The picture-perfect Monument Valley is one of the most-filmed locations on earth, but it’s also a land rich in Navajo culture and breathtaking scenery. Here is our complete guide to visiting Monument Valley
Monument Valley is a red sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border famous for towering sandstone formations. It’s an ancient and rugged land, formed into beautiful designs by the forces of erosion and uplift.
The Navajo Tribe were the first group of people to settle in Monument Valley and today they are custodians of the lands; providing a unique experience for travelers.
From the moment you first glimpse the iconic shapes of Monument Valley, surging from a red horizon, it’s easy to see why film producers have long since been seduced by the land of sandstone masterpieces.
But beyond the bewitching buttes and mesmerizing messas, there’s a host of rewarding things to do in Monument Valley.
Get the most out of this vast Navajo land with our guide to visiting Monument Valley.
Booking your trip via the links on this page (or on our book page) will earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support – Paul & Mark.
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
VISITING MONUMENT VALLEY
This guide contains all you need to know about visiting Monument Valley, including important tourist information, the top attractions, plus other things to do in the area.
Use the index to navigate to each category, or scroll down to read all about the valley of sandstone giants.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
ABOUT MONUMENT VALLEY
Monument Valley straddles the Utah-Arizona border and is part of the massive Colorado Plateau. Formed by wind and rain erosion over millennia, a cluster of red sandstone buttes and spires reach up to 1,000 feet above the desert valley floor.
GEOLOGY | THE SHAPES OF MONUMENT VALLEY
Mesas – The first stage of erosion, a mesa is a rock formation that looks like a table.
Butte – The second level of erosion, a butte is an isolated hill, smaller than a mesa, often with vertical sides and a flat top.
Spire – The final stage of erosion, a spire is a thin free-standing column of rock.
MONUMENT VALLEY NAVAJO TRIBAL PARK
Monument Valley (sometimes referred to as Oljato-Monument Valley) is situated within the Navajo Nation Reservation (also known as Navajoland).
In 1939 as its fame began to grow, the Navajo people set aside 92,000 acres of land to create the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The park is the heart of Monument Valley and contains most of the distinctive mesas, buttes, and spires.
MOVIES SET IN MONUMENT VALLEY
Monument Valley became famous when its distinctive landscapes appeared in western classics such as John Wayne’s “Stagecoach” and “Rio Grande.” Since then, the park has been featured in several famous movies. Some of them include –
- Forrest Gump
- Mission Impossible II
- Easy Rider
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Back to the Future III
- National Lampoon’s Vacation
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- Thelma & Louise
ENTRANCE TO MONUMENT VALLEY TRIBAL PARK
Monument Valley Tribal Park has different summer and winter opening times.
MONUMENT VALLEY – OPENING TIMES & FEES
April 1 – September 30 | 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM
October 1 – March 30 | 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
$8 per person, per day
Cost to visit Monument Valley – Entrance to the park costs $8 per person per day and is paid at the entrance gate marked on the map below. Keep the receipt safe as you will need it to enter both the 17-mile Scenic Drive and Wildcat Trail.
Important note – Monument Valley tribal park is NOT a US National Park. US National Park passes, like America the Beautiful, are not valid.
MONUMENT VALLEY RULES
The Monument Valley Tribal Park is on the Navajo Nation Reservation and follows Navajo laws, some of which are different to the rest of the US.
Time Zone – Monument Valley runs on Mountain Time Zone and observes daylight savings (even though Arizona in which most of the park is based, does not). In winter months Monument Valley is in the same time zone as both Utah and Arizona, but in summer months it’s the same as Utah, but one hour ahead of Arizona.
Alcohol – The Navajo Nation does not allow alcohol on the reservation. It is not served in restaurants or available to buy in shops.
Masks – Masks were compulsory on Navajo lands for much longer than the rest of the US. However, on January 20, 2023, the requirement to wear a mask was removed, so they are no longer needed when visiting Monument Valley.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MONUMENT VALLEY
Monument Valley is an amazing place to visit any time of year, but the shoulder seasons are the best.
Summer (June – August) // Summer is the busiest time of year even though average temperatures are around 90°F (32°C) and the afternoons bring occasional thunderstorms.
Fall (September – October) // Temperatures drop to around 70°F (21°C) during fall, the crowds thin out, and the weather is at its best. Both are great months to visit but September is slightly better as the park is open longer throughout the day.
