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 the “Rio Grande” with John Wayne. Or to 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 buying Monument Valley tours? Check our ultimate travel & photo guide to visiting Monument Valley.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Guide to Visiting Monument Valley – Introduction
Visiting Monument Valley was a great adventure during our Arizona road trip. We could imagine cowboy duels, shootings, and Indians galloping on wild horses through the red desert while taking Monument Valley scenic drive. We admired the magnificent sunset with clouds over rusty rock formations. In this post, we share tips in this Guide to Monument Valley.
PRO TIP: Before visiting Monument Valley on the Navajo Tribal Nation Parks, check out their official website. Respect all the Navajo Nation rules.
Monument Valley History
In the Navajo language, Monument Valley is Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, which means valley of the rocks. Monument Valley is a large area, including 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 of years, small sediments formed a basin that 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 world’s natural wonders, and an iconic symbol of the American West.
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.
Considering a high clearance 4WD vehicle to take Monument Valley scenic drive is worth considering. So, if you have to rent a car, we recommend Alamo, which we use for years. However, if you know how to drive, a 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
- Kanab, Utah – 195 miles
So, if you’re visiting from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it’s about 3-4 hour drive. If you are going from Page, where you can see Horseshoe Bend and famous Navajo slot canyons like Antelope Canyon X, Lower Antelope, or Upper Antelope, it’s about a 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
Visiting 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 Monument Valley and average rainfall.
Peak Season is from May to September. The off-season is from October to April. In our opinion, the best time to visit Monument Valley is during the off-season. You will avoid crowds. But remember always to check the weather before you go. The road may be impassable after rainfall.
Visiting Monument Valley – Entrance Fee & Visitor Center
Remember that Monument Valley is not a National Park; hence, you cannot use your National Parks Pass. It is a Navajo Nation Tribal Park, and you must accept their rules. So, the Monument Valley entrance fee is $35 per vehicle (up to four people, and $6 for each additional passenger). You can pay for entry when you get to the Park, or you can buy a ticket online.
Monument Valley Visitor Center
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 as follows:
- 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
- The Visitor Center is CLOSED on: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Monument Valley Ruls
It is the visitor’s responsibility to know and obey Navajo rules in the Park. So, the 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.
Where To Stay when Visiting Monument Valley?
It is worth booking lodging in advance if you can stay in Monument Valley overnight to admire the sunset or sunrise. So, below you will find some of the most interesting and best hotels and RV campsites in the Monument Valley area.
Monument Valley Hotels
Goulding’s Lodge ($$$) offers an excellent location in Monument Valley. Also, the view is soul-inspiring. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk, along with free WiFi, which is not easy to find in this area. The resort has an indoor pool and a tour desk. Check prices & availability here.
Kayenta Monument Valley Inn ($$$) 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 Kayenta Monument Valley Inn room 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 ($$) motel is in Kayenta, 40 minutes drive from Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Each room includes free WiFi. It offers an indoor heated pool and laundry facilities. Check availability & prices here.
Kokopelli Inn ($) is located in Bluff, 48 miles from Monument Valley. Each air-conditioned room at Kokopelli Inn Bluff has a flat-screen satellite TV, a small refrigerator, and coffee-making facilities. Finally, it is a great option if you are looking for budget accommodation. So, you can book it here.
The View Hotel ($$$) is owned by a local Navajo Tribe Woman named Armanda Ortega. Fully-furnished valley rim cabins offer 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.
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 hookup sites and 100 tent sites. There is WiFi at Park, restroom, showers, and laundry. The views are spectacular.
Things To Do in Monument Valley
Admire Monument Valley Sunrise and Sunset
The best idea is to stay overnight in Monument Valley to admire the sunrise and sunset. Due to the park’s opening hours (the same as the Visitor Center), it can be difficult to take a sunset or sunrise photo without staying overnight. However, an organized sunset or sunrise tour, is worth considering 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 the 3-Hour Sunset Tour, you can enjoy the moment and experience the magic of the changing colors and famous rock formations.
Take a Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Driving across the Monument Valley Scenic Drive is the best way to explore 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 the most exciting points.
If you do not have experience in driving on such rough and bumpy terrain, check out the 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.
Visiting Monument Valley – Take Photos During Scenic Drive
The Monument Valley self-guided tour loop is around 17 miles. So, the best idea is to 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 desert sand.
- Three Sisters is three high pinnacles that 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 must use more imagination to see this shape.
- The Hub has a unique, 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 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 it like a cowboy boot.
TRIP TIP: For more inspiration with the most exciting places in Arizona, check out our Arizona Photography & Travel Guide!!!
Visiting Monument Valley – Take a Hunts Mesa Tour
Hunts Mesa is accessible only with a 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.
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.
Visiting Monument Valley – 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 a moderate hike. The trail starts near the Visitors Center. Due to COVID-19, check if it’s open before you go.
Visiting Monument Valley – Stop at Forrest Gump Point on the Highway 163
There is a famous scene in a 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.
Monument Valley Movies
First of all, at least 99 feature films were shot in Monument Valley. It’s worth seeing a few of them to get inspired by movie scenes before visiting Monument Valley. The truth is, that 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 classic westerns in Monument Valley such as The Searchers, Fort Apache, and How the West Was Won. Finally, despite the absence of any river here, most shot the film the Rio Grande here.
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.