Navajo Mountain Hiking, Camping and History

Walking in Beauty: Explore Naa'tsis'aan with Indigenous Guides

Registration is open for CFI Members only until Sept 25

Explore and learn about natural and cultural history around Navajo Mountain

Join Canyonlands Field Institute, the Atene family, and Indigenous guides to explore a beautiful and remote region of the desert southwest. This trip combines a lodge stay with three nights truck supported tent camping to give us access to rugged desert terrain that few people get to see. The day hiking is moderately challenging cross country, up to mesa tops or on sandy tracks.

The trip is led by CFI program manager Brandi Atene. Brandi grew up at Navajo Mountain, and combines her backcountry skills with her cultural connection to the landscape to provide a unique educational experience. She will be joined by Hopi archaeologist Lyle Balenquah who provides expertise on early peoples and migrations in the region.

Additional guide services and expertise will be by CFI; the trip is fully outfitted using primitive camp locations;  meals, kitchen, camp chairs and porta potty are provided. Bring your own sleeping gear or rent quality tents, sleeping bags, pads or cots from CFI. Please contact us to ask us more about trip conditions.

Explore,  Learn, Connect

The Navajo call this place Naa’tsis’aan, which means “Head of the Earth Woman.” Paiutes that live here call this Paiute Mountain. Rugged canyon country has long sheltered the area’s occupants due to challenging access. Recently, a paved road provided access to the town of Rainbow City.

This trip is a unique opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of the Atene family. The matriarch, Rose Atene is a well-known weaver, gracious grandmother and has hosted CFI groups since the late 1980’s.  We will set up a comfortable base camp on the north side of the mountain, in their spectacular backyard.

Your guides will navigate the group through the sandstone domes and canyons that make this area so unique. We will hike to historic sites, picturesque abandoned hogans, and caves used by Archaic Desert Culture up to the present.  Spring wildlflower blooms will just be getting started.  Day hikes will be 2-5 miles round trip each, with some routes in dry washes, on sandy jeep tracks,  or up talus slopes to mesa tops. There are few formal established trails. There will be some elevation gain and loss on the hikes. Hiking is moderate to strenuous, and you might opt out of a hike and spend time at basecamp with our trip library.

Is this trip right for you? Learn more about the trip narrative, guide staff, and frequently asked questions below.

Bluff, Utah and Navajo Mountain
April 23, 2023 through April 27, 2023
4 nights
Group Size:
Minimum: 5, Maximum: 8
$1770; or CFI Members $1682 Plus $60 Navajo Nation Fee
First night in Lodge, then 3 nights camping

This is how we rate the challenges you might face on a CFI trip.

Level 1 - Easy

  • Low level of physical activity, minimal movement required
  • 0 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking or walking 0-2 miles per day

Level 2 - Moderate

  • Medium level of physical activity, some movement required
  • 1-4 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 4 miles per day
  • Flatwater or mild whitewater rapids

Level 3 - Active

  • Medium or high level of physical activity
  • 1-5 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 5 miles per day
  • Class I - III whitewater rapids

Level 4 - Challenging

  • High level of physical activity
  • 1-6 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking 5 or more miles per day
  • Class IV whitewater rapids
CFI's Essential Eligibility Criteria outlines specific challenges that you may face on CFI trips. Please consult the EEC for information on responsibilities of participants.
  • Fee includes $100 donation to youth programs
  • Fee includes lodging at Recapture Lodge on April 23
  • Due to Navajo Nation regulations, this is an alcohol free trip
  • Participants provide their own sleeping gear or may rent tents, sleeping bags, and ground pads from CFI.

See other trips in these categories:

All participants on our adult seminars and on our private trips are required to be fully vaccinated.

"I had long wanted to explore the Navajo Mountain area. This trip turned out to be the perfect way to do it. I was again in touch with the Colorado Plateau but experienced a new part of it. Highlights of the program? Being with members of a local Navajo family made the land come alive in a way that would be impossible without their personal knowledge and perspective. The place and the people are woven together."

- Tom W. Denver, CO

Trip Narrative

Day 1

Meet your fellow trip mates at 7:30 at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah. We will orient you to the rest of the trip, talk about what to expect, and answer any questions you may have. Enjoy a night in the Lodge before we venture out the following morning. This night of lodging is included with your trip fee.

Day 2

In the morning, we will make final preparations and load up in CFI 4wd vehicles and drive to Navajo Mountain, highlighting geography, geology, and historical features along the way. We’ll tour the small community of Rainbow City and hike to a later period Ancestral Puebloan site. In the afternoon, we will set up our base camp near Rose Atene’s homestead on Navajo Mountain where many residents still live traditionally using livestock, weaving and other arts to form a basis of the economy.

Days 3 – 4

Our hiking takes place between Navajo Mountain and the San Juan River, an area seldom explored except by the families that live there. These are working landscapes still utilized by Paiute and Navajo residents. Formal archaeological research of this area started in the 1930’s by University of Utah and continued in the 1960’s as part of the Glen Canyon Survey work conducted by Northern Arizona University. We will visit nearby sites and learn about Archaic and Ancestral Puebloan cultural history.

