6 Largest Federally Recognized Indian Reservations in Arizona
One of the greatest things about Arizona is its ties to indigenous cultures, which are more diverse here than anywhere else in the country. Did you know we’re home to 22 sovereign American Indian communities? They are central to Arizona’s rich cultural heritage and home to some of the most scenic lands and spectacular views around.
Over a quarter of the state is reservation land, whose beauty and historical landmarks could be the focus of your next driving trip. But before hitting the road, keep in mind that each tribe operates under its own unique governmental structure, including rules for visitors. (Check out our driving tips below.)
As for where to start, the Arizona Office of Tourism is a helpful source of information related to the state’s largest Native American reservations:
1. Navajo Nation
With a population of about 172,800, our country’s largest Indian tribe covers more than 27,000 square miles of desert landscape in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Majestic canyons and rock formations, ancient pueblo ruins, and countless historic sites make the Navajo Nation one of the most fascinating places to visit on earth.
2. Tohono O’odham Nation
Located in southwestern Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation is about the size of Connecticut and shares part of its border with Mexico. One of its most notable landmarks is the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a 19th-century Franciscan mission. But its cultural celebrations and casinos also attract many visitors throughout the year.
3. San Carlos Apache Reservation
The San Carlos Apache have tribal lands spanning 1.8 million acres across mountain country, desert, and plateau landscapes. This family-friendly community is just 90 miles east of Phoenix. Its members take pride in their vast entertainment offerings that range from fishing and camping to golf courses and casinos.
4. White Mountain Apache Tribe
Lovers of the outdoors are drawn to the White Mountain’s diversity of natural resources, which include several lakes and streams for fishing, as well as skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing in the winter. White Mountain is also home to the Kinishba Ruins, which consist of nine masonry buildings built more than six centuries ago by the Mogollon, an ancient group known for their distinctive pottery.
5. Hopi Tribe
The Hopi Reservation is located in the high deserts of northeastern Arizona, surrounded by the Navajo Nation. The Hopi are highly spiritual caretakers of the earth who are internationally known for their artistry. Farming and agriculture continue to play an important role in the Hopi economy.
6. Hualapai Tribe
These “people of the tall pines” have inhabited this area for over 1,400 years. The reservation extends along 108 miles of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, making it ideal for hiking, biking, and river rafting. Views of the Grand Canyon’s west rim are accessible from the tribe’s famous Skywalk. Elevations reach as high as 7,300 feet!
Arizona Reservation Driving Tips
Having a safe, enjoyable drive to an Arizona reservation does require some advance planning. All main tribal roads are paved, but secondary roads might be graded and graveled. Travel off recognized and numbered roads is strongly discouraged.
Be sure to inquire locally about road conditions, and follow these tips before you leave:
- Fill up the tank. The last thing you want is to run out of gas between service stations, which are few and far between in some areas.
- Chances are it’s going to be a long drive, so check all fluid levels before you leave.
- Use caution when driving, especially at night. Much of the reservation land is open range. You might come across small herds of goats, sheep, horses, or cattle roaming freely in or near the roads.
- Is your car prepared for dust storms, flash floods, snow, or temperatures over 100 degrees? The weather can vary drastically between reservations and seasons. Find out about possible weather conditions of wherever you’re headed.Still, be ready for anything, as the weather can change rather quickly. In a wind or dust storm, the driver may have to pull over or seek shelter if possible. This backcountry safety advice elaborates on protecting yourself from the elements.
- Consult with a tribal guide before heading out, particularly to any remote area, as GPS and cell phone service may not be reliable.
When traveling by car on reservation land, it’s always a good idea to check local guides about road conditions and other details that could impact travel. Openings and closures of tribal lands are subject to change. And always be respectful of their laws, culture, and way of life. Sacred areas such as gravesites may be restricted, and alcohol is not permitted on tribal land.