The three red sandstone buttes that mark the horizon of Monument Valley have now become a symbol of the ideal of the American Far West (great Hollywood westerns were shot here). It is no coincidence that we have chosen them for our page dedicated to the US parks.
So let’s talk about visiting Monument Valley, focusing in particular on what to see and what to do along the scenic drive, the best route to reach the valley, what organized tours are available for the visit and where to stay overnight in Monument Valley or in the immediate surroundings.
- First, Some Useful Recommendations
- How to Visit Monument Valley: Take a Tour or Visit It on Your Own?
- Video: The Best Things to Do in Monument Valley
- Monument Valley Map
- Attractions nearby…
Before we focus on the beautiful natural attractions of this wonderful tribal park, here is some useful information for planning your visit.
How to Get to Monument Valley?
Monument Valley is run by the Navajo Nation and is located on the border between Arizona and Utah. To get there we recommend taking I-163 (Scenic Byway 163), a scenic road that will take you straight to the majestic buttes of the valley.
Can You See Monument Valley from Highway 163?
On Highway 163 you will find the famous Forrest Gump Point (picture above), a picture that any tourist with self-respect will take on the road in America.
How to Get to Monument Valley from Las Vegas?
To complete this stretch you can refer to Bernardo’s detailed travel diary: From Las Vegas to Monument Valley: itinerary between Utah and Arizona.
Monument Valley Time Zone
Pay attention to the time. Unlike Arizona, which is always on daylight saving time, Monument valley is on daylight saving time in spring and summer, so there is a difference of one hour with the surrounding areas and cities (the ones you’ll probably travel from to get to the park). We talked about it extensively in our article about the Arizona-Utah time zone.
Where to Stay Overnight in Monument Valley
If you are looking for accommodations overnight the best are probably The View and Goulding’s Lodge. Both have wonderful views of the valley. Alternatively, you can look in the nearest town, Kayenta, which is not particularly charming, but with a number of different hotels where you can stay for a good price. For more information about finding accommodations you can have a look at our article on Monument Valley Hotels.
- Standard admission: $ 20.00
- Children (0 -6 yrs): Free admission
- Price per vehicle: $ 20.00, up to four people
- Additional people:$ 6.00 each
Can I get in with the America the Beautiful Pass? As it was explained in a previous article, Monument Valley is not included in the national parks pass because is not managed by the National Park Service; instead, it is managed by the Navajo Nation.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Visitor Center Hours
- High season (1 April – 30 September) 6:00 am – 8:00 pm, 7 days a week
- Low season (1 October – 30 March) 8:00 am- 5:00 pm, 7 days a week
- Thanksgiving Day – 8:00 am – noon
- New Year’s Eve – Closed
- Christmas Day – Closed
Scenic Valley Drive Hours
- High season (April 1 – September 30) from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm
- Low season (October – 30 March) from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Best Time to Visit Monument Valley
Monument Valley is open and can be visited year round and each season can obviously present, as expected, both pros and cons, but nothing that would prevent you from enjoying the beauty of the site. The best seasons are spring and fall, when, thanks to favorable temperatures, your visit will be more enjoyable.
Summertime, the time of year when there are more tourists, can be very hot and you must take the usual precautions (we are in a desert after all). Even if you drive through Monument Valley, the “standard” way to visit the park, you will suffer somewhat from the heat. In winter if you’re lucky you can see snow and take some unforgettable pictures of the snow-covered buttes. For more information I recommend our guide on the best time to visit Monument Valley.
When you visit Monument Valley you have basically 2 possibilities. Either book one of the many guided tours organized by the Navajo, or explore the valley by a self-guided drive tour. A less commonly chosen option is to go on a hiking tour. Each choice, as always, has its pros and cons. Let’s take a look at all the possibilities:
Monument Valley Tour
There are 2 good reasons to opt for a tour:
- The possibility to explore otherwise inaccessible areas
- The fact that you don’t have to drive on Valley Drive, the unpaved bumpy scenic road of Monument Valley
Below is a short list, but for a more detailed overview you can read our article on the Monument Valley tours available.
These are guided tours on foot, by bus, 4×4 or on horseback that allow you to explore the park more deeply, visiting places that you would not be allowed to access on your own. Obviously these tours have a cost and they begin directly at the park, so you will have to reach Monument Valley on your own. You’ll find many tours on this page, but the jeep tours available, I suggest you take a look at this one.
If instead you are looking for an unconventional tour that goes into the most remote regions of the park (and shows you breathtaking views!), I suggest you take a look at our in-depth guide of Hunts Mesa.
