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Guide To Visiting Monument Valley

Last Updated on September 2, 2020

Visiting Monument Valley is a must if you dream of seeing the American “Wild” West. When you get there, your imagination flies to old western movies “Stagecoach” and “Rio Grande” with John Wayne. Or to the the outstanding “Once Upon a Time in the West” by Sergio Leone with moving music by Ennio Morricone. The isolated red mesas and vast sandstone buttes, surrounded by empty desert are one of the most iconic views of the United States. Monument Valley is an area on the border of the states of Arizona and Utah, located entirely within the Navajo Indian Reservation. It is a Navajo Nation tribal park. How to get there, how to spend time, what rules apply in the Indian lands? How looks Monument Valley scenic drive? Or is it worth to buy Monument Valley tours? Check our ultimate travel & photo guide to visiting Monument Valley.

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Monument Valley view

Visiting Monument Valley was a great adventure during our Arizona road trip. We could imagine cowboy duels, shootings, Indians galloping on wild horses through the red desert, while taking Monument Valley scenic drive. We admired magnificent sunset with clouds over rusty rock formations.

Monument Valley History

In Navajo language Monument Valley is: Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, means valley of the rocks. Monument Valley is officially a large area that includes Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Monument Valley sits 5,564 feet above sea level and encompasses 91,696 acres. However, visitors have access and drive through the park on a 17-mile (27 km) dirt and rough road (a 2-4 hour trip). Finally, parts of Monument Valley, such as Hunts Mesa or Mystery Valley, are accessible only by guided tour.

Monument Valley Geology

The valley’s vivid red color comes from iron oxide exposed in the weathered siltstone. The darker blue-gray rocks in the valley get their color from manganese oxide. The valley is famous for towering sandstone rock formations that have been sculpted over time and soar 400 to 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Monument Valley was formed due to erosion. For millions years, small sediments formed a basin which eventually became a plateau. Finally, water and wind removed parts of the plateau, creating surrounding mesas, buttes, and desert environments. So, it truly is one of the natural wonders of the world, and an iconic symbol of the American West.

Our selection of maps and guides:

Arizona Trails Northeast RegionArizona & The Grand CanyonArizona and the Grand CanyonArizona & the Grand Canyon 2020
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Monument Valley

How To Get To Monument Valley

Monument Valley is located on the border between Utah and Arizona near the Four Corners area. So it’s worth adding this point to the road trip itinerary. It lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation and is accessible by car from U.S. Highway 163. It is worth considering a high clearance 4WD vehicle to take Monument Valley scenic drive. So, if you have to rent a car, we recommend Alamo, which we use for years. However if you know how to drive, regular car should be good enough as well most of the time.

Distances to nearby cities and attractions:

  • Four Corners Monument – 105 miles
  • Page, Arizona – 125 miles
  • Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) – 180 miles
  • Kabab, Utah – 195 miles

So, if you’re visiting from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it’s about 3-4 hours drive. If you are going from Page, when you can see Horseshoe Bend and slot canyons it’s about 2-3 hours drive to get to Monument Valley. From Kanab it is about 3 hours.

The closest international airport to Monument Valley is in Las Vegas. So, if you are going from Las Vegas to Monument Valley it will take you 6.5 – 7 hours. However, if you prefer not to drive from LV, you can buy this 3-day tour to Monument Valley from Las Vegas. Furthermore, it is one of the best trips from Vegas because you will also visit Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park and Route 66. Most of all, it is an excellent solution if you have little time and you want to see the most beautiful and exciting places in the Southwest. Moreover, all the way, you will get perfect views. So, you can check prices and availability here.

Closest international airports to Monument Valley:

  • Las Vegas – 400 miles
  • Phoenix – 320 miles
  • Salt Lake City – 380 miles
Forest Gump Point

Monument Valley Weather

What is the best time to visit Monument Valley? The Monument Valley weather is pretty mild in the winter making it a perfect year-round travel destination. Below we have prepared for you charts with the average highest and lowest temperatures in the Monument Valley and average rainfall. Peak Season is from May to September. Off Season is from October to April. In our opinion, the best time to visit Monument Valley is during off season. You will avoid crowds. But remember always to check the weather before you go. The road may be impassable after rainfall.

Our selection of maps and guides:

Arizona & the Grand Canyon 2020Grand Canyon Trail Map 2020 Hiking Grand Canyon 2020Grand Canyon Map
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Monument Valley Entrance Fee & Visitor Center

Remember that Monument Valley is not a National Park and hence you cannot use your National Parks Pass. It is a Navajo Nation Tribal Park, and you must accept their rules. So, Monument Valley entrance fee is $20 per vehicle (up to four people, and $6 each additional passenger). You can pay for entry when you get to the Park or you can buy a ticket online.