Winter (November – March) // Daily temperatures are 30 °F to 40°F (-1°C to 4°C), with the odd dusting of snow, but crowds are fewer and accommodation cheaper.
Spring (April – May) // With average temperatures around 65°F (18°C) and crowds lower than in summer, Spring is a good time to visit, but periodic gusty winds mean Fall is usually better.
HOW TO GET TO MONUMENT VALLEY
Oljato-Monument Valley is in a remote part of the Colorado Plateau and not particularly close to an airport.
The closest airports to Monument Valley are –
- Phoenix Airport – 5 hours | 320 miles
- Albuquerque Airport – 5 hours | 320 miles
- Las Vegas Airport – 6 hours, 20 minutes | 400 miles
- Salt Lake City Airport – 6 hours, 20 minutes | 380 miles
Most travelers visit Monument Valley as part of a road trip around the sights of Utah and Arizona. Some of the main attractions close to Monument Valley include –
Page (Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend)
1 hour 30 minutes | 120 miles
Canyon de Chelly
1 hour 30 minutes | 90 miles
Grand Canyon South Rim
2 hours 40 minutes | 160 miles
Moab (Arches & Canyonlands National Park)
2 hours 40 minutes | 150 miles
2 hours 50 minutes | 170 miles
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MONUMENT VALLEY
1 – TAKE IN THE VIEWS FROM THE VIEW HOTEL
Just after passing through the entrance gate to Monument Valley Tribal Park, there is a large parking lot in front of The View Hotel. The view from the terrace (accessible to everyone including non-guests) over the mesas, buttes, and spires of the valley is remarkable.
The three most striking features are the East and West Mittens and Merrick Butte. Together they create one of the iconic images of Monument Valley.
Getting to The View Hotel, Monument Valley – Although the tribal park is only open from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM in summer and 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM in winter, you can drive to the hotel at any time. It’s well worth making the effort to be there for sunrise or sunset.
2 – THE 17-MILE SCENIC DRIVE
The best way to properly explore Monument Valley is by doing the 17-mile Scenic Drive. This self-drive dirt trail goes past some of the most dramatic sections of the park and can be driven in a 4×4 or 2WD car.
Scenic Drive Duration – The loop leaves from next to The View Hotel. The speed limit is 15 miles per hour and it should take around 2 to 3 hours to complete.
Entrance to the Scenic Drive – Entrance is between 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM in summer (exiting by 7:00 PM) and 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM in winter (exiting by 5:00 PM). The circular section of the loop must be completed in a clockwise direction. The route can sometimes be impassable after heavy rain.
Along the way you can spot the following sights.
Mittens and Merrick Butte // The East and West Mittens look like hands rising out of the ground whereas Merrick Butte was named after a prospector searching for silver in the valley.
Elephant Butte // Elephant Butte resembles a gigantic elephant facing westwards over the desert.
The Three Sisters // Three spires of rock resembling a catholic nun facing her two pupils.
John Fords Point // Named after the director of some of John Wayne’s most famous films – The Searchers, Cheyenne Autumn & Stagecoach. It’s a great spot for some selfies.
The Hub Overlook // A good viewpoint over the southwestern section of the park where Wagon Wheel Butte rises above the desert and shrubs.
Sand Springs // At the furthest part of the loop, the thin spire of Totem Pole can be seen in the distance. To get closer you need to join a tour.
Navajo Code Talkers Outpost // Sometimes known as Artists’ Viewpoint overlook, this is a wonderful viewpoint over the Mittens, Merrick Butte, and the northern part of the park.
The Thumb & North Window Overlook // Park next to a large thumb-shaped spire and (if the path is not closed) take a short walk to the North Window Overlook for good views over the Mittens and Merrick Butte.
3 – WILDCAT TRAIL HIKE
The only unguided hike you can do in Monument Valley Tribal Park is the Wildcat Trail. This 3.3-mile hike leaves from near the View Hotel and makes a circular loop around West Mitten. It’s a wonderful way to absorb the desert scenery and get up close to one of the most stunning buttes.
The trail is easy to follow, heading through a mix of sandy washes and shrub, and the views from the far side of the West Mitten are wonderful.
