The Ultimate Guide to visiting Monument Valley

The Ultimate Guide to visiting Monument Valley
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Visiting Monument Valley was mandatory during our West Coast America road trip.

After countless times enjoying these vast territories on classic western films, walking through the reddish lands of the Far West made us feel that our American adventure was starting. There is no way to visit Monument Valley without letting your imagination fly to a life-or-death duel between cowboys or an ambush of Indians riding wild horses.

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In this guide to planning your visit to Monument Valley in the United States, you will find all the information you need to make the most of your trip.

We spent in Monument Valley one night and one morning during our 10-day West Coast America self-drive tour. However, if you want to discover this Navajo Indian Reservation, I recommend that you try to visit it for at least two days.

VISIT MONUMENT VALLEY

After seeing images of this place, everyone who is planning a West Coast USA road trip wants to visit Monument Valley.

However, if you check where Monument Valley is on a map, on the border between Utah and Arizona, quite likely it will be the easternmost point of your West Coast trip, or we may even think about crossing it out from our travel itinerary for being too far away from other points of interest.

Well, if you ask me if visiting Monument Valley is worth, I have no doubt:

We drove 7 hours to get to Monument Valley from Las Vegas and pitch our tent. We arrived at night, but it took us 5 minutes to realize that we would have always regretted if we had not included Monument Valley on our Western USA trip.

monument valley at night backcountry tour

If we have persuaded you to include this wonder in your trip planning, I recommend you do not miss any detail of this guide to visiting Monument Valley.

 

BEST TIME TO VISIT MONUMENT VALLEY

Visiting Monument Valley is an incredible experience throughout the year, but spring and fall are the most recommended seasons.

When you see the arid and desertic landscape, you might think that the temperatures are very high during summer. However, being at a high altitude (5577 feet) in summer rarely exceeds 90ºF. The main reason to decide not to visit Monument Valley in summer is the large number of tourists who come here during these months.

On the other hand, if you visit Monument Valley in winter, temperatures can be around 0 ºC, so it is not strange to find Monument Valley covered by snow.

HOW TO GET TO MONUMENT VALLEY

If you are going to visit Monument Valley without a guided tour, keep in mind that you must drive long distances. Practically, the only way is to get to Monument Valley by car. As in most of the areas in the West Coast, you must rent a car to discover the wonders found in the Far West.

For us, the only reason to decide not to visit Monument Valley is the long distance you have to travel to get there. However, without any doubt, the visit to Monument Valley is worth it, and the views at the end of the road will make up for it.

monument valley best views by car

Before continuing, if you don’t know where Monument Valley is, I suggest you check this map that we created to help you choose your travel route to the West Coast.

HOW TO GET TO MONUMENT VALLEY FROM PAGE (ANTELOPE CANYON)

People who visit Monument Valley usually also visit the Antelope Canyon. This canyon carved into the reddish sand of Arizona is located in Page. There are 124 miles of distance between Page and Monument Valley, so the common thing is to visit Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley on the same trip.

monument valley scenic drive

Keep in mind that, although both are in the state of Arizona, just three hours away, the time zone is different during the summer, since Page, although it also belongs to the Navajo Indian Reservation, is included within the time zone of the rest of Arizona, which maintains the same time throughout the year.

Do not miss our Guide to Antelope Canyon

HOW TO GET TO MONUMENT VALLEY FROM LAS VEGAS

The closest international airport to Monument Valley is in Las Vegas, located in the state of Nevada. To get to Monument Valley from Las Vegas, you will have to travel about 400 miles that will take you 7 hours at least.

monument valley Navajo tribal park visitor center

On the way, do not forget to visit Page to enjoy the supernatural Antelope Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend.

Do not miss our Guide to Horseshoe bend

HOW TO GET TO MONUMENT VALLEY FROM THE GRAND CANYON

The Grand Canyon is the most popular United States National Park. There are 186 miles of distance between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, which takes about four hours.

monument valley images photos

I advise you not to try visiting the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley in one day. However, there are different Grand Canyon and Monument Valley tours that take you to visit this two wonders of Arizona.

