Palatki Heritage Site is a collection of cliff dwellings and rock art located in Coconino National Forest. This important historic site is one of 5 unmissable ruins to visit in Sedona, Arizona.
Not only is this area a goldmine when it comes to learning about prehistoric culture, but Palatki Heritage Site continues to be a working archeological site.
Over the years, this site has provided us with many answers about the people who once passed through this area including one of the largest panels of pictographs in the Verde Valley.
So who lived here and what does this rock art tell us?
This is exactly what we will cover in this blog post, including:
- What makes up Palatki Heritage Site
- Directions and entry requirements
- A little bit of history about the dwellings and rock art
- Details about each hiking trail
- What to expect for your visit
Let’s explore this prehistoric archeological site!
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What Is The Palatki Heritage Site?
The Palatki Heritage Site along with its sister site, Honanki Heritage Site, is a large collection of cliff dwellings, pictographs and petroglyphs. Located in Coconino National Forest, this territory offers an invaluable glimpse into ancient Arizonian culture.
Archeologists believe this was one of the Sinagua’s largest and most important communities. The ruins are currently run by the U.S. Forest Service under the Red Rock Program.
There are two main trails with an additional wheelchair accessible trail available at the Palatki Heritage Site but due to extremely limited space, reservations are required.
A reservation at the Palatki Heritage Site includes a guided tour of both the grotto and dwelling areas. Tours run every half an hour with each tour lasting about 1.5 hours.
However, in order to reach the Palatki Heritage Site, you must travel on a rough gravel road. This road is passable for passenger cars but you will have to drive extremely slow and allow for extra time.
If you rent a Jeep on your visit to northern Arizona, drive it to both Palatki Heritage Site and nearby Honanki, before hitting some of the best Jeep trails in Sedona.
Palatki Heritage Site Visitor Summary
- Visitor Center Information – Open 7 days a week from 9:30 am. to 3:00 pm (with the last tour at 2:00pm), but closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Address – 10290 North Forest Service Road #795, Sedona, AZ 86336, United States
- What To Do – Guided tours, three small hiking trails, small museum, bookstore
- Museum – Includes small exhibits and artifacts
- Available Services – Small museum, bookstore, vault toilets
- Palatki Heritage Website – Click Here
Where Is The Palatki Heritage Site?
The Palatki Heritage Site is located about 2.5 hours north of Phoenix and about 1.5 hours south of Flagstaff. Many people visit this historical site as a day trip from Sedona because it is about 20 miles south and less than 10 miles off the 89A.
Forest Rd 525 leading to the Palatki Heritage Site from both Cottonwood and Sedona is a rough dirt road. It is recommended to drive a 4WD vehicle but passenger cars will make it. Just be sure to allow for some extra driving time when visiting and take it slowly on the gravel roads.
Note: After bad weather conditions such as rain or snow, Palatki Heritage Site may be closed.
Follow SR 89A west through Sedona and continue to the last traffic light for about five miles. At mile marker 365, turn right onto Forest Rd 525 (this is the rough dirt road).
Continue straight on Forest Rd 525 for about 2.0 miles and the road will terminate in the Palatki Heritage Site parking lot.
Note: Head right when Forest Rd 525 intersects with N Loy Butte Rd. There will be a white sign for the Palatki Heritage Site at the intersection.
Take 89A north from Cottonwood for about 7.0 miles. Turn left onto Forest 525 Rd (this is the rough dirt road) about 0.5 miles north of mile marker 364 for about 7.0 miles. Continue straight on Forest Rd 525 for about 2.0 miles and the road will terminate in the Palatki heritage site parking lot.
Entry Requirements For The Palatki Heritage Site
In order to enter Palatki Heritage Site, you will need two things:
- Either a Red Rock Pass or an America The Beautiful Pass
- A reservation from Recreation.gov which costs $1.00 each
Red Rock Pass
You can buy a Red Rock Pass at this specific recreation.gov site in advance, or you can buy one at the Palatki Visitors Center.
Red Rock Pass options include:
- 1 Day Red Rock Pass – $5
- 7 Day Red Rock Pass – $15
- Red Rock Annual Pass – $20
If you plan to hike more trails around Sedona over a period of 2 – 7 days, you should buy the 7 day pass because you will need it at many other trailheads in the area.
America The Beautiful Pass
Are you a regular visitor to US National Parks and Monuments?
