Coal Mine Canyon – A Hidden Wonder

Author: Alan Feldman

Many people have been to Grand Canyon, Sedona, Old Tucson, and most of the other well known tourist attractions that Arizona has to offer, but few, in fact very few, have been to, or even heard of, Coal Mine Canyon.

Coal Mine Canyon, sometimes offered as a “photo opportunity” on a few of the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, is hard to find, but well worth the trouble, especially if your camera is in hand.

© Alan Feldman
© Alan Feldman

Starting in Tuba City, Arizona (about 78 miles North of Flagstaff), take Arizona 264 Southeast toward the Hopi Indian Reservation.  Go about 15 miles and look for the windmill on your left (North side of road); about 0.4 mile from the highway, soon after mile marker 337.  There will be a dirt road; it is hard to find.  I passed it three times before finally locating it, and it was covered by overgrown grass.  There are no signs or any indicators for the canyon.  There are three popular view points, designated as VP1, VP2 and VP3 on the map.  See below.

Map - Coal Mine Canyon

I highly suggest:

  • Do not go alone.
  • Take a high-clearance vehicle, preferably 4-wheel drive.
  • Make sure someone knows where you’re going.
  • Study Google Earth® before traveling.
  • Exercise extreme caution when near the canyon.  There are many very deep chasms, edged with loose rock.
  • Take lots of water, especially in the summer months, and snacks.
  • Allow plenty of time for finding the canyon, hiking about, setting up your gear, and finally taking photographs.

Because of the shape and contours of the canyon, the best time to shoot is late afternoon; tripod recommended.  Once you see the canyon, you will undoubtedly understand how it got its name.

As the canyon is on Indian land, you will need a permit from the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation Dept. The fee is $5 per day to hike.  The closest location to the canyon is the tribe’s Cameron Visitor Center near the junction of U.S. 89 and Arizona 64 (about 50 miles north of Flagstaff).

Details: 928-679-2303 or

Time permitting, and if you’re so inclined, there are a few other sites worth seeing if you continue Southeast on Route 264 and Route 87 to Winslow, Arizona.

  • Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa (approximately 35 miles from Coal Mine Canyon).  Dining and Lodging available.
  • Walpi Village at First Mesa (approximately 12.5 miles from the cultural center).  Tours available.  Reservation required; fee.
  • Homolovi State Park (just North of Winslow).  Indian ruins.
  • La Pasada Hotel in Winslow (303 E. Second St.).  The hotel offers great dining and lodging.  And, be sure to see the art gallery of Tina Mion.
  • Standing on the Corner, in Winslow, Arizona, at the corner of N. Kinsley Ave and W. Second St.  Great photo opportunity!

Incidentally, photography on the Hopi Reservation is forbidden.  Please respect their traditions.

Other attractions near Tuba City are:

  • Navajo National Monument  (approximately 62 miles Northeast of Tuba City on Arizona 160).  Excellent photo opportunities and hiking.
  • Elephant Feet  (approximately 23 miles Northeast of Tuba City on Arizona 160)
  • The Tuba City Trading Post (in Tuba City)
  • Dinosaur Tracks (approximately 5 miles West of Tuba City on Arizona 160)


Alan Feldman is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop trip leader.