Monument Valley just hits differently. The red-sand desert floor stretches over 92,000 acres across the Utah-Arizona border, dotted with sandstone buttes and dirt roads. This region is best known for Monument Valley Tribal Park – a once frequent filming location for old Western movies. You’ve already seen the valley on your TV screen. It has featured as a backdrop for all the John Wayne films, plus classics like Forrest Gump. But there is more to the valley than just good looks. You can visit attractions like the Navajo Shadehouse Museum and enjoy incredible hiking trails.
Researching Monument Valley is so much fun. It is one of the most famous sections of any Arizona road trip and one of the leading US road trips. Between the red-sand scenery and Hollywood-worthy scenic drive, Monument Valley has wiggled its way onto millions of bucket lists.
How to Visit Monument Valley
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know in order to have a fantastic visit. Get ready for a thorough ‘how to’ guide; by the end of this article, you’ll be well-equipped and raring to go. We’ll teach you all about the main attractions in the valley, like Elephant Butte and the Wildcat Trail. But we’ll also provide all the logistics you need, like how to get there and when is best to visit. One of the best parts about Monument Valley is its location, so skip to the end if you’d like some insights into combining your trip with other memorable attractions, like the Grand Canyon.
Are you ready? Here’s what you need to know about visiting the valley.
What is Monument Valley? A Quick Introduction
So, what is Monument Valley? Well, this 92,000-acre region is a particularly beautiful area of red-sand desert. The valley sits on the border between Utah and Arizona, with land in both states. It is most known as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which has a beautiful collection of sandstone buttes that attracted Hollywood’s attention. Chances are, you’ve seen Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, John Wayne movies, or the famous ‘Run Forrest run’ scene in Forrest Gump.
You can drive through the valley on the 17-mile Valley Drive, a year-round accessible tarmacked highway. During your visit, you may need an off-road vehicle to tackle a dirt road or two.
The valley is full of red rock formations, and you can book experiences like guided horseback tours. You can also embark on hikes to overlook points like John Ford’s Point or take guided hiking tours with a Navajo guide to peaks like Totem Pole or the West and East Mittens. Most attractions are off the main Valley Drive, and there are plenty of designated pull-in places to admire views of specific rock formations. Or you can stop by the Monument Valley Visitor Center and enquire about guided tour options.
How to Get to Monument Valley
So, how do you get to Monument Valley? The easiest way is to fly into one of the major cities in Arizona or Utah, renting a car to road trip your way to this remote valley.
Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are the two most famed international airports and around a 7-hour drive from the valley. Flagstaff is another excellent airport to fly into, only a 3-hour drive away and ideally located to combine Monument Valley with the Grand Canyon. You can book domestic or international flights to one of the airports, rent a car, and drive the remainder of the way to Monument Valley.
Alternatively, you could catch an Amtrak train to Salt Lake City or Las Vegas if traveling from within the United States. This would cut unnecessary flights and provide more adventurous, slow travel. You could then rent a car for the remainder of the journey.
Reading this, you can spot the recurring factor – car hire. You must travel with someone with a license if you can’t rent or bring a car yourself. The valley is one of the most remote places to visit in the US. And you’ll need to drive if you want to see it independently. You can check the best prices here on our favorite site.
With that said, there is a caveat slash loophole to this. If driving really isn’t an option, you could book a guided tour of Monument Valley. These tours are more expensive, and you’ll be limited in free time, but they are the perfect solution for those without licenses. You can book Monument Valley day tours from Flagstaff and from Sedona. Budget around $250-300 for a group tour, including transfers, and get ready to kick your feet back with a guided tour experience.
In summary, your options to get to the valley are as follows:
- If you are short on time and want cheap flights, Fly to Salt Lake City or Las Vegas and then rent a car to drive 7 hours to Monument Valley.
- If you are short on time, Fly to Flagstaff and then rent a car to drive 3 hours to Monument Valley.
- If you have plenty of time and want to avoid flying: Travel by Amtrak to Las Vegas, Grand Junction, or Salt Lake City and then hire a car to drive to Monument Valley in 4.5-7 hours.
- If you aren’t able to hire a car, Fly into Flagstaff and stay there or in Sedona. You can then book a guided tour to Monument Valley on a day trip for between $250 and $300.