Do not miss our Guide to the grand canyon

MONUMENT VALLEY OPENING HOURS

When planning your visit to Monument Valley without a guided tour, you should know that the Monument Valley visiting hours are from May to September, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from October to April, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

However, you can enter at any time of the day, bear in mind the Monument Valley Visitor Center will be closed.

HOW MUCH DOES MONUMENT VALLEY COST?

The Monument Valley entrance fee is $ 20 per car (up to 4 people) + $ 10 for each extra person.

If you want to visit Monument Valley for free, I advise you to enter the park when it is already closed, and you stay at one of its campsites or hotels. This way you don’t have to pay the Monument Valley entry fee with the reward of some incredible views the next morning.

Keep in mind that Monument Valley is not considered National or State Park, but Navajo Indian Reservation, so you cannot use your “America the Beautiful” Pass to enter.

The Monument Valley admission fee corresponds to the entry fee to the Navajo Nation, so if you are going to visit different attractions within the Navajo Nation on the same day (Antelope Canyon + Monument Valley) make sure you only pay this fee once.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN MONUMENT VALLEY

The main attraction of Monument Valley is the diverse rock formations. In this section, you will discover the main rocks to see in Monument Valley.

There is nothing like discovering the incredible landscapes of Monument Valley and driving across the Monument Valley Scenic Drive is the best way to make the most of our trip.

things to do in monument valley hotel

Keep in mind that you will need between 2 and 4 hours to discover this arid landscape. Although this is a dirt road do not worry, it is not necessary to have a 4×4 car.

You can drive with your vehicle, making a 16 miles loop with the following 11 main viewpoints listed in the Monument Valley map that you can find at the end of the post.

1. THE MITTENS AND MERRICK BUTTE

From the first viewpoint, at the entrance of the reserve, we see the most famous rock formations in Monument Valley; The East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. They are undoubtedly one of the most imposing structures in Monument Valley as they rise 6500 feet above the vast plain of Monument Valley.

monument valley in one day things to do

The Mittens are called this way due to its silhouette with the shape of a mitten. However, Merrick Butte owes its name to one of the two explorers who discovered Monument Valley.

2. ELEPHANT BUTTE

Following the path, we find the Elephant Butte which elephant shape sitting on the desert sand only becomes recognizable when the shadows at the end of the day paint the rock.

3. THREE SISTERS

If you turn around, you will find the Thee Sisters. These three high pinnacles recall the figure of a nun teaching two students.

Mitchell Mesa stands next to them. This plateau receives its name after another of the explorers in the area.

4. JOHN FORDS’ POINT

The most exciting viewpoint for lovers of the Western films. Film director John Ford brought Monument Valley to the big screen in 1939, and since then, Monument Valley has become one of the most filmed locations since the 1940s.

To this day, it continues to serve as a setting, not only for movies but also for cartoons and computer games.

This stop is also perfect to buy crafts made by the Navajo tribe and take the typical photo of a man on horseback over the ravine.

5. CAMEL BUTTE

Considering its name, we suppose that the shape of Camel Butte vaguely resembles the form of a camel lying on the desert. However, do not be frustrated if you do not see it since most of the people can’t see it either. It is supposed to be seen facing west.

6. THE HUB

The road continues to border the Rain God Mesa, named after the consideration of a sacred place by the Navajos. It was also used by healers to praise the God of rain.

After this, we can get to The Hub, which rises 164 feet above the ground. Its unique and solitary needle shape has a group of Navajo homes at the base.

From here starts a secondary path that can only be done with a guide around Thunderbird Mesa to Saddle Rock or Ear of the Wind.

7. TOTEM POLE AND YEI BI CHEI

We finished surrounding Rain God Mesa to reach the next viewpoint from where we can see a group of needles called Yei Bi Chei (spiritual gods Navajo) and Totem Pole 140 meters high.

From here we can also see Sand Springs, although you can see it better from the next viewpoint.

8. SAND SPRINGS

On the way to this viewpoint, we find different red-orange dunes and the only natural aquifer in the reserve, Sand Springs.

Also from here, we will get a better view of Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole, although if we want to get even closer to these rock formations, we will have to take the guided tour around Thunderbird Mesa from behind.

