Monument Valley will leave you speechless with its breathtaking panoramas of wide open arid desert dotted with the remnants of eroded orange sandstone formations. Monument Valley is situated within the Navajo Nation along the Arizona-Utah border. Orange sand whips around in the breeze as tumbleweed bounces and rolls across desolate U.S. 163. The classic landscape is immediately recognizable as the American West. A rugged place where Native American tribes once roamed and cowboys galloped proudly on horseback.
After an incredible couple of days in Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, we headed south from Moab, Utah on U.S. 191 before finally continuing south onto U.S. 163. The 2 1/2 hour drive took a winding route through small towns, past open grazing pastures, and alongside the area’s gigantic signature sandstone rocks. There wasn’t much, if anything, in the way of rest areas. We were glad to have gassed up and replenished our supply of snacks before leaving Moab.
As you approach Monument Valley, you’re likely to remember the scene in Forest Gump when he decides to stop running. Fans of westerns will reminisce over scenes from the old classic film Stagecoach flashing before their eyes. If you can, time your approach for late afternoon or early evening. The sun’s reflection off the sandstone monuments in front of you will have you pulling off the road over and over as you aim to capture the perfect photo!
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Visiting Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. between May and September. The hours between October and April are adjusted to 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Entry is $20 per vehicle (up to 4 people) for a day pass. You won’t be able to use a National Park pass to save money on admission. The Visitor Center has a museum displaying Navajo artifacts, portraits, and history. You can also visit The View Restaurant and the Trading Post Gift Shop.
If you’re interested in a Guided Tour of Monument Valley, visit the information desk inside for details. Expect to pay anywhere between $60-$135 per person depending on the type and length of tour your choose. Guided Tours add a layer of history and culture to the natural landscape around you. Guides also take guests to restricted areas of the Reservation to learn more about Navajo life. For details on the self-guided tour, keep reading!
From the Visitor Center’s parking lot, you’ll be able to see the mud-baked Navajo homes called Hogans. The round-shaped mound structures are still used for ceremonial purposes today.
Taking a Self-Guided Tour Through Monument Valley
The most popular Mesas, Buttes, and Spires are along a 17-mile loop within the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The valley drive is along a rough dirt road. The drive begins with a steep, bumpy descent, which also happens to be one of the worst sections of the road. Cars with a low clearance and RVs should not drive this road. Our rental car was a basic 4-door Chevy Impala and we were fine driving the route ourselves. We took our time, went very slow in spots, and were absolutely fine.
Between careful driving, sightseeing, and jumping out to admire the landscape and take photos, we spent about 2-3 hours along the self-guided route. We were glad to be independent and to save the money we would have spent on a guided tour. 🙂
The 17-mile loop has 11 stops to see the monuments in the valley. Popular monuments include the East and West Mitten Buttes, Merrick Butte, Mitchell Mesa, John Ford’s Point, and Artist’s Point. At many of the stops, local Navajo have tables set up to sell handmade crafts and jewelry. For detailed information on each monument, its history, and its significance, check out the American Southwest site.
Aside from the Wildcat Nature Walk, which makes a scenic 3.3-mile loop around West Mitten Butte, self-guided visitors are not allowed to venture off the road or hike in any other areas of the park. Visitors are asked to treat the land and the locals with respect. This means following all posted directions, not disturbing any of the plants, rocks, or animals, and getting permission before photographing any of the Navajo living on the Reservation.
Whether you plan to do the Wildcat Nature Walk or just enjoy the scenery along the valley drive, be aware there are no bathrooms or places to get water once you leave the Visitor’s Center.
At John Ford’s Point, for $5, you can have your photo taken on a horse overlooking the cliff. Channel your inner cowboy/cowgirl and recreate scenes from the countless westerns filmed in the area!
If you’d like to go horseback riding through the valley, there were 3 different spots within the park you could arrange the activity. The first was outside the Visitor’s Center and the other 2 were along the valley drive. Whether you choose to drive the valley yourself, take a guided tour, or hop into a saddle, just enjoy the stunning vistas surrounding you on all sides!
Where to Stay:
There are just 2 hotel options in the immediate Monument Valley area. We stayed at Goulding’s Lodge. Harry Goulding and his wife purchased land and moved to Monument Valley in the 1920s. They set up a trading post and eventually convinced Hollywood to use Monument Valley as the location to film westerns.
Goulding’s is a full-service area with the hotel, restaurant, gas station, trading post, and even a local museum highlighting the area’s movie history, facts about John Wayne, and the story of the Gouldings themselves.
We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable our room was and by the quirky amenities on the grounds, like John Wayne’s Cabin, the trading post, and the “movie theater” showing nightly John Wayne westerns.
Goulding’s offered great views and guided activities, as well. The Lodge is just 5-7 minutes by car from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
The View Hotel is actually within the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. It offers stunning views, a restaurant, gift shop, and guided tour activities.
Where to Eat:
Goulding’s Lodge and The View Hotel both have restaurants on site. There’s also a small convenience store within the Goulding’s area with basic grocery items. I only ate at Goulding’s restaurant and noted the vegetarian and gluten-free options. If you’re concerned about your dietary restrictions, plan ahead and bring what you need. Be sure and try the Navajo Fry-Bread with some honey!
Arches National Park is 150 miles away.
Canyonlands National Park is 180 miles away.
Capitol Reef National Park is 180 miles away.
Zion National Park is 230 miles away.
Bryce National Park is 307 miles away.
Antelope Canyon is 117 miles away.
Horseshoe Bend is 125 miles away.
Four Corners Monument is 104 miles away.
Natural Bridges National Monument is 65 miles away.
Would you like to visit Monument Valley? Have you already visited? What did I miss?
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