The Monument Valley Visitor Center is one mile east of U.S. highway 163 on the Arizona-Utah border. Monument Valley Visitor Center hours of operation are:

  • April 1 – September 30 (Peak Season): 6 a.m. – 8 p.m., 7 days a week
  • October 1 – March 30 (Off Season): 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., 7 days a week
  • Visitor Center is CLOSED on: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Sunset Monument Valley

It is the visitor’s responsibility to know and obey Navajo rules in the Park. So, most important rules are:

  • drones are prohibited,
  • rock climbing is not allowed,
  • do not desecrate Navajo lands,
  • firewood gathering is prohibited,
  • campfires are permitted only at designated campsites and fire sites,
  • permits are required for camping, hunting, fishing or investigative projects,
  • the Navajo ask prior consent before photographing them or their property,
  • commercial photography requires a permit from the Navajo Film and Media Commission.
Monument Valley

Where To Stay in Monument Valley

If you can stay in Monument Valley overnight to admire the sunset or sunrise, it is worth booking a lodging in advance. So, below you will find some of the most interesting and best hotels and RV campsites in the Monument Valley area.

Monument Valley Hotels

The View Hotel ($$$) is owned by a local Navajo Tribe Woman named Armanda Ortega. Fully-furnished valley rim cabins offers a unique way to experience Monument Valley. It is the only hotel inside the Monument Valley Tribal Park. Every guestroom has a private balcony with a view of the iconic formations of Monument Valley.

Goulding’s Lodge ($$$) offers excellent location in Monument Valley. Also, the view is soul-inspiring. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk, along with free WiFi, which is not easy to find in this area. The resort has an indoor pool and a tour desk. Check prices & availability here.

Kayenta Monument Valley Inn ($$$) is located around 24 miles from Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Kayenta. And it takes around 35-40 minutes’ to get to the park. Book it here. Styled in dark wood furnishings, each room at Kayenta Monument Valley Inn includes a flat-screen TV and a seating area. It offers free Wi-Fi and a seasonal outdoor swimming pool. Furthermore, the Wagon Wheel Restaurant provides on-site dining. Classic American dishes inspired by Native American cuisine are provided daily at Valley Inn Kayenta Monument. Book it here.

Wetherill Inn ($$) motel is in Kayenta, 40 minutes’ drive from Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Each room includes free WiFi. It offers an indoor heated pool, and laundry facilities. Check aviability & prices here.

Kokopelli Inn ($) is located in Bluff, 48 miles from Monument Valley. Each air-conditioned room at Kokopelli Inn Bluff has a flat-screen satellite TV, a small refrigerator, and coffee-making facilities. Finally, it is a great option if you are lokking budget accomodation. So, you can book it here.

Monument Valley Campground

Goulding’s Monument Valley Campground & RV Park is the best place to stay overnight if you travel in RV or with a tent. It offers 66 full hookups sites and 100 tent sites. There is WiFi at Park, restroom, showers and laundry. The views are spectacular. So, you can check availability & prices here.

Monument Valley Hike

Things To Do in Monument Valley

Admire Monument Valley Sunrise and Sunset

The best idea is to stay overnight in the Monument Valley to admire the sunrise and sunset. Due to the park’s opening hours (the same to the Visitor Center), it can be difficult to take a sunset or sunrise photo without staying overnight. However, in our opinion, it is worth considering an organized sunset or sunrise tour, because you will get access to the best photo spots. So, during a 3-hour Sunrise Tour, you will admire the glowing sunrise across the landscape, then enjoy a ride through the valley to learn about the natural landmarks of this incredible location. During 3-Hour Sunset Tour, you can enjoy the moment and experience the magic of the changing colors and famous rock formations.

Check the tour options also on viator.com, which has excellent customer reviews.

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Sunset in Monument Valley
Monument Valley Arizona

Take a Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Driving across the Monument Valley Scenic Drive is the best way to exploring the incredible landscapes of Monument Valley. The road is dirty and rough. But it is only 17 miles, so do not hesitate to take this drive. It might be challenging to do it after rain. You need at least 2 – 4 hours to do Monument Valley Scenic Drive with stops and photos. When you enter the Park, you will get a Monument Valley map with marked most exciting points.
If you do not have experience in driving on such rough and bumpy terrain, check organized 4×4 tour. Trips are not expensive, and you will see the whole park safely. Furthermore, you will learn interesting history about the Navajo Indians’ land and rock formations. Check other tours here.