9. ARTIST’S POINT

It is located in front of Spearhead Mesa, but if we turn our backs, we can see The Mittens and Merrick Butte this time from the end of the valley.

Many consider this to be the second best viewpoint in Monument Valley, following John Ford’s Point.

Of course, it is the best viewpoint to photograph Monument Valley at dawn, since it is facing west and therefore the reddish stone will be illuminated with the first lights of the day making the color even more vivid.

10. NORTH WINDOW

North Window opens like a window to the north of the reserve in such a way that East Mitten Butte is framed between Elephant Butte and Cly Butte. However, from this position it will be difficult to recognize it since the main finger of the mitten will be hidden from this perspective.

11. THE THUMB

The Thumb is the last point of interest in the Monument Valley Scenic Drive. Some say that the figure of the rock reminds them of a thumb and others of a cowboy boot.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN MONUMENT VALLEY

However, in addition to this scenic drive, there are many other things to do in Monument Valley.

HIKING THE WILDCAT TRAIL

The next activity to do in Monument Valley for free is to hike the Wildcat Trail. The only hike that you can do for free in the reserve consists of going around one of the most popular rock formations, West Mitten Butte.

monument valley Navajo tour pictures

It is a 3.7 miles loop with elevation gains of maximum 656 feet that can be completed in two hours.

We didn’t do it since we were told that it could be a bit monotonous.

STOP AT THE EXACT POINT WHERE FORREST GUMP STOPPED RUNNING

The last thing that can be done for free in Monument Valley, and that will take you to one of the most iconic spots, is to stop at the exact point where Forrest Gump decided to stop running in the United States.

This happened at mile 13 of Federal Route 163, where you will drive on your way to Monument Valley. So you should not miss it, there is a small sign, so you know where to stop.

monument valley visit where to stay

TAKE A NAVAJO GUIDED TOUR

If you want to dig a little deeper into your visit to Monument Valley, you can take a Navajo Indian guided tour. There are several companies approved by the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department. Here you will find a list of these official companies.

Each company offers different but similar tours at the same time. Some tours focus on photography whereas others on showing the Navajo culture. These tend to dig into the spiritual significance of Monument Valley for the Navajos and can show you their traditions, history, and even gastronomy or music.

visit monument valley for free

Other tours focus on showing you the best places to photograph Monument Valley. Some of these tours are night photography tours to help you take the best night shots of Monument Valley. Others can be announced as Monument Valley sunrise photo tours or sunset photo tours.

In some tours you can take your vehicle, others, however, provide 4×4 cars and there are even those who offer horseback riding through Monument Valley, quite popular but we do not recommend it since it is not right to use animals as a tourist attraction.

Although many tours take you through the same Monument Valley drive that we can do for free, other tours go across some of the private routes found in the valley. These are the most outstanding:

HUNTS MESA

If you want to have the best views of Monument Valley, you must take a tour to the top of Hunts Mesa, in a 4×4 vehicle. After passing through dunes, the plateau rises 984 feet above Monument Valley, and from here you can have a panoramic view of the entire valley.

This excursion usually takes about 7 hours, but you can also find some tourist agencies that offer overnight tours supplying tents and sleeping bags. In this way, you can photograph Monument Valley at sunset and at sunrise with an aerial view difficult to get from another point.

Although the price is higher than other tours, keep in mind that it includes lodging, a Navajo dinner and breakfast, and unique experiences like listening to folktales, native songs or Navajo flute music around a campfire.

MYSTERY VALLEY

Mystery Valley, just by Monument Valley, is one of the most exclusive tours of the Navajo Indian Reservation. It is not possible to enter without a guide as the Navajo consider that the valley is sacred and access is only allowed if a member of the tribe accompanies you.

Also, the road is barely visible between the dunes, and there are no traffic signals, so it is not either a good idea trying to go on your own.

This tour is somewhat physically demanding since the essential points of interest should be visited on foot. Across the valley, we will find Anasazi ruins (the tribe that lived in the valley before the Navajos arrived), Navajo family homes and spectacular landscapes that include stone arches and the views of Monument Valley in the distance. The guide will also tell you about Navajo culture and traditions.