It’s highly likely you already have an annual National Parks pass, which is also known as America the Beautiful or the Interagency Pass.
Don’t have one yet?
Read our guide on why America the Beautiful national parks pass is one of the best things you can buy if you plan to visit multiple parks in the next year.
Instead of buying a Red Rock Pass you can simply display your America the Beautiful Pass.
When Was The Palatki Heritage Site Built?
It is estimated the Palatki Heritage Site was built between 1150 – 1350 AD. The dwellings, pictographs and petroglyphs were first detailed by the famous Smithsonian archeologist, Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes.
Fewkes was the first non-indigenous person to survey Palatki in both 1895 and 1911. He named the site Palatki from the Hopi words meaning ‘red house’ but it is noted the Hopi had no specific name for the area.
During this time, Fawkes was deeply interested in studying the lifestyle of the Hopi culture. He was a strong influence on protecting indigenous sites including Palatki and Honanki.
Fast forward more than a decade later to 1924 when a man by the name of Charles Willard purchased the entire property. Willard was one of the first Euro-American settlers to inhabit this area.
When he first moved into Palatki, Willard lived in a cave near the rock art alcove complete with a table, stove and bed. His original set up is still visible today.
A year later, Willard moved into his ranch house which is now the visitor center until 1938. He also planted many fruit orchards and vegetable gardens.
Can You Go Inside The Palatki Heritage Site?
Yes, there are two main trails and one additional trail which take you into the main portions of the Palatki Heritage Site. But you must reserve a tour to gain access to both the dwelling and grotto areas.
From experience, we can tell you the informed docents on site who perform these tours are absolutely wonderful. They are extremely knowledge and help you understand the history of this beautiful area.
The entire tour lasts about 1 hour with one section involving 60 steep and uneven steps to reach the ruins. You can expect to walk about 1.0 miles for the entire tour.
Palatki Heritage Site is still a working archeological area where specialists continue to find artifacts and evidence about indigenous cultures from Arizona.
When we visited, a small portion of the trail was inaccessible due to research, but this did not affect our visit in the slightest. Try to remember this is truly history in the making.
Below is a description of each trail so you know exactly what to expect for your visit. Good walking shoes are recommended and the first two trails we mention are not wheel chair accessible.
Elevated Sinagua Cliff Dwellings
This is one of the two trails you will visit with your tour guide. It is the largest cliff dwelling at the Palatki Heritage Site also featuring some large petroglyphs.
But in order to reach this dwelling, you must walk up 60 steep and uneven stairs for about 0.1 mile. Archeologists believe it was one of their largest and most important communities.
This several story dwelling is made from Supai Sandstone. Archeologists believe two rooms each housed a single family with an estimated 60 to 80 people living here at one time.
If you look closely, you can still see some remnants of ancient pottery, agave pieces and corn cobs. It is here you will also learn about the petroglyphs located above the dwelling.
This fertile land supported the Sinagua people for hundreds of years. They had no written language so little is known about their migratory patterns.
But according to the oral history of their Hopi descendants, they may have left this area for a number of reasons including disease, drought and / or conflict with other tribes.
By 1450 AD, the Sinagua had completely vanished from the surrounding Verde Valley. But we won’t get into any more detail as to not spoil your visit.
Grotto and Alcove Trail
The next trail is not as steep but is just as rewarding as it brings you close up to rock art in both the grotto and the alcove sections.
Once you climb the small staircase, it is easy to see why this area was so special. One of the highlights of this trail is the grotto which often filled with water in heavy rains.
You will hear about how people used this grotto and why it meant so much to many cultures spanning hundreds of years.
To the right of the grotto, there is a smaller alcove which was used for roasting agave. You will see many animal pictographs scattered along the wall which have now become black with soot.
As you walk further along the trail, there is an additional rock art site. But it is important to know most of this rock art is not related to the previous cliff dwelling site.
The numerous pictographs and the petroglyphs spanning the length of the walls date back to well before the Sinagua built their cliff dwellings.
You will see a myriad of pictures and symbols which have been well preserved due to their shaded location in the alcove. Look for drawings of bears, snakes, deer and even people while you listen to the tales from your tour guide.
Archeologists estimate some of these drawings date back 6,000 years ago to numerous prehistoric cultures who traveled through the Verde Valley predating the Sinagua.