Best Things to do in Monument Valley
The sheer scale of things to do in Monument Valley is awe-inspiring. It is far from just a place to drive through and passively gaze at the scenery, although we won’t knock road-tripping its 17-mile Valley Drive. Monument Valley has a wow factor that inspires you to get involved with outdoor activities, whether hiking to buttes or horse riding through Monument Valley Tribal Park.
In this section, we’ll help you embrace all the excitement that Monument Valley offers. Get ready for natural attractions, trails, and sightseeing opportunities. These are the very best things to do in the incredible valley.
1. Experience Monument Valley Tribal Park on Horseback
One of the best ways to experience Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is undoubtedly on horseback. You can drive the loop road, but horses go where vehicles can’t or aren’t permitted. You can book a 2-hour Monument Valley tour by horseback, getting up close to the buttes. We did this and absolutely loved it. We do recommend you have a little horseback experience, though.
2. Take a Jeep Tour
A great way to experience the valley is via jeep. Book a jeep tour across the desert floor and past significant sights like the West Mitten butte. Most tours last 1.5 hours to 3 hours. And you’ll get a hassle-free driving experience with narrated sightseeing. This is a great option if you are traveling with the family.
3. Navajo Shadehouse Museum
Navajo Shadehouse Museum is a cultural attraction in Monument Valley worth visiting. It explains all the culture, traditions, beliefs, and history of the Navajo tribe, including things like how Navajo medicine men pray and what hogan homes look like. While the museum is small, it provides incredible insight into the Navajo Nation. And since the valley is situated on Navajo Tribal park land, it is a must-have addition to your itinerary.
4. Visit West, East, and Merrick Butte
If you want stunning rock formations, West, East, and Merrick Butte are the best formations to see up close. This iconic trio of buttes juts up from the valley floor in beautiful red sandstone. The East and West Buttes stand over 6,000 feet above sea level and are a dramatic sight to see up close. It is illegal to climb the formations, but you can walk around their bases.
5. Drive Monument Valley Drive with Photo Stops
We can’t mention the beautiful Monument Valley Drive. In 17 miles of highway, you embrace some of Monument Valley’s iconic landscapes and rock formations. This scenic drive passes Forrest Gump Point, a.k .a. the famous Forrest Gump Highway. The massive sandstone buttes also appeared in Western movies like the Wayne films. It’s easily one of the most famous scenic drives in the US. Allow 3-4 hours to complete the drive, depending on how long you want at each stop.
6. Elephant Butte
This beautiful butte is famously shaped like an elephant and is an excellent option if you want to see the rock formations outside of the standard trio. Again, climbing is illegal, but you can walk to its base and admire the natural landmark. Visit just before sunset for the best views.
7. John Ford’s Point
This is the money shot overlook. It’s named John Ford’s Point after the American producer and director John Ford. Ford directed tons of movies, including several featuring John Wayne. John Ford featured this viewpoint in several old American West movies. You’ll recognize the sweeping views of the buttes and desert landscape.
8. Wildcat Trail
Wildcat Trail is an approximately 4-mile loop hike that crams in the best of Monument Valley’s views on foot. It takes around 2 to 3 hours and is rated as moderate difficulty due to sections with thick sand. You can easily navigate the trail independently if you have a basic fitness level. Your efforts will be rewarded with up-close views of the famed Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.
Set off early in the day to avoid the harsh heat in spring and summer. Make sure to bring a camera, too, as Wildcat Trail is one of Monument Valley’s best things to do.
9. Climb Mexican Hat
While climbing isn’t allowed within the valley, you can skip minutes over the border to climb Mexican Hat. This bizarre-looking sandstone rock looks like a tower with a sombrero on top – hence its name. Mexican Hat is popular amongst experienced climbers. If you are experienced enough to tackle medium challenging climbs confidently, you can take on the Bandito Route, a bolted, clip-up route.
If you aren’t a climber, you can still visit to see the rock up close. Plus, you can watch as others tackle the unique rock face.
