I really appreciate your take on Chaco. It’s been one of my “life goals” to visit it for years, and I plan on doing so in early June. I want to have enough time to appreciate it, but I’m traveling with my two teenagers, who are great in the outdoors but will tolerate only so much “down time.” In your opinion, what’s the ideal number of days to take to visit Chaco and whatever outliers are significant to appreciating it? – K
Someone in a hurry could visit each of the ruins along the loop road in Chaco in a few hours.
With an overnight stay in the campground, you could also plan on one or more of the “backcountry” ruins that involve some hiking (in the desert with no shade). Of those backcountry hikes, Wijiji near the campground may be the easiest (no climbing at all; perhaps a couple of miles each way).
With at least two nights in the campground, you might walk all the backcountry trails.
The longest backcountry hike is to Pueblo Peñasco. It is a magnificent ruin with famous pictographs on a spur trail, but the bulk of that hike is most likely to bore or exhaust some folks. It’s a long hot sandy hike.
If you were only going to do one backcountry hike, perhaps it should be north to Pueblo Alto; that involves scrambling up a rocky crack to get to the mesa, which in turn immediately gives you great views of several ruins in the canyon.
As for outliers beyond the canyon, Pueblo Pintado is the easiest to reach on your way in or out via one of the south roads. Some may see it as “more of the same,” but it helps us appreciate that these communities covered a lot of territory.
I have pictures on my outliers pages of some of the other outliers that are within a few hours of Chaco, but each is harder to find. It’s hard to know how much is enough for someone else.
Back to the original question, I think at least two nights at the campground give you lots of options.
Feel free to write again anytime. Let me know how the trip turns out. mjh