Some tours can also be found on the official website, although often times they are not really easy to book (often refers to rather outdated sites, not really well done and require booking tours by phone). Also for this reason we have made a list of the best guided tours available in Monument Valley.
Other tours are more convenient since they depart from nearby cities, often hubs for those wishing to tour the area: Flagstaff (enchanting city near the Grand Canyon), Sedona (charming city, see the article “Sedona what to do”), Page (ideal destination to visit Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend and Vermilion Cliffs) and Phoenix itself (the capital of the State of Arizona).
For those who plan their itinerary as they go, stopping in these cities can make the journey considerably easier, reducing the mileage and energy spent the journey. Below you will find some particularly interesting tours of Monument Valley:
1. Monument Valley and Navajo Indian Reservation Tour
- Departures: Flagstaff and Sedona
- Duration: 10 hours
- Pick-up directly at the hotel
A tour designed to explore the beautiful scenery of Monument Valley while getting to know the Navajo way of life. An experienced guide will accompany you not only as you explore Monument Valley, but will also take you to traditional Native homes, bringing you directly into contact with their customs and traditions.
2. Navajo Monument Valley Air Tour *
- Departures: Page, Lake Powell
- Duration: Approximately 90 minutes
Do you want to be one of those who can say they flew over the natural wonders of Utah and Arizona by plane? This tour will give you the opportunity you to see not only the stunning Monument Valley from above but also other natural marvels such as Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Lake Powell and more.
*Tour momentarily not available
3. Monument Valley Tours by Plane and Jeep
- Departure: Phoenix
- Duration: 8 hours
“The Best of Both Worlds” as the Americans would say. This is the best solution for those who do not want to miss the thrill of an airplane flight over Monument Valley, but at the same time do not want to give up the exploring it in a jeep, for a closer view of the wonderful valley.
Valley Drive Map: Visit Monument Valley Park by Car
If you plan on driving, you will be a little more limited in terms of where you can go (you will not be allowed to access in some areas, or to stray too far from the road to make an excursion near the hills), however you can travel along the entire Valley Drive, a beautiful scenic road, bumpy but still drivable, which will allow you to go through the buttes and bizarre rock formations of the valley. Right now we will talk about this is the route!
Along Valley Drive you can enjoy a dozen truly spectacular places. Here are the main ones, arranged in order starting from the visitor center. To find your way around, you can also consult this map, with the numbers marking the stops of the route (click to enlarge):
This map is part of the brochure that you will receive at the entrance once you have paid the admission fee. The star indicates the starting point and the route marked in red is the road that you can drive. The southern part (under Rain God Mesa) is accessible only with organized tours.
1) The Mittens and Merrick’s Butte
These three sandstone buttes form one of the most famous landscapes in the world, the true symbol of Monument Valley; it is impossible not to see them, they are close to the visitor center and The View hotel.
2) Elephant Butte
One of the many gigantic and bizarre rock formations of this park. The name comes from the fact that it’s supposed to resemble an elephant. What does it look like to you?
3) Three Sisters
Three rather peculiar thin pinnacles stand out among the much thicker and denser buttes of the surrounding landscape.
4) John Ford’s Point
A decidedly scenic area dedicated to the director who immortalized Monument Valley as the Hollywood symbol of the Far West. Here, if you want, you can take the picture on a horse, just like John Wayne, for just a few dollars. Be careful not to try not to miss this point because it is not well marked. During the route on Valley Drive, near Camel Butte (on your left), you will find yourself at a fork in the road. Instead of continuing on the main road, turn right. You will arrive at a clearing with some shops, where you can view John Ford’s Point.
5) Camel Butte
A large, complex and striking rock formation, called “camel’s hump”.
6) Rain God Mesa
It is a magnificent rock formation situated in the center of the valley, which is striking for its size and grandeur.
7-8) Totem Pole
The strange pinnacles of Totem Pole offer some of the most beautiful views of the Monument Valley. Don’t miss them!
9) Artist’s Point
Another exquisite overlook, where the horizon fades into view.
10) North Window
The “North Window” is the ideal place for a scenic view of the valley from the North.
11) The Thumb
Would you like to get an even better idea of what it means to drive on Valley Drive? Watch this video below.
Trails and walks
Since is on a reservation managed by the Navajo, a good part of the territory is not freely accessible and as a consequence there are not many trails. However, you can still take a nice walk with a close view of the famous buttes of the valley. The trail is called Wildcat Trail and is the only one in Monument Valley that can be accessed without a guide.
