MONUMENT VALLEY is one of USA’s most photographed landscapes. It’s a combination of orange hued buttes, mesas and vistas that sit on the Arizona-Utah border and is not officially a National Park as it’s really on tribal land.
In fact, its full name is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The Navajo consider this place to be the heart of the earth; a land with arguably the most breathtaking views in the world.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT MONUMENT VALLEY NAVAJO TRIBAL PARK
It’s a pretty amazing place that should definitely be in your southwest road trip plans. It’ll no doubt be one of the best places you’ll visit. Here’s your perfect travel guide for an amazing visit.
“Monument Valley is the place where God put the West.”John Wayne
Monument Valley is a movie star! It’s most famous for the place in Forrest Gump where Forrest decided that he’s done running and that he’ll “go home now.”
Then there’s Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine. And well, the Griswolds jumped the Family Truckster “about 50 yards!” here. Also this was the backdrop when Marty McFly time traveled back to 1885 in Back to the Future III.
And of course, it’s been in plenty western movies. Disney’s version of the Lone Ranger where the Ranger and Tonto are overlooking John Ford Point, the same spot where John Wayne was in Stagecoach. The backdrop in 2001 Space Odyssey…Just to name a few…
How Monument Valley Was Formed
Monument Valley is a combination of rock layers formed several hundred million years ago that have been subjected to differential erosion that over time, turned this lowland basin into a plateau. Wind and water further eroded the plateau and the result is the magnificently sculpted formations we see today.
The valley floor is sand and siltstone stained with red iron oxide that further contributes to the beautiful orange hues in this Valley.
Today, Monument Valley is located in the Navajo Nation. The Navajo tribe occupies the Navajo Nation reservation within the United States, in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The Navajo Nation’s tribal park is located in southwest Utah and encompasses 91,696 acres in Utah and Arizona.
Tsé biiʼ ndzisgaii is Navajo for “Valley of the Rocks,” which is known to us as Monument Valley.
The Navajo Tribe was the first group of people to establish themselves in what would later become known as the Monument Valley area. The Navajo People have a history and connection to this land and there are a few Navajo families that live here. So please be mindful and respectful of their home.
When to Visit Monument Valley
Monument Valley experiences a desert climate which means it experiences hot summers with an average temperature of 90°F (32°C), and cold winters with an average temperature of 51°F (10°C). It can get snow in winter and depending on how much snow melts, it can make the Valley inaccessible to vehicles.
But, regardless of summer or winter, temperatures can drop quickly after sunset. The best time to visit is during the temperate spring and fall months as your activities will all be outdoors. The hours are: Peak Season (April 1 – September 30) 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. Off Season (October 1 – March 30) 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Getting to Monument Valley
As I said, Monument Valley stretches from the border of Arizona into southern Utah. It is one of the best things you can do as part of an American Southwest road trip.
We started the day at Horseshoe Bend and after about two hours, we headed to Monument Valley. It was about a 2 hour drive that went through the town of Kayenta.
Monument Valley is really only accessible by motor vehicle. It is not near any major city and I think the nearest town for lodging is about 50 miles (80 km) away. So you will be road tripping for long distances, which makes any public transportation or ride share out of the question to get here.
A NOTE ON KAYENTA AND MONUMENT VALLEY: We stopped to get gas in Kayenta and as we pulled into the gas station, two stray dogs came straight to our car. As we traveled through the small town of Kayenta, we saw even more stray dogs. Not roaming in packs to be alarmed, but definitely caught our attention. In Monument Valley, we encountered even more stray dogs. Some looked well kept, some looked haggard, some even had collars. It was so unusual, we finally looked it up and found this article. Although the article is a few years old, we found that nothing has really changed. It was pretty heartbreaking… and that’s all I have to say about that.
Las Vegas, NV: 6 h 36 min (399.8 mi) via I-15 N
Page, AZ: 2 h 18 min (127.5 mi) via AZ-98 E and US-160 E
Phoenix, AZ: 5 h 18 min (322.0 mi) via I-17 N and US-160 E
Grand Canyon National Park: 2 h 47 min (157.9 mi) via US-160 E
Sedona, AZ: 3 h 44 min (207.1 mi) via US-89 N and US-160 E
St. George, UT: 4 h 48 min (281.2 mi) via US-89 S
WHAT TO DO IN MONUMENT VALLEY
This this majestic location offers several activities including horseback riding, hiking, four wheel driving tours, stargazing, photography workshops and camping among other things while learning about Navajo history and culture which are intertwined with their beautiful surroundings.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
There’s a few ways to visit Monument Valley. First, you can pay the park entrance fee of $20 per vehicle (up to 4 people, then $6 for each additional) and drive the dirt and gravel main road that is the 17-mile Tribal Park Loop also known as the Valley Drive.
You won’t need a truck or a 4×4, but it is a bumpy, dusty dirt road. If you don’t feel comfortable driving the dirt and gravel road, you can take the Valley Drive with a Navajo tour guide.
You’ll get a map that highlights the 11 scenic attractions. The Wildcat Trail is the only hike you can do off Valley Drive. It’s a 3.2 mile loop around Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.