10. North Window Overlook
Finally, there’s North Window Overlook to visit in the valley. This is brilliant if you want a viewpoint experience in the valley. North Window Overlook offers an alternative view of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to John Ford’s Point. It is located just minutes from the Monument Valley Visitor Center and is perfect to experience at sunrise or sunset.
When to Visit Monument Valley
It goes without saying that summer is a more challenging time to visit the valley. The sky-high temperatures can reach 94 Fahrenheit in July and August, which isn’t conducive to desert hikes or long drives. Furthermore, summer also means floods of crowds. It is the busiest time of year to visit the valley. So if you are considering visiting in summer, we recommend shifting to the start or end of the season. It is mostly crowded and hot, with fewer parking spaces and shared viewpoints.
So, if not summer, when should you visit the valley? Ideally, you should visit in the fall or spring. Winter can get a little too cold, dropping to 25 Fahrenheit sometimes, so fall and spring are a great compromise. September to early November and March to May are the best periods to experience the valley. You’ll have mild temperatures in the upper 70s Fahrenheit and fewer crowds – a win-win.
Keep in mind what time of day you enter the valley, too. Visiting in the shoulder seasons like fall and spring helps to reduce the crowds. But you can also be tactical with what time of day you visit. Early morning is best if you want to spend a whole day in the park, heading to the most popular sites first. Meanwhile, if you wish to visit only a few sites, late afternoon is a good time to dodge the worst of the crowds.
Of course, choosing accommodation in the valley itself will help you get ahead of the crowds. You’ll also get to tick off sunrise and sunset viewpoints from the comfort of your own home away from home, especially at places like The View Hotel and Campground.
Where to Stay in Monument Valley And Surrounding Area
Where to stay in and around Monument Valley is a fabulous question. There is one important thing to note, though. There are minimal accommodation options inside the park itself. You’ll have to book in advance to stay inside the park boundaries. There are also more B&B or camping-style accommodation options within the valley.
Fortunately, there are many more options for those staying just outside the park boundaries. The small town of Kayenta near the south entrance has multiple inns, and the town of Bluff near the north entrance also has plenty of accommodation choices.
Staying in Monument Valley
Staying within Monument Valley’s park boundaries requires pre-planning and advance booking, but it’s definitely still possible. If you want to make your experience even more unique, snagging those sought-after accommodation reservations is well worth it. You could be bathing in an infinity pool overlooking a beautiful red rock formation or camping in a traditional tipi village. Let’s check out the top options for staying within the valley.
Goulding’s Lodge is a gorgeous property within Monument Valley and easily one of the leading places to stay. Get your reservations in quick. Guests enjoy an indoor pool and a terrace – from which you can actually see the buttes of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. It is a beautiful place to stay and enjoy scenic sunsets and sunrises.
Monument Valley Tipi Village
Monument Valley Tipi Village is a beautiful accommodation choice for experiencing traditional tipi and hogan stays in Monument Valley. The village is run as part of the Navajo Nation and is a brilliant way to invest in the local community.
The View Campground/The View Hotel
The View Campground and View Hotel are two adjoining properties in the middle of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – the most scenic section of the valley with the dramatic butte scenery. Each guest room in the hotel has a balcony to enjoy private sunrise and sunset views over the Mitte buttes. And you can also enquire about camping experiences in traditional tipis.
Staying Outside Monument Valley
As we explained, the best places to stay outside Monument Valley are Kayenta and Bluff. There’s also Mexican Hat, a tiny census-designated place right at the north entrance with a selection of hotels. Still, we wouldn’t recommend staying here as it lacks facilities.
This section will look at the best places to stay in Kayenta for inn-style accommodation and a quiet vibe. Then we’ll look at the best places to stay in more luxurious and touristy Bluff.
Kayenta is the smaller, quieter option of the two towns. It is located near the south entrance of Arizona. It is a better option for those wanting to go on day trips to Arizona attractions like the Grand Canyon or Navajo National Monument. Kayenta has several town facilities, like Amigo Cafe, the Kayenta Recreation Park, and primarily 3-4-star inns.
Wetherill Inn is a modest 2-star property ideal for anyone looking for budget-friendly accommodation near Monument Valley. It does have its comfortable perks, though, including an indoor heated pool and a continental breakfast.