The trail is a 3.7 miles loop round trip and is quite easy and is on predominantly flat sandy terrain. The only real obstacle may be the temperatures that are typical of a desert area. To go on this trail you need to look for the Wildcat Trail sign in the northwest area of the visitor center parking lot in Monument Valley. Along the trail you will also find the Navajo warning signs, including:
- bring enough water
- stay on the marked trail
- do not take plants or rocks
- Look out for animals which may include dangerous animals (such as snakes and various insects)
Another much shorter trail (0.6 miles round trip) that is rewarding and requires minimal effort is located outside the park, just before the entrance. It is called Goulding Arch Trail and it starts at the Goulding Campground (here the address). The trail leads to a beautiful natural rock arch unknown to most people.
Video: The Best Things to Do in Monument Valley
Monument Valley Map
The GPS coordinates of the Monument Valley visitor center are: 36.982259, -110.111372. Below you can find your way around with an interactive map.
Monument Valley is certainly not known for excellent cuisine, indeed, in general you can say that the quality of the dining options near the park is nothing special. Not to mention the above-average prices of food due to the beautiful landscape that surrounds you and certainly not due to its quality. That being said, here are the places where you can stop for a bite to eat:
- The View Restaurant (inside the park): The food is average and the view is amazing. Probably the best choice if you do not want to leave the beautiful rock buttes of the valley.
- Linda’s Frybread Stand (inside the park): near the John Ford Point and not far from the Ericson Cly Memorial and the Navajo All Native Arts & Craft market is Linda’s traditional frybread stand, which specializes in frybread (a typical Navajo flatbread) that you can enjoy in front of a beautiful view.
- Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room (1000 Gouldings Trading Post Road): Goulding ‘s Lodge dining room lacks a great atmosphere and the food is nothing special either. The menu includes meat dishes, Mexican specialties and frybread.
- The Swingin Steak (2265 US-163, Mexican Hat): in my opinion the best place around. It is located in Mexican Hat, a tiny village with a small population 20 minutes away from the park. The specialty of this place is the way that the meat is prepared. It is cooked on a giant tilting grill. Since it only has outdoor seating (even though it’s sheltered from the elements), the restaurant closes during the coldest months of the year (usually from November to February).
- Olde Bridge Grille (2256 US-163 Scenic, Mexican Hat): Also in Mexican Hat, this restaurant is part of the San Juan Inn hotel complex, which also includes a food court (Trading Post). Here they serve breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and you can also try the typical frybread. According to my experience (I had breakfast here) the quality of the dishes is average.
- Amigo Café (US-163, Kayenta): If you head to Kayenta (but this is more than 30 minutes away from the park) you will find a better value for your money and if you like Mexican cuisine this place is for you.
- Twin Rocks Cafe (913 East Navajo Twins Dr, Bluff): Located at the foot of the scenic Twin Rocks, this is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. The food served is phenomenal, served in good portions and you can have a nutritious breakfast here as well. The only drawback is that it is located near Bluff, about 1 hour away from Monument Valley. However, it can be easily included in an itinerary going from the park to the Moab area or vice versa.
The most interesting attraction you’ll find just outside the park is certainly the Goulding’s Museum & Trading Post (1000 Gouldings Trading Post Road), a museum (and at the same time historical residence), which can be visited quickly and is in my opinion worth it, because it gives you a taste of the history of this park and helps you understand how it has established itself as an iconic location for western movies over the years.
This was once the home of Harry Goulding, who moved to the valley in the ’20s and started a profitable trade with the Navajo. In the ’30s, it was he who went to Hollywood to propose to director John Ford that he use the Monument Valley as a set for his western movies. Thus beginning the long history of using this park as a film location and symbol of the American Far West.
In the museum, housed in the current hotel Goulding’s Lodge (1000 Gouldings Trading Post Road), there are preserved frames, posters, photos and other documents that attest the so-called “Golden Age” of Hollywood, well represented by a topographic map with all the locations where the movies were shot. Another interesting place for movie lovers is the John Wayne’s Cabin, whose exterior was used for the film The Knights of the Northwest
But this museum goes far beyond the purely cinematographic interest. It also has a comprehensive display on the historical and cultural aspects that determined the history of the place, Navajo artifacts and objects belonging to the Goulding family, and it gives a small but interesting insight into the lifestyle and commercial activities of the time.
A short distance from the valley there is another park that can be considered basically a counterpart of Monument Valley. Its called the Valley of the Gods and I suggest you consider it as a stop on your West Coast tour. Another area unknown to most but worth a visit is Mystery Valley, an arcane place where, beyond red rock landscapes there are ruins of ancient peoples.