Wild Cat Trail Duration – The 3.3-mile hike takes about 2 hours to complete.
Wild Cat Trail Entrance – Entrance is between 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM in summer (finishing by 7:00 PM) and 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM in winter (finishing by 5:00 PM).
Facilities – There are no facilities on route, except for four or five canopies with seats offering some shade from the sun. In summer months it can be very hot so avoid the warmest part of the day.
What to take – Take at least 1 liter of water and some snacks.
4 – MONUMENT VALLEY GUIDED TOURS
Many of the best sights in the tribal park can be seen on your own from either the 17-mile Scenic Drive or the Wildcat Trail, but there are three excellent reasons to take tours in Monument Valley.
Some sights are inaccessible without a guide
Back Country tours visit sights that you cannot get to on your own. These include the Ear of the Wind beautifully framed by a tree, Big Hogan Arch where Navajo regularly gather to sing, and the smooth sweeping rock of Moccasin Arch and Sun’s Eye.
The best views are not open for sunrise and sunset
While you can take in sunrise and sunset views from the View Hotel, access to the 17-mile drive and Wildcat Trail opens after sunrise and closes before sunset.
You’ll learn from the Navajo Guides
All tours are run by Navajo Guides and spending a few hours in their company offers a compelling insight into their culture, history, and deep connection with the land.
RECOMMENDED MONUMENT VALLEY TOURS
Tours start from the View Hotel and can last from two to three hours to all day. We highly recommend combining all the above and joining a sunrise or sunset tour. In the space of a few hours, you get to see the backcountry sights in the best light and learn about the Navajo way of life.
Sunrise Tour – A 3-hour tour that takes in the best sights of the loop and heads into the backcountry to see Big Hogan, the Sun’s Eye, and a Navajo Hogan – a primitive moveable structure that Navajo use to protect them against the sun.
Sunrise Photography Tour – Carl Phillips organizes sunrise photography tours that start by watching the sunrise behind Totem Pole before visiting other backcountry sights. There’s plenty of time for photos and some handy tips from Carl.
Sunset Tour – 3-hour tour that includes Moccasin Arch, Sun’s Eye, Totem Pole, and a traditional Navajo home.
All-day Tour – 6-hour tour covering much of the above as well as exploring nearby Mystery Valley and Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs.
Monument Valley Tour Tips –
- The $8 park fee is not included in the tour price and must be paid upon entrance to the park.
- It can get very hot during the day, so wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
- The mornings can be very cold, so bring something warm to wear for the sunrise tour.
- Remember in summer months, Monument Valley runs on Utah time (Arizona time + 1).
5 – STAY IN THE VIEW HOTEL
The View Hotel is the only hotel in the Monument Valley Tribal Park. Opened in 2008, it has been designed to blend into the landscape with its pink and red walls appearing to form another layer of rock.
It is not essential to stay in The View Hotel to see the park. There are other accommodation options just a short drive away. However, each room has a balcony with wonderful views over the Mittens and Merrick Butte.
Booking Tip – The hotel can book up months in advance so it’s a good idea to book early. If you miss out it’s worth checking back, the hotel has lots of rooms and cancellations do crop up.
MAP – MAIN MONUMENT VALLEY ATTRACTIONS
The Monument Valley Tribal Park is shaded in green on the below map, with each of the main attractions in a different color.
- Brown – Monument Valley Tribal Park Entrance Gate and The View Hotel
- Blue – 17-mile Scenic Drive
- Red – Wildcat Hiking Trail
- Purple – Backcountry guided tour destinations
How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.
THINGS TO DO NEAR MONUMENT VALLEY TRIBAL PARK
There is plenty to do in the area surrounding Monument Valley. Take a 3 to 4-hour road trip north on Route 163 and you could visit all the sights listed below.
GOULDING’S TRADING POST
In 1920 Harry Goulding and his wife bought a plot of land in Oljato-Monument Valley and started trading food and handicraft items with the Navajo people out of tents.
Within several years they had constructed a Trading Post. Then, in the 1930s, they enticed Hollywood director John Ford to film Stagecoach in the area, making Monument Valley an icon of the west.
Facilities at Goulding’s Trading Post – Today, Goulding’s Resort has a restaurant, gas and convenience store, grocery store, laundromat, and museum. It’s a convenient place to stay and the onsite museum and trading post help visitors understand the Navajo way of life.