We will explore the rugged sandstone maze of fins, domes and slot canyons on the north side of the mountain that served as effective hideouts for Ute, Paiute, and Navajo peoples avoiding capture by U.S. Military. We will also hike a section of the Wetherill Trail, an ancient route later discovered by Anglo Explorers with the help of Indigenous guides. This is one of the two trails leading to Rainbow Bridge.

The remainder of the trip’s itinerary may vary with current conditions. Our destinations will include Hawkeye Natural Bridge, Lost Mesa, Sand Dune Cave and a section of the historic Wetherill/Rainbow Bridge Trail. We may see an array of wildflowers, wild horses, and wildlife.

Day 5

We will close out the trip with a morning hike, lunch, and closing reflection and return to the Recapture Lodge before 4:30 that afternoon. Lodging this evening is not included within the trip fee.

Guest Faculty


Lyle Balenquah, Hopi, is a member of the Greasewood clan from the Village of Bacavi on Third Mesa, Arizona. He earned his graduate degree in Anthropology from the North Arizona University. He has worked as a professional archaeologist, ethnographer, author, and educator for over twenty years. He works for the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, and leads educational seminars for CFI, as well as Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Grand Canyon Field Institute, Archaeology Southwest, and Friends of Cedar Mesa. He is a prolific author on emerging trends in cultural resource management. He served as the Co-Director of the “Native Voices on the Colorado River Program”, and currently co-hosts the podcast” Heritage Voices.” Lyle looks forward to visiting significant archaeological sites, sharing pertinent research and exploring with the Atene family.

Brandi Atene is the granddaughter of Rose Atene, the Atene matriarch who lives in a traditional manner on the east side of Naa’tsis’aan.  Brandi grew up here, herding sheep, gathering sumac for Rose’s basket making and exploring these canyons. Brandi went to college in Kansas but kept ties close to home. Brandi has worked as athletic coach and led llama packstock trips in Utah and Colorado. She currently works for CFI as a Program Manager and Lead Guide. She heads native youth program development for CFI, and is the mother of one son.

Additional trip support will be by Nichol Haroldsen has explored and led CFI trips in the Navajo Mountain/Rainbow Bridge area for many years having first started with CFI in 1999. She provides overview of Anglo exploration, early trading post and dude operations and is a lover of rocks and wildflowers. She lives in Castle Valley near Moab and runs a small farm.

Need to Know

  • Lodging on April 23 at Recapture Lodge is included with fee. 
  • Lodging after the trip ends on April 27 is not included. 
  • All cook and dishware, meals, snacks, and river gear are provided by CFI.
  • Tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads can be rented from CFI. 
  • Due to Navajo Nation regulations, this is an alcohol free trip.
  • All participants on our adult seminars and on our private trips are required to be fully vaccinated to Covid-19.


Some people say food is the most important part of the adventure. On all our overnight trips, CFI will provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a morning and afternoon snack, and an appetizer before dinner. If you have a dietary restriction or food allergy, note it on your medical form so we can best prepare.

Depends on the trip. As a general rule, CFI provides all group gear related to fully outfitting your trip. Specialized gear like PFDs, wetsuits, dry bags, educational materials are all provided by CFI. Additionally, we take care of all kitchen and dishware needs. 

Find out more about trip specific packing.

Most importantly, a willingness to slow down, connect to your surroundings, and experience the moment. Additionally, participants are required to bring a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, personal clothing, medication, and other essential personal items. Many gear items are available for rent. Reach out to us if you are interested in seeing a trip specific packing list, or learn more about trip specific packing here.

CFI provides options to rent gear:

  • Two person tent: $30 / trip
  • Sleeping bag: $20 / trip
  • Kid sleeping pad: $7 / trip
  • Adult sleeping pad (paco pad): $15 / trip
  • Package deal: Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and one tent per two people: $40 / trip

For any CFI summer camp, gear rentals are free!

Every CFI guide has either a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certification. Your trip leader will have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Anyone working with youth has passed a background check, and shuttle drivers are insured with clean driving records. Backcountry trips carry In-Reach satellite communication devices for emergencies. All guides have been evaluated by Canyonlands Field Institute as possessing the judgement, skills, and disposition required for mitigating risk in the field. 

As technology grows more and more invasive by the day, CFI promotes connection to what matters. To achieve this, all school and youth programs are unplugged and students are not permitted to bring electronic devices. Not only is there rarely cell service, devices are a distraction to our ability to connect to the present moment. On Private Group Trips or Adult Seminars, the use of devices is permitted but discouraged.

CFI works hard to ensure a positive experience for all guides and participants. Because of the unpredictable nature of outfitting, we have created a series of policies so maintain our ability to manage risk in the outdoors.

For critical information regarding cancellations, deposits, and other participant responsibilities, please view our trip policies page or contact us with any questions.

Thanks for asking...We know this can be an awkward subject. The fact is, our guides work extremely hard and appreciate getting tipped! 

On school trips, tips are not expected, but they are greatly appreciated. 

On an adult or private trip, an industry standard is for each customer to tip $25 per day.

CFI is a non-profit organization and fees are not taxed. By choosing CFI, you are supporting our efforts to provide lifechanging outdoor experiences for hundreds of children per year.  Scholarships are available on an as needed basis.