Monument Valley is perhaps the most legendary landscape of the American West. Oddly shaped rocks dramatically dot the horizon, breaking through the sandy desert floor. The land seems endless and empty as it excites the imagination and brings to remembrance those iconic stories of western settlers and outlaws.
Although Monument Valley has been featured in many movies throughout the years, its real story revolves around the Native Americans that consider this land to be sacred. The Navajo Nation has designated it as a Tribal Park in the hopes of preserving their cultural history.
We happened to visit Monument Valley on a day that was shrouded in an eery fog, enhancing the beautiful red of the rock formations. The air had a silence that covered the whole valley. I felt as though I truly was standing on deeply cherished ground that was overflowing with stories from the past.
What You Need to Know
Driving to Monument Valley is a stunning experience in and of itself. The formations are spectacular and unique in every direction. If you are looking for that popular view of the roadway going into the valley, you must approach it from the north (Utah).
To really see Monument Valley, a trip into the Tribal Park is necessary. A fee is charged per car to enter. Once inside the park, be sure to stop at the Visitor Center for a few minutes to snap a picture from the Lookout Point viewing area. A panorama of the Mitten Buttes and surrounding formations will absolutely take your breath away!
The Wildcat Trail is the only established hiking trail in the park and is 3.2 miles roundtrip. It begins near The View Hotel and the primitive campground, heads down the hill, flattens out, and then circles the Left Mitten Butte. This hike provides a great opportunity to see the formations from the ground-level and is generally a place for quiet reflection and solitude.