FOREST GUMP HIGHWAY VIEWPOINT
The views of Monument Valley from Route 163 are sensational. Drive along this road at any time and the dramatic mesas, buttes, and spires fly past your window.
The most iconic spot on the road was made famous when Tom Hanks ran along it in the film Forrest Gump. The pull-out for the view is 13 miles north of the entrance to Monument Valley on Route 163.
Forest Gump Highway Photo Tip – Get your camera low to the yellow lines on the road and capture Monument Valley behind – although make sure you have someone watching for traffic. Avoid coming here in the mid-afternoon when you’ll be shooting into the sun. Morning or just after sunset are ideal.
MEXICAN HAT & VALLEY OF THE GODS
Mexican Hat is a 30-minute drive north of Monument Valley. This strange, shaped rock that looks like a sombrero, peers over a tiny settlement of the same name.
Just north of Mexican Hat is the Valley of the Gods. It’s not as grand as Monument Valley but it’s not as busy either. Using a rather bumpy dirt track you can make a loop around the buttes and mesas. However, it’s not in the best condition so a 4×4 might be handy.
The Moki Dugway is a dramatic series of switchbacks carved into the cliffs. It’s only 3 miles long but the views over the Valley of the Gods are stunning.
The road is a gravel track and should not be attempted after heavy rain, but in most other conditions it’s perfectly manageable in a 2WD. The speed limit is only 5mph, but there is no need to go any faster as the views out the window are breathtaking.
Muley Point is 5 miles from the Moki Dugway along another dirt track. This viewpoint should be more famous than it is. There is a deep-cut valley resembling a small Grand Canyon with Monument Valley visible in the distance.
The sandy gravel track is 5 miles long and takes about 15 minutes to drive. In most conditions it is easily navigable in a 2WD but should be avoided when wet.
ROAD TRIP | MONUMENT VALLEY TO MULEY POINT
Driving from Monument Valley to Muley Point via Forrest Gump Viewpoint, Mexican Hat, and the Moki Dugway takes about 1 hour.
Allow about 3-4 hours for the return road trip giving you plenty of time to stop at the sights.
WHERE TO STAY IN MONUMENT VALLEY
Oljato-Monument Valley is one of the must-see places in the United States. Accommodation is limited so book well in advance.
THE VIEW HOTEL
The only hotel in the tribal park, The View Hotel is designed to blend into the landscape and the views from the balconies are excellent There are hotel rooms, premium cabins, and a campground, all of which overlook the park.
Goulding’s Lodge is a 3-star property just a few minutes’ drive from the Monument Valley Tribal Park. There is a choice of hotel rooms, apartments, or villas. It has an indoor pool, sun terrace, and lots of conveniences.
Located in Kayenta, a 30-minute drive from Monument Valley, the Hampton Inn is less convenient but a much cheaper option. The rooms are comfortable, clean, and spacious and the buffet breakfast is full of choices. There’s a shopping center nearby.
DESERT ROSE RESORT & CABINS
In the town of Bluff, a 50-minute drive northeast of Monument Valley, Desert Rose Resort & Cabins is a great place to stop on a road trip through the area. They have modern and traditionally styled rooms, a wonderful terrace, an indoor pool, and a fitness center.
MONUMENT VALLEY FAQs
HOW MANY DAYS IN MONUMENT VALLEY?
In half a day you can walk the Wildcat Trail, self-drive the 17-mile Scenic Drive and take in the views at The View Hotel and Forest Gump point.
But we highly recommend staying at least one night in the area so you can enjoy the scenery at dusk or dawn, preferably on a tour. Photographers may want to spend two nights.
CAN YOU DRIVE IN MONUMENT VALLEY?
The only section of the Monument Valley Tribal Park you can self-drive is the 17-mile Scenic Loop.
However, many of the mesas, buttes, and spires in the area can also be seen from US Route 163 including Forest Gump Point.
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE IN MONUMENT VALLEY?
There are three sections of Monument Valley Tribal Park for which you do not need a guide: the 17-mile Scenic Drive, the Wildcat Trail, and the views from The View Hotel.
You can also see some great scenery from US Route 163 including Forest Gump Point. However, a guide is required to visit the backcountry.
We highly recommend taking a guided sunrise or sunset tour.
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