The tour takes between three and four hours and the best time to do it is at sunset.

TEARDROP ARCH

Another often photographed point is the one known as TearDrop Arch, where you can frame Monument Valley in the tear-shaped opening of the rock. This tour is very short; it can even be done on foot.

As the location is somewhat unknown, most choose to hire a tour to get there. However, once you know the location  (36 ° 59’59.5 “N 110 ° 11’16.3” W), it doesn’t seem necessary.

CURIOSITIES OF MONUMENT VALLEY

We did not want to forget in our guide to visiting the Monument Vally a section to discuss the main peculiarities of Monument Valley.

HISTORY OF MONUMENT VALLEY AND THE NAVAJO NATION

Did you know that the Navajo Indians are not originally from the United States, but from Canada? However, they already inhabited Monument Valley, or Tsé Bii ‘Ndzisgaii (‘ Valley of the Rocks’) in the Navajo language, long before the Spaniards arrived.

It was not the first tribe to inhabit the Monument Valley. To date, there are many indications of the presence of Anasazis, an indigenous tribe that inhabited the West Coast of the United States, ancestors of other indigenous cultures as the Pueblo Indians, the Zuni, and the Hopi.

rental car monument valley without tour

Politically, the Navajo Nation, Diné Bikeyah, or Navajoland is recognized as a nation within the United States. However, what may seem like one of the most significant victories achieved by an indigenous tribe is fictitious, since the United States continues to enforce its laws on the Navajo Nation.

HOW MONUMENT VALLEY WAS FORMED

Like the rest of the Colorado Plateau, millions of years ago Monument Valley was a seabed of the sea that covered the western part of the United States.

The tectonic movement pushed this material formed by strata of siltstone and shale up to 5900 feet above sea level.

After this, the erosion shaped the landscape. Rain, wind, and rivers that flowed into the basin ended up forming what we know today as Monument Valley.

The characteristic reddish and orange colors of the Monument Valley landscape are due to the iron oxide present in the geological formations.

MONUMENT VALLEY IN films

Monument Valley is one of those places on the West Coast of America that looks very familiar to you even if you have never been there.

The first inclusion of Monument Valley on the big screen was thanks to film director John Ford, who used Monument Valley landscapes as the main stage in Stagecoach, starring John Wayne in 1939.

Since then, it has been one of the most iconic spots to film Westerns with other films such as Fort Apache or The Searchers.

Later other films took place across the incredible background of Monument Valley, like Forrest Gump, Lone Ranger, License to Kill or Back to the Future Part III. Besides, some cartoons and animated films were based on these landscapes to develop their stories, such as Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner or Cars.

And of course, we can find in many advertisements or even video games Monument Valley landscapes, such as in GTA San Andreas or Red Dead Redemption.

WHERE TO STAY IN MONUMENT VALLEY

Other useful information that we want to share with you are the best places to stay in Monument Valley. In this section, you will find the best camping in Monument Valley, the best hotel in Monument Valley and the best lodge in Monument Valley, so you can choose the option that best suits your needs.

THE VIEW CAMPGROUND

If you ask me what is the best accommodation in Monument Valley, I have no doubt: The View Campground (not The View Hotel). This campsite, with only space for 30 tents, has the best views of Monument Valley. Also, there’s nothing like sleeping in a tent in such a place to feel like an authentic Navajo Indian.

The price is $ 20 per tent. The camp has bathrooms and a small kitchen. However, they do not have rental tents service, but you must bring yours.

best hotel and camping in monument valley

They also have space for RVs, although the opinions are not as good as it is just a parking without connections and the views enjoyed by tents.

Although on the web they say that you can make the reservation online, the campsite can only be booked by phone by calling +1 435-727-5802. Book it well in advance if you want to sleep in the best place in Monument Valley.

THE VIEW HOTEL

Another option is to book at the hotel that manages this same campsite. Although it is not as authentic as camping in Monument Valley, if you are looking for comfort, the best hotel in Monument Valley would be The View Hotel, which you can book on the website.