Otherwise, hiking Monument Valley is only accessible via tour guides. If you really want to hike Monument Valley, I would recommend scheduling a Monument Valley tour in advance of your visit.
Give yourself about three hours to complete this Monument Valley scenic drive.
TRAVEL TIP: Because the road is all dirt and gravel, raining becomes a danger. The road becomes impassible, even in a 4-wheel drive. If it’s raining, you may not be able to visit Monument Valley so plan accordingly.
The Mittens and Merrick Butte
The first stop on the Valley Drive is easily viewed from the patio of the Monument Valley Visitor Center. If you choose to hike the Wildcat Trail, it would be around the west mitten buttes. As you can see, the Mittens is aptly named for being in the shape of mittens.
John Ford’s Point Overlook
Stop here and feel like you’re in a Western. This is the spot that film director John Ford used in many of his movies to depict the American west, then subsequently it has become one of the most filmed locations in the Valley.
It overlooks Sentinel Mesa, West Mitten Butte, Big Indian, and Merrick Butte.
You can rent a horse for $5 merely to re-enact the famous movie scenes and channel your inner cowboy or cowgirl. But if that wasn’t enough, for an additional fee, you can take a guided tour on horseback through the Valley.
As much as it would have been cool to experience the actual west with a horse, I personally opted not to do either as I read many negative reviews about the care of the horses.
Bird Spring features red sand dunes and sand spring emerges from underneath the dunes. You can also get a pretty good view of the next stop from here, the group of needles known as Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei.
North Window Overlook
My favorite stop on the Valley Drive was pretty much the last stop at North Window. Like a perfect window opening to frame East Mitten Butte between Elephant Butte and Cly Butte. It was so scenic and peaceful, and as we completed the loop drive and exited, we caught a final glimpse of The Mittens and Merrick Butte arrayed in a beautiful rainbow.
MONUMENT VALLEY TOURS
Monument Valley has a list of approved tour operators to provide guided tours. There is a variety that I’m sure you will find to fit your desires. They range from 4-wheel drive tours, Navajo culture and tradition tours, and photography tours.
As I said, you can do the Valley Drive with a Navajo guide, but in order to venture off the Loop, you will have to be on a paid private tour, such as the highly recommended Backcountry Tour.
The Mystery Valley Tour focuses on the Navajo Tribe culture and Navajo land. It is a physically demanding tour. The points of interest are only visited on foot, which means loads of hiking.
The Hunts Mesa Tour are jeep tours that can be booked as a day tour or an overnight camping tour, where you will pitch a tent and slumber under the stars that overlook Monument Valley.
We didn’t get to experience the sunrise/sunset photography tour, but wish we booked it. After taking in these amazing views on the Valley Drive, the brilliance of the colors at sunrise seems to be something I regrettably missed.
Here are some thing to remember to pack if you decide to take a private hiking tour.
WHERE TO STAY IN MONUMENT VALLEY
The best way to really visit is to stay overnight at a Monument Valley hotel. A good reason is that it’s a great place to get the best views of these breathtaking buttes. And you’ll really feel like you’re in the wild west!
The View Hotel l is located right off the Visitor’s Center and is the closest to the Valley. The View restaurant is actually in the Visitor’s Center along with snacks and a very interesting gift shop. We didn’t stay here, but if you do, be prepared for stunning sunrise and sunset views of the famous rock formations.
Goulding’s Lodge is about a 5 minute drive down the street on Gouldings Trading Post Rd and has its own restaurant, the only gas station at Monument Valley and local museum highlights. Other perks include laundry and free wifi, and of course, John Wayne movies.
The Lodge also has premium cabins or “villas” that include pull out sofas and kitchenettes.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, The View Campground is a campsite with space for 30 tents (B.Y.O.T.) that’s down the street. The price is $20 per tent and is equipped with bathrooms and a small kitchen. The price comes with hard to beat views of Monument Valley and the starry night with little to no light pollution.
If you decided to travel in an RV, The View Campground has space, but it’s just parking, without connectors. Monument Valley doesn’t allow RV’s on the Valley Drive, so just keep that in mind if that’s your only mode of transportation.
DO NOT MISS: FORREST GUMP POINT
About a 20 minute drive farther along highway 163 is arguably the most iconic spot you can visit at Monument Valley. Mile 13 marks the exact point Forrest Gump stopped running and decided to just “go home.”
The exact GPS coordinates are 37.101393, -109.990973. It is a real road, so be careful when taking all the Forrest Gump re-enactment photos. Also, don’t forget to stop by the makeshift sign that marks the location.
It’s a good idea not to miss these other close locations on your southwest road trip:
- Zion National Park
- Mexican Hat
- Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
- Four Corners Monument
FINAL THOUGHTS ON MONUMENT VALLEY
I hope that I provided you with enough information to make you want to dash out and do a road trip to Monument Valley! If you want to book a guided hiking, photography or overnight tour, use my link to grab a guide in Monument Valley.
If you have anything to add to this guide or have been to Monument Valley and want to share your favorites, drop a comment!
Also check out these tips!
- How to have a safe road trip with dogs
- What to pack for a day hike
- What to know about visiting Valley of Fire
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