Hampton Inn Kayenta
Hampton Inn Kayenta is a 3-star property, best for those wanting a more mid-range to luxury option. It is a modern property with a tasteful desert-color palette that’s perfect given the reason for your stay. It has an onsite restaurant, which is convenient after a long day in Monument Valley, and a gym and outdoor pool.
Bluff is slightly bigger and best for those who want a busier base while visiting the valley. It has more luxurious places, like Bluff Dwellings Resort and Spa. Bluff also has a few attractions, like the Twin Rocks Trading Post, the Bluff Great House Museum, and the Sand Island Petroglyphs. It is located in Utah, near the north entrance to Monument Valley.
La Posada Pintada
La Posada Pintada is first up. This 3-star property is beautiful, with traditional rooms, log cabin features and views over the surrounding red rock scenery. A daily continental breakfast is included in your booking rate. Overall, it is ideal for those with a mid-range budget.
Desert Rose Resort & Cabins
Desert Rose Resort & Cabins is as luxurious as it comes. The property has a deluxe indoor pool, an onsite business center, and thoughtfully decorated rooms featuring traditional stone and wood details. You have all the Bluff facilities on your doorstep and a base where you can rejuvenate between sightseeing in Monument Valley.
Bluff Dwellings Resort & Spa
Bluff Dwellings is another gem in Bluff. The resort has absolutely glowing reviews and a stunning mixture of rooms and suites. The resort is set within a section of rock formations, giving it a remote appeal despite its central Bluff location. As if that wasn’t enough, you also get an onsite pool, gym, and hot tub. Plus, there is an onsite restaurant for those days when you need a quick meal.
Excursions Near Monument Valley
One of the most incredible things about visiting Monument Valley is how perfectly it combines with other bucket list experiences in Utah and Arizona. As you know, the valley is situated on the Utah-Arizona border, meaning it has almost unbridled access to some of the state’s most sought-after destinations and excursions.
You could be trekking through Canyonlands or snapping photos in Arches National Park. You could head south to spend a few days around the Grand Canyon and Sedona. Or you could take longer, multi-day detours through Utah to visit Las Vegas. There are tons of excursions and worthy destinations near Monument Valley.
In this section, we’ll introduce you to the best of these. Here are the top ten excursions – and multi-day detours – you should combine with a visit to Monument Valley.
1. Goosenecks State Park
Goosenecks State Park is a beautiful park just north of the valley. The San Juan River splits the park and contains over 300 million years of geology. Goosenecks is a great day trip if you want to spend a day admiring geological attractions and canyon river views. Pick a hike from the multiple trail options. You can even camp there overnight if you wish.
2. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is one of the leading national parks in the US, with some brilliant hiking trails, including the route to Druid Arch and Lavender Point. You can admire plenty of viewpoints. There’s the stunning Needles District and Green River Overlook. Canyonlands National Park is split into four main zones, including the Island in the Sky mesa.
The national park is only a 3-hour drive from the center of Monument Valley. It is best experienced at sunset when the red rock scenery is even more beautiful.
3. Dead Horse State Park
Dead Horse State Park is just over a 2-hour from Bluff, near the valley’s north entrance. This state park is famous for its desert landscape and seriously stunning canyon scenery. While it is adjoined to Canyonlands, it offers a much more intimate experience, with fewer trails and less than 5,400 acres compared to nearly 340,000 acres.
If you want a more bitesize chunk, Dead Horse State Park is the perfect place to experience similar landscapes without the scale of Canyonlands.
4. Grand Canyon
Who doesn’t want to see the Grand Canyon? The canyon is a great experience to add to your Monument Valley itinerary. You can visit the canyon in a single day from Monument Valley, taking 4 hours to reach one way. Or you can fly into Flagstaff and spend a few days visiting the canyon and its surrounding attractions before driving to Monument Valley. Either way, you can combine the two.
5. Visit the Four Corners Monument
This monument is extraordinary, marking the point where all four states – Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado – all converge. The Four Corners Monument is located in the Navajo Nation and has its own visitor center. If you want a novelty experience, you can’t beat this monument. After all, you can say you stood in all four states at once.
It takes around an hour to reach Bluff, making it one of the most accessible self-guided excursions from the valley.
6. Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is a brilliant excursion to take from Monument Valley. Once you’ve spent a couple of days exploring the valley, you can drive under 2 hours to Antelope Canyon – the famous canyon that looks like it has rock waves in its walls.
As the canyon is sacred in Navajo culture, it is vital to book through a company offering a Navajo guide for a guided tour.
7. Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a brilliant excursion from the valley. It is most known for its abundance of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, most famously Cliff Palace. A visit to Mesa Verde is ideal for expanding your knowledge of Puebloan history after visiting the Navajo Nation. You can quickly drive to Mesa Verde National Park from Bluff, which takes around 1.5 hours. It is one of Colorado’s best national parks and worth the detour.
8. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is a must if you are visiting Monument Valley. It is just too close by to miss out on. The park is named after its dozens of natural arches and is one of Utah’s most beautiful places to visit. It is just under a 2-hour drive from Bluff, near the valley’s north entrance. And you can enjoy stunning hikes to see the natural landmarks.
Look into national park passes for multiple parks if you’d like to combine a few of the national parks near Monument Valley.
9. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
This National Monument is one of the best areas of natural beauty within the Navajo Nation. And as a bonus, it is just over an hour’s drive from Kayenta. You can take guided tours, learn about sacred sites, and visit a cliff dwelling and petroglyphs.
10. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is another leading attraction and excursion from the valley. It is just over 1.5 hours from Kayenta by car by the valley’s south entrance. The park is best known for its dramatic river canyon landscape, featuring a curve in the Colorado River that looks like a horseshoe shape.
While there, you could go hiking or boating. Or sightsee other attractions near Page, like Antelope Canyon.
Visiting Monument Valley: FAQs
Are you excited about visiting Monument Valley? Whether you visit Mystery Valley, drive the Monument Valley loop road, or detour to nearby Goosenecks State Park, you’ll love seeing the part of the US. Monument Valley is a tiny section of fiery, red-rock intensity. It is the scenery of the old West that generations of people grew to love on their TV screens. From a sightseeing perspective, it is one of the nation’s most impressive areas of rock formations. That’s before you even get to the cultural side of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, with all its history of the Navajo people.
Before you rush to appreciate Monument Valley in person, check out these common FAQs. These FAQs could provide you with that extra information that transforms your trip.
Why is Monument Valley so famous?
Hollywood has immortalized Monument Valley. Sure, its culture and geology would have still attracted visitors even if Hollywood hadn’t scouted it as a movie set. However, its appearance in John Wayne films and blockbusters like Forrest Gump is what has made Monument Valley famous worldwide.
What town is closest to Monument Valley?
Kayenta is a super close town to Monument Valley on the Arizona side of the border. On the Utah side of the border, Bluff is the nearest town to Monument Valley. Bluff has more tourist infrastructure, with hotels, inns, and a few attractions.
Can you still drive through Monument Valley?
Yes, Monument Valley is open to drivers. The Monument Valley Loop Road is open all year round, although it does restrict its hours in winter, typically opening between 8 am and 2 pm. The Scenic Drive is available from 6 am until 8 pm in summer.
Is Monument Valley in Utah or Arizona?
Monument Valley straddles the border, meaning it is officially in both Utah and Arizona, not just one or the other. However, most of the park falls within the state boundaries of Arizona.
Monument Valley is exceptional; there’s no doubting that. These 92,000 acres contain so much natural beauty and culture. You can learn about the Navajo Nation and pay for a guided tour to embrace Monument Valley with the Navajo people. You can take a road trip through Monument Valley via Highway 163, passing Forrest Gump Point, Hollywood movie scenes, and stunning rock formations. Or, you can venture out on excursions nearby, like visiting Goosenecks State Park, the Grand Canyon, or nearby national parks. A visit to Monument Valley is one you won’t soon forget.
You now know all the practical information necessary to organize a trip to Monument Valley. We hope you have a wonderful time and encourage you to extend your stay to appreciate the wider region and its surrounding attractions. In need of some extra inspiration? These are the most stunning places to visit in Arizona. And we have a complete guide on Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’ national parks. Make the most of visiting a destination right on the Utah-Arizona border.