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Monument Valley was relatively unknown until the 1930s. In 1938, John Ford, a director, fell in love with the area and chose the location for his well-known Western film, Stagecoach. Monument Valley became an integral part of his films and was featured in many others over the years. Ford’s films made Monument Valley one of the most familiar landscapes in the United States.
Monument Valley’s beautiful red sandstone buttes and panoramic views have become symbolic of the American West and are usually the first thing that comes to mind when one pictures the Southwest today. It is a must-visit destination and will be the highlight of your southwest road trip. In this guide, you will find everything you need to know before visiting this incredible park and embarking on your own Monument Valley scenic drive.
What is Monument Valley?
Monument Valley is one the most photographed locations in the southwest United States. The park is located in the states of Arizona and Utah where it sits on 30,000 acres (47 sq mi) of land in the Colorado Plateau. The land belongs to the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American territory in the United States, making it a tribal park. The Navajo name for the park is Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, which translates to the Valley of Rocks.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a stunning collection of varying rock formations and is famous for its dramatic red sandstone buttes and mesas. The jaw-dropping formations are the result of millions of years of erosion. The largest of the buttes reaches an impressive 1,000 ft (305 m) above the valley floor.
How to Get to Monument Valley
Monument Valley is located off the US-163 and straddles the Arizona/ Utah border. It’s not a difficult place to reach, but it is remote and requires a car and a little planning. A Monument Valley scenic drive is best done as part of a Southwest road trip. If you aren’t located within driving distance, you will need to fly and rent a car.
There are a handful of airports to choose from but the best option is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). The drive from Phoenix to Monument Valley is330 mi (531.084) and takes about 5 hours. There are some great stops along the way such as the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to visit.
Another option is Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. This is actually the closest airport to Monument Valley; however, it requires a change of planes. The drive is 183 mi (295 km) and takes just over 3 hours. Other nearby airports include:
- McCarran International Airport (LAS), Las Vegas: 410 mi
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) – 390 mi
- Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) – 330 mi
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
There are two options when it comes to exploring Monument Valley, either with a Navajo guide or through a self-guided tour. The self-guided tour is an easy-to-follow, 17 mi (27 km) scenic drive loop, referred to as the Valley Drive. If you wish to explore beyond the loop, you will need to make tour arrangements since the land belongs to the Navajo Nation. Trespassing is not allowed and visitors need to respect and abide by the rules set forth by the Navajo government. Available tours include sunrise and sunset tours, as well as photography tours.
I recommend a Monument Valley scenic drive. General admission to the park is $20 per vehicle, up to four passengers with each additional passenger being $6. A map of the loop will be given to you upon entry with all the major points marked. The entire loop is completely unpaved, so be prepared for a very bumpy and dusty ride.
Prior to my visit, I knew very little about Monument Valley and didn’t take the roads into consideration when renting a car. I didn’t experience any major difficulties in my small, compact vehicle but a 4×4 would have been more comfortable and made me feel a little safer. Some of the steeper hills did present a bit of a challenge. There was also some rain the day prior and I definitely wouldn’t have risked it if there was significant water on the ground.
What to See in Monument Valley
There are eleven lookout points along the Monument Valley scenic drive and one self-guided hiking trail in the park. It’s easy to see all the major sights on the drive. Some points that you will not want to miss are:
- John Ford Point: John Ford Point is probably the most popular stop. It is easily recognizable from Ford’s Westerns. For an additional fee, you can take a photo of a horse and cowboy out on the point or even sit on the horse yourself.
- Merrick and Mitten Buttes: The three large buttes known as Merrick, East Mitten, and West Mitten are located in the same general area and form a triangle. When viewed from the south, the Mitten Buttes resemble mittens with thumbs facing inward.
- Artist Pointe: This lookout has an incredible view of West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte. It’s also a great spot for sunrise.
Wildcat Trail is the only self-guided hiking trail in the park. It’s a 3. 2 mi (5 km) loop that takes about three hours to complete. The trail offers hikers amazing scenery and takes them to incredible views of Mitten and Merrick Buttes. There are other trails in the area, but you will need to be accompanied by a guide to access them.
How Much Time in Monument Valley?
The Valley Drive can be done in two hours but if you want to do any hiking or exploring beyond the loop, I suggest giving yourself at least a full day. Monument Valley is a gorgeous place to catch either sunrise or sunset, making an overnight stay totally worth it.
While driving in and around Monument Valley, I noticed the time on my phone changing. It’s important to be aware of the time differences between Arizona, Utah, and the Navajo Nation when planning your day. Arizona does not observe daylight saving time and uses standard mountain time. Utah and Navajo lands, however, do observe daylight saving. This is something you will want to keep in mind, especially if you have tours planned.
Best Time to Visit Monument Valley
Monument Valley has a desert climate with hot summers and cold winters. Temperatures can get high in the summer months, but it doesn’t get as hot as one would think because of the altitude. Summers are the most crowded and the loop is usually packed with visitors. Winters can see light snowfall, but the snow usually stays on the ground for only a day or two.
Spring or fall is the ideal time to visit with mild weather. You’ll be able to avoid both the extreme temperatures and the crowds. April through June can be windier months. I visited in May and temperatures were mild, but it was incredibly windy and made for a very dusty experience. I still had a great time; just be prepared and bring a jacket.
Where to Eat & Stay in Monument Valley
When it comes to hotels in Monument Valley, there are very few options. I would suggest The View Hotel or Goulding’s Lodge. Both of these hotels book up well in advance and can get expensive, so I recommend making a reservation far in advance. Goulding’s Lodge offers camping as well and has the option of an RV site or a traditional tent.
If you find them booked, don’t let that stop you from visiting the park. I opted to use Page, AZ as a home base and made Monument Valley a day trip which worked out well. La Quinta by Wyndham is a great choice in Page.
There are only a couple of options when it comes to food in Monument Valley. There are The View Restaurant and Stagecoach Restaurant, which are located in the above-mentioned hotels. They serve a combination of Navajo and classic plates, such as burgers and sandwiches.
The food is pretty average. I would choose The View Restaurant, not for its food, but for its incredible view of the valley. Be aware that the restaurants are not open all day and although they do serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they have specific hours for each meal.
Other Things to Know
- You will want to check the official site of the Navajo Nation for park hours and Navajo holidays before planning your visit.
- Avoid wearing sandals. It’s very dusty and sneakers will be much more comfortable.
- Don’t forget to bring water, a jacket, and sunscreen.
- Entry to the park is $20 per vehicle, for up to 4 people.
The Monument Valley scenic drive is a magical experience and deserves a place on your southwest road trip, whether it be just a day or a weekend.
Have you done the Monument Valley scenic drive? What did you think? If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Looking for more southwest road trip stops? Continue to my post, “6 Incredible Things to Do in Page, AZ.”