of the place. Final notes: 1. Make sure you take a lot of water with you. I took 5 quarts and ran out of water for the last couple of miles on the way back. It was very dangerous. I experienced the beginnings of heat exhaustionsomething I never want to experience again! 2. Backcountry permits are required for both day and overnight hikers to Keet Seel, with a limit of 20 hikers per day, and the trail is fairly long (about 18 miles round trip). The combination of few people and long distances really gives you a feel that youre in one of the remotest areas of the Southwest, and indeed you are.

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Leander Staley
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMarch 30, 2020
Hiking
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Elliott Thompson
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJuly 26, 2019
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Elliott Thompson
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarJuly 25, 2019
Hiking
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Dan Perkins
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJune 14, 2019
Hiking
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Suzanne Mullins
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarJune 3, 2019
Hiking
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Petra Novotna
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMay 26, 2019
Hiking
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Jessica G
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMarch 6, 2014
Hiking