Although the price is higher, the option of premium cabins will offer very similar views to those of the campsite.

You will need a credit card to do the check-in either for the hotel or the campground.

GOULDING’S LODGE

A little further away, but also very close to the valley, we found the hotel Goulding’s Lodge.

Unlike the previous one, it offers a pool and a museum about the Navajo Nation. The hotel has a price following the high quality of its rooms and the possibilities of having vacancies at the last minute are higher than in The View.

MORE INFO ABOUT MONUMENT VALLEY

To finish with this complete guide to Monument Valley, in this section we are going to give you some tips to visit Monument Valley. We will explain, among other things, the time zone that they follow (one of the biggest curiosities of Monument Valley) so that you don’t arrive late at any place.

monument vally at sunset

At the end of this section, you will have all the necessary information to visit Monument Valley.

MONUMENT VALLEY TIME ZONE

Monument Valley is located within the Navajo Indian Reservation. Navajo Nation follows Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) during the summer months, to increase daylight hours.

However, you should know that the state in which it is located, Arizona, does not participate in the summertime change, but maintains the same time zone throughout the year.

The reason why Arizona decided not to change the time during summer, following what is known as Mountain Standard Time (MST), is because this increase in daylight hours also meant increased hours of heat and therefore more consumption in the air conditioner.

During summertime, in the state of Utah (northern Arizona) and the Navajo Nation (within Arizona), it is one hour later than in Arizona. However, during the rest of the year, Arizona, Utah and the Navajo Nation are in the same time zone.

how to visit monument valley

We advise you to keep this time difference in mind especially when you hire tours, for example, to visit Antelope Canyon (that follows the Arizona time, MST all year) and you plan to go from Monument Valley (which changes the time in summer) or vice versa.

GAS STATIONS IN MONUMENT VALLEY

There is only one gas station in Monument Valley that belongs to the Goulding’s Lodge hotel. As in every service when demand exceeds supply, refueling your car tank in Monument Valley will be quite expensive, so we recommend that you get to the Monument Valley with the tank full.

BEST RESTAURANTS IN MONUMENT VALLEY

There are just a few places to eat in Monument Valley, and these usually are within the hotel restaurants that we have already mentioned.

One of the most outstanding is the restaurant at The View Hotel, where you can find dishes of Navajo cuisine (quite similar to Mexicans) as well as American classics.

The Goulding’s Lodge also has a restaurant with typical Navajo dishes although its menu is somewhat reduced.

In both cases, if you’re going to eat in Monument Valley, you can order take-out food and enjoy it throughout your visit, while driving across Monument Valley Scenic Drive.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Do not forget to hire good travel insurance in the United States. The cost of healthcare in the US is very high, and if, unfortunately, you have to go to the hospital, and you don’t have any insurance, you will have to pay between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000 per night in the hospital.

Although I always recommend hiring good travel insurance wherever you go, the insurance to travel the US must have excellent coverage (never consider hiring anything that covers below $ 30,000).

The best insurance we found for the United States, MONDO, offers a huge coverage at a very affordable price. They provide minimum medical coverage of $ 50,000, although for this specific destination we suggest you hire the $ 100,000 coverage.

things to do in the west coast insurance monument valley

 

BEST IMAGES OF MONUMENT VALLEY

And to finish this article we wanted to show you our best photos of Monument Valley.

Of course, we will return to explore the landscape of Monument Valley more thoroughly, since the options of taking good photographs are huge.

We hope you enjoy your visit as much as we did taking these pictures of Monument Valley.

MAP OF MONUMENT VALLEY

Below you can also find the Monument Valley map. As you can see on the map, it is remarked the only hiking trail through Monument Valley that can be done on your own (Wildcat Trail).

Also, you will find the loop that can be done in Monument Valley by car, with the different stops and most outstanding viewpoints.

Finally, you can also see the different Navajo guided tours that can be hired, to discover other places such as Mystery Valley, Hunts Mesa and Lower Monument Valley that are not allowed to visit without a Navajo guide.

map of monument valley

We hope that you have found all the information to visit Monument Valley through this guide. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to write to us 😉

written by Ascenphotography by danzafra

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