Your tour guide will also point out that some of these drawings were created by those who came after the Sinagua including the Yavapai and the Apache tribes. It is not uncommon to see some of these drawings layered on top of one another.
As the trail terminates you can also see Willard’s cave house. But it is now closed to the public to protect an endemic species of bat.
Additional Wheelchair Accessible Trail
The last trail is a short self-guided wheel chair accessible loop that begins just past the vault toilet. It winds slightly though the heritage site so you can have a better view of the dwellings and the surrounding cliffs.
Best Time To Visit The Palatki Heritage Site
The Palatki Heritage Site is open year round. We visited Sedona in December and the weather was perfect for hiking at about 60°F. Visiting in the off season also meant fewer crowds.
Arizona summer days are extremely hot ranging anywhere from 95°F to 110°F. Very heavy rains, known as monsoons, are common late June to early August during the early afternoon.
Winter days in Arizona tend to have an average temp of around 60°F with lows commonly in the teens. Snowfall is rare but is possible.
Forest Rd 525 may be impassible in bad weather so be sure to check the weather forecast when you visit and plan appropriately.
It is important to drink plenty of water and hydrate properly, especially in the summer months.
Tips For Visiting The Palatki Heritage Site
- A reservation is required so be sure to make one in advance
- Ask any questions you may have because the tour guides are extremely knowledgeable
- Visit early in the day to avoid the heat
- Stop by the small visitor center to see the artifacts on display
- Take your time appreciating the various pictographs and petroglyphs
- Allow for some extra drive time down the rough Forest Rd 525
Our top tip for your visit:
Book your guided tour reservation in advance as soon as possible. Without this reservation, you may not be able to visit the Palatki Heritage Site.
There is a very limited number of tickets available due preservation concerns of the area. So if this is a must-do on your Sedona itinerary, be sure to make a reservation as soon as you know your dates.
Archeological Site Etiquette
Over the years, we have lost much of this precious area due to human recklessness. It is important to leave all things as you find them so future generations can also enjoy this beautiful site.
Here are a few things to consider for your visit:
- There is no sitting, climbing or standing on ruins or dwelling walls. Ruins are fragile and any of these actions will compromise the historical site.
- Artifacts should always be left where they are found and never picked up from the ground.
- There is no camping at either Palatki or Honanki Historical sites. Fires can destroy prehistoric organic materials and also covers the rock art with soot.
- Desert plants are fragile. Please stay on marked trails and do not venture off these trails.
- There is absolutely no graffiti. This destroys rock art and is extremely disrespectful to the cultures who created these wonderful images.
Palatki Heritage Site FAQ’s
Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Palatki Heritage Site.
Is The Palatki Heritage Site Worth Seeing?
This is our favorite historical site located in the outskirts of Sedona. We believe the free entry with the America the Beautiful Pass coupled with the very cheap historical tours makes this site a critical stop for any Arizona itinerary.
Being able to see the pictographs up close while hearing the stories from the past is an invaluable history lesson which helps us connect to our ancestry who walked here many years ago.
We think this historical site is definitely worth visiting even if you have already been to the more popular historic sites of nearby Montezuma Castle National Monument and Tuzigoot National Monument to the west of Sedona.
Do You Need A Reservation To Visit Palatki Heritage Site?
Yes, you need to book a reservation in order to visit the Palatki Heritage Site on Recreation.gov.
There is a nonrefundable $1.00 fee per individual reservation.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit The Palatki Heritage Site?
Depending on which pass you buy, entry into the Palatki Heritage Site can range anywhere from $5-20 for the Red Rock Pass or free entry with the America The beautiful Pass.
Keep in mind, you will also pay a guided-tour reservation fee of $1.00 for each person.
Which Is better Palatki Or Honanki?
Personally, we preferred the Palatki Heritage Site over the Honanki Heritage Site. We had a knowledgeable tour guide who was very funny making our tour enjoyable.
This is a great place to learn about the indigenous tribes from the area. You will learn about the difference in pictographs versus petroglyphs and what these meant to the people who lived here long ago.
Both heritage sites are included in our popular list of the best things to do in Sedona AZ.
Are Dogs Allowed At The Palatki Heritage Site?
Unfortunately no pets are allowed beyond the parking lot. Please be mindful of the warm temperatures if you are planning to leave your dog in your vehicle.
We hope this guide to the Palatki Heritage Site helps with planning your visit!
Please let us know if you have any questions about the Palatki Heritage Site or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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