Your Guide to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

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View of the Case Grande Ruins National Monument

Many people want to see the Grand Canyon or the Saguaro cacti when adventuring through Arizona. The big cities of Tucson and Phoenix draw millions of visitors every year.

But in between these two cities is a small national park site called the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. And it’s one you shouldn’t skip over just because of its size. 

Let’s learn more about why this culturally significant site has been preserved!

Where Is the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument?

Located southeast of Phoenix, Ariz., the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is just off Highway 287. It has an entrance on the east side boundary with the only parking available at the visitor center. 

If you also want to visit Saguaro National Park, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is about an hour’s drive north of the Tucson Mountain District side of the national park.

Cactus at Saguaro National park near the Case Grande Ruins National Monument

Who Were the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People?

The earliest hunting and gathering culture began in this area of Arizona around 5500 BCE.

These ancestral Sonoran Desert people learned how to farm when the climate turned drier and hotter. Archaeologists have found pottery remains that detail their culture.

Around 1500 BCE, these ancestral Sonoran Desert people began developing an irrigation system to bring the water from nearby rivers closer to their land. Corn, beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco were all grown here.

In the 1100s, above-ground dwellings began to be built rather than the “pit houses” of early peoples. As villages became more organized, they constructed the Casa Grande.

When Was Casa Grande Built?

The best dating methods indicate that the Casa Grande was built during the Classic Period of 1100-1450 CE, probably in the 1300s. Because of the amount of material and workforce needed, the construction required planning and organization. 

It sheds light on how far this culture had come since the early beginnings of hunters and gatherers. Although we aren’t sure of the Casa Grande’s purpose, it must have been important to the ancestral Sonoran Desert people. 

Unfortunately, during the late 1300s and early 1400s, this culture disappeared. Possible theories surrounding their widespread depopulation include drought, flood, disease, invasion, and salinization of the farmland.

But today, several Native American groups, including the O’odham, Hopi, and Zuni, have links to these ancestral people. The ongoing archaeological efforts and preservation of the Casa Grande ruins keeps the legacy of the ancestral Sonoran Desert people alive.

View of the Case Grande Ruins National Monument

How Many People Visit the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Each Year?

According to the National Park Service stats report, 49,261 people visited the Casa Grande ruin in 2021. This is down significantly from the pre-pandemic years when 62,000 to 76,000 people visited the site. 

However, from 1970 to 2001, over 100,000 visitors were welcome at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument each year. So in recent decades, the visitor population has actually decreased.

If you choose to visit the national monument, you can tack other national park sites onto your trip itinerary. Tonto National Monument is about 90 minutes northeast; you could easily visit it on the same day. 

As mentioned, the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is slightly over an hour south of the ruins.

Things to Do at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

During your visit to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you won’t be inundated with activities and things to do.

It’s a small site, only one square mile in size. But plan to stay for a couple of hours to really learn about the culture of the ancestral Sonoran Desert people.

Explore the Museum Exhibits in the Visitor Center

Your first stop at any National Park site should be the visitor center. You’ll find maps and other materials to guide you around the site and park rangers who can suggest hikes or answer your questions. 

At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument visitor center, you can explore the museum exhibits and watch the park movie to learn more about the culture and history of these ancient peoples.

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Take a Self-Guided Tour Around Casa Grande

You can follow signs throughout the park, guiding you around the ruins. These “wayside exhibits” are written and illustrated signs that tell you about the specific location you’re viewing. 

You’ll learn about farming, life within the walls, engineering and construction, irrigation practices, sacred land, and more. Guided tours aren’t available, so you can freely explore on your own.

View of the Case Grande Ruins National Monument

Enjoy a Picnic or Reserve the Outdoor Kitchen

The park picnic area is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. So pack a lunch and enjoy the picnic shelters on a beautiful afternoon in Arizona. 

It’s easy to Leave No Trace with proper waste disposal in the trash cans and recyclable plastic and can collection stations at the shelter areas. If you bring your pet along, just keep them on a leash.

Become a Junior Ranger

Finally, kids who visit the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument will enjoy completing the Junior Ranger booklet and earning a Junior Ranger badge. 

Many national park sites have a Junior Ranger program, so when you stop at each visitor center, ask for a booklet and instructions from a park ranger. It’s a great way for kids to learn more about what they’re seeing and experiencing at each site.

Can You Go Inside Casa Grande?

No self-guided tours enter the Casa Grande ruins due to safety and resource protection concerns. Since there are no guided tours, a park ranger won’t take you inside either. 

In addition, animals like bats and birds live inside the ruins. Their droppings can be dangerous to humans.

If a park ranger were to escort visitors into the Casa Grande, the wear and tear would permanently damage the ruins. There isn’t much left holding the ruins together, so it’s best to leave it alone and view it from the outside.

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Is a Visit to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Worth It?

If you’re visiting this area of Arizona, add the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument to your list. You can head north on I-10 from Tucson or south on I-10 from Phoenix.

It’s about an hour’s drive either way. So as you explore museums, art galleries, local restaurants, and the nightlife of these cities, don’t forget the national park sites nearby.

Experiencing the history and cultures of ancient people top many people’s list of great vacation memories. 

Will you make a visit to explore the ancient dwelling of the Casa Grande?

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