Many people want to see the Grand Canyon or the saguaro cacti when they travel through Arizona. The major cities of Tucson and Phoenix attract millions of visitors each year.
But between those two cities lies a small national park, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. And it’s one you shouldn’t skip just because of its size.
Learn more about why this culturally significant site has been preserved!
Where is Casa Grande Ruins National Monument located?
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is located southeast of Phoenix, Arizona, just off Highway 287. The entrance is on the east side of the monument, and the only parking is at the visitor center.
If you would also like to visit Saguaro National Park, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is about an hour’s drive north of the Tucson Mountain District of the national park.
Who were the ancestors of the people of the Sonoran Desert?
The earliest hunter-gatherer culture began in this area of Arizona around 5500 BC.
As the climate became drier and hotter, the native people of the Sonoran Desert learned to farm. Archaeologists have found pottery remains that detail their culture.
Around 1500 B.C., the indigenous people of the Sonoran Desert began to develop an irrigation system to bring water from nearby rivers closer to their land. Corn, beans, squash, cotton and tobacco were grown here.
In the 1100s, above-ground dwellings began to be built in place of the “pit houses” of the early peoples. As villages became better organized, they built the Casa Grande.
When was the Casa Grande built?
The best dating methods indicate that the Casa Grande was built during the classical period of 1100-1450 AD, probably in the 1300s. Because of the amount of materials and labor needed, construction required planning and organization.
It sheds light on how far this culture had evolved since the early hunter-gatherer beginnings. Although we do not know the exact purpose of the Casa Grande, it must have been important to the indigenous people of the Sonoran Desert.
Unfortunately, this culture disappeared in the late 1300s and early 1400s. Possible theories for widespread depopulation include drought, flood, disease, invasion, and salinization of farmland.
Yet today, several Native American groups, including the O’odham, Hopi, and Zuni, have ties to these ancestors. Ongoing archaeological efforts and preservation of the Casa Grande ruins keep the legacy of the Sonoran Desert’s indigenous people alive.
How many people visit Casa Grande Ruins National Monument each year?
According to National Park Service statistics, 49,261 people visited Casa Grande Ruins in 2021. This is a significant decrease from the years before the pandemic, when 62,000 to 76,000 people visited the site.
However, from 1970 to 2001, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument welcomed over 100,000 visitors each year. Thus, in recent decades, the number of visitors has actually declined.
If you choose to visit the National Monument, you can also head to other national parks on your itinerary. Tonto National Monument is about 90 minutes northeast; you can easily visit it on the same day.
As mentioned earlier, the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is a little more than an hour south of the ruins.
Things to do in Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
During your visit to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you won’t be inundated with activities and things to do.
It’s a small site, just one square mile in size. However, plan to stay a few hours to really learn about the native culture of the Sonoran Desert.
Explore the museum exhibits at the Visitor Center.
Your first stop in a national park should be the visitor center. There you will find maps and other materials to guide you through the park, as well as park rangers who can recommend hikes or answer your questions.
At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Visitor Center, you can explore the museum exhibits and watch the park film to learn more about the culture and history of these ancient peoples.
Please note: Want to travel to Arizona in your RV? These are the best free campgrounds in Arizona for RVs of all sizes
Take a self-guided tour of Casa Grande
You can follow signs throughout the park that guide you through the ruins. These “wayside exhibits” are written and illustrated signs that tell you about the particular place you are visiting.
You will learn about agriculture, life within the walls, engineering and construction, irrigation methods, sacred land, and much more. There are no guided tours offered, so you can explore the site on your own.
Enjoy a picnic lunch or make reservations for the outdoor kitchen
The park’s picnic area is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm. So pack your lunch and enjoy the picnic shelters on a beautiful Arizona afternoon.
It’s easy to leave no trace if you properly dispose of your trash in the trash cans and collect recyclable plastic and cans at the shelters. If you bring your pet, just leash it.
Become a Junior Ranger
Children visiting Casa Grande Ruins National Monument can complete the Junior Ranger booklet and earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Many national parks offer a junior ranger program. So when you pass a visitor center, ask a park ranger for a brochure and instructions. This way, kids can learn more about what they’ll see and experience at each site.
Is it okay to enter Casa Grande?
For safety and resource protection reasons, Casa Grande ruins are not entered by self-guided tours. Since there are no guided tours, no park ranger will guide you in.
In addition, animals such as bats and birds live in the ruins. Their droppings can be dangerous for humans.
If a park ranger were to lead visitors into Casa Grande, the wear and tear would permanently damage the ruins. There is not much holding the ruins together anymore, so it is best to leave them alone and visit from the outside.
Please note: RV seat belt laws can be confusing! Do you have to wear a seat belt in your motorhome?
Is Casa Grande Ruins National Monument worth a visit?
If you’re visiting this area of Arizona, be sure to put Casa Grande Ruins National Monument on your list. You can drive north on I-10 from Tucson or south on I-10 from Phoenix.
The drive takes about an hour in either direction. So as you explore museums, art galleries, local restaurants and the nightlife of these cities, don’t forget the nearby national parks.
Experiencing the history and cultures of ancient peoples is at the top of many people’s list of favorite vacation memories.
Will you explore the ancient dwelling of Casa Grande?