Meteor Crater is more than a giant hole in the ground. It’s a physical record of an ancient impact by a mammoth meteor (hence the name) that is now a point of interest for many road trippers and visitors to Arizona.
Meteor Crater is located in the high desert near Flagstaff, and the scope and size of it is almost unbelievable, even when you’re looking at it in person. Standing on the edge of the crater, you can look across and see boulders the size of houses. There are very few intact craters in the world, and Meteor Crater happens to be one of the best!
In the following article we will take a deep dive on the origins of the crater, where is it located, and what can we do in-site and nearby. We will also answer some frequently asked questions about the landmark.
Let’s get into this!
What is the Arizona Meteor Crater?
Meteor Crater, located in northern Arizona, is a vast bowl-shaped crater that was formed by a meteorite that crashed into the Colorado Plateau about 50,000 years ago. Also called The Barringer Crater, it stretches across from rim-to-rim about ¾ of a mile, but the meteorite that struck this arid plain was only 160 feet wide, much smaller in comparison.
When the meteor, officially called the Canyon Diablo Meteorite, crash-landed into Earth it catapulted rocks and debris up to 2 kilometers in all directions. It displaced an astounding amount of earth, creating the cavernous hole in the Arizona landscape. Due to the dry conditions here, the crater has been well preserved since its creation.
The meteorite was made of extremely dense nickel-iron, and this density made the meteorite incredibly heavy for its size. There were pieces of the original meteorite discovered inside and around Meteor Crater, and most of the fragments are as tiny as pebbles.
To really understand the depth of the crater from to rim to the bottom (about 600 feet/180 meters), visualize the Statue of Liberty in New York City; you could stack two on top of each other inside the crater. Meteor Crater is about ¾ of a mile (1.2 km) across from rim to rim; standing on the edge, all of this empty space can make one feel dizzy!
Where is the Meteor Crater?
Meteor Crater is situated on the Colorado Plateau, between Flagstaff and Winslow a few miles south of Interstate I-40. From Flagstaff, you head east on the I-40 for 35 miles to exit 233, Meteor Crater Road, and follow that road until you reach the visitors center, only 5.7 miles from the main highway.
Coming from Winslow, it is only 18 miles on I-40. In summer, it can be hot and is usually always sunny. At 5,700 feet elevation, the sun’s rays are stronger here and the higher elevation also means the winter months can be fairly frigid. It’s not unheard of the get snow at Meteor Crater, although it is not common.
Is Meteor Crater a National Park or Monument?
Neither! The crater and the land around it are actually privately owned by the Barringer family, and they have actually “unofficially” named it Barringer Crater. However, in 1967, Meteor Crater was designated as a National Natural Landmark, and its official name became Meteor Crater.
A National Natural Landmark gives the area protection forever from mining and other enterprises, and even if the Barringers were to sell the land and crater, the Meteor Crater would still be protected.
If you’re interested about that topic, I wrote a full guide about the best National Parks and Monuments in Arizona, you should check it out!
Plan Your Visit to Meteor Crater
- Address: Interstate 40, Exit 233, Winslow AZ
- Hours: 8 am- 5 pm every day except Christmas
- Tickets: Adults $20, Seniors 60+ $18, Kids age 6-12 $11
- Website: https://meteorcrater.com/
The Discovery Center and Space Museum is a great place to start your trip (after getting a first look at the crater, of course). Here you can learn all about the meteorite impact with hands-on exhibits and interactive displays. You can even see the largest remaining piece of the meteorite, which weighs in at a staggering 1,400 lbs even though it is only about two feet across.
From the Discovery Center, step outside to one of the observation decks. From here you can gaze across the vast expanse of Meteor Crater and try to imagine the immense force of the impact that caused such a huge, gaping hole in the ground.
There are telescopes on the observation deck that help you get a closer look at the rim, ¾ of a mile away. These telescopes are fixed to certain spots and labeled with the point of interest that you’ll be looking at. Several of them point to the bottom of the crater, where there is an old abandoned mining camp and research buildings. Astronauts have even trained in the bottom of the crater; this place truly is other-worldly!
There is a guided rim tour that serves to educate as well as take you on a 30-40 minutes hike along the rim. Local guides and experts will tell you all about the ancient impact and other interesting facts about Meteor Crater while designating points of interest in and around the crater.
All of the features in the Discovery Center as well as the main observation decks are wheelchair accessible, and the theater rooms are accessible as well. The Collision!4D film is an interactive experience and is especially fun for kids! The entire family can enjoy their visit to Meteor Crater.
Frequently Asked Questions
The draw of Meteor Crater is similar to the draw of the Grand Canyon (although on a lesser scale); viewing that much empty space in front of you is awe-inspiring and can even feel unbelievable unless you see it yourself.
Try to imagine the moment of impact, when trillions of tons of dirt, rocks, and debris were scattered into the sky and the area surrounding; it is hard to fathom the scale of it.
Meteor Crater is a great addition to any road trip or even as a destination of its own, especially for those interested in learning more about space or geology.
Although it seems to be in the middle of nowhere, making the trip to Meteor Crater will make a memorable day for any family.