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Elephant Butte

Take Photos During Scenic Drive

The Monument Valley self-guided tour loop is around 17 miles. So, the best idea is visit the 11 main viewpoints during your trip. They are:

  • The Mittens and Merrick Butte. The most famous rock formations of Monument Valley – The East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte you will see just when you start your Monument Valley Scenic Drive. They rise 6500 feet above the vast plains.
  • Elephant Butte is a rock formation in the shape of an elephant sitting on the desert sand.
  • Thee Sisters is three high pinnacles recall the figure of a teacher and two students.
  • John Fords’ Point is a must-see if you are a fan of western movies. Film director John Ford brought Monument Valley to the big screen in 1939 within “Stagecoach” with Jone Wayne. Since then, Monument Valley has become one of the most filmed locations.
  • Camel Butte looks like a camel lying in the desert. However, you need to use more of your imagination to see this shape.
  • The Hub has a unique and solitary needle shape and rises 164 feet above the ground.
  • Totem Pole & Yei Bi Chei is a group of needles called Yei Bi Chei (Navajo spiritual gods) and Totem Pole.
  • Sand Springs: formation of different red-orange dunes.
  • Artist’s Point it is the best viewpoint to photograph Monument Valley at dawn.
  • North Window opens like a window to the north so that you can see East Mitten Butte between Elephant Butte and Cly Butte.
  • The Thumb is the last point of interest in the Monument Valley Scenic Drive. The rock formations look like a thumb, however, some say like a cowboy boot.

TRIPTIP: For more inspiration with the most exciting places in Arizona, check out our Arizona Photography & Travel Guide!!!

Photo inspirations you will find in books:

Monument ValleyNavajo Nation Natural WonderSouthwest Road TripGuide to Monument Valley
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Thee Sisters

Take a Hunts Mesa Tour

Hunts Mesa is accesible only with Navajo guided tour. Hunts Mesa is a hidden jewel of the South West. This place offers incredible photographic opportunities, from grand vistas and panoramas to unique vantage points of Monument Valley. However, this is not a cheap tour, but worth considering. Because on this exceptional all-day tour, you will capture both sunset and sunrise from a unique place in Monument Valley. Furthermore, you can achieve dramatic views of Monument Valley from atop Hunts Mesa with a vantage point 1,600 feet above the valley floor. So, you can check prices and availability here.

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Hiking the Wildcat Trail

If you have two – three hours, extra time, consider the Wildcat Trail. It is the only trail in the Park that is free and accessible to tourists without an organized trip. Its length is only 3.7 miles loop with elevation gains up to 656 feet. It is moderate hike. The trail starts near the Visitors Center.

Stop at Forrest Gump Point on the Highway 163

Have you seen the Forrest Gump movie with significant Tom’ Hanks role from 1994? Or maybe you have read a novel by Winston Groom on which the script of the film was based? There is a famous scene in film shot on Highway 163 to Monument Valley when Forrest Gump stopped running. So, you can stop at the exact point where Forrest Gump stopped running through the United States.
This stop takes place at mile 13 of Federal Route 163; the GPS coordinates are 37.101393, -109.990973. This is just a 20-minute drive from the Visitor Center.

Forrest Gump Point on the Highway 163
Forrest GumpStagecoachRio GrandeThe Searchers
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Monument Valley Movies

First of all, at least 99 feature films were shot in Monument Valley. It’s worth to see a few of them to get inspired by movie scenes before your trip. Monument Valley is one of the most recognizable landscapes in the United States. John Ford initiated a movie location and put his films there. John Ford’s first western, whose action took place in the valley landscape, was Stagecoach shot in 1939. The film marked the beginning of John Wayne’s great career. Furthermore, Ford made such classic westerns in Monument Valley as The Searchers, Fort Apache, and How the West Was Won. Finally, despite the absence of any river here, mostly shot the film the Rio Grande here.

Fort ApacheHow the West Was WonBest Ennio MorriconeEnnio Morricone Collection
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Sergio Leone in Once Upon a Time in the West also used the Navajo Nation landmark as a backdrop for filming in 1968. Furthermore, Once Upon a Time in the West was the first of the “spaghetti Westerns” to be filmed outside Europe, with Ennio Morricone music. Typically, these projects were shot in Spain or Italy. But Leone was set on honoring Ford. In addition to Ford’s films, Monument Valley was the scene of such famous films as Easy Rider, Mackenna’s Gold, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eiger Sanction, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Back to the Future Part III. Finally, the 2013 version of The Lone Ranger.

The Lone RangerBack to the Future Part III2001: A Space OdysseyEasy Rider
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the van escape

Hi, we are Agnes & Chris! Welcome to The Van Escape! We are travelers, photographers, and bloggers. Our goal is to share travel & photo experience and inspire you to outdoor adventures through America. We love wildlife, off the beaten path places, soaking in hot springs, and van life. We also like cities by night and tasting local food & wine. We give you ready itineraries, hints, and essential tools to prepare you for your unforgettable lifetime journey. We only describe the places we have been, which we know and recommend without hesitation. All photos are also ours. We are so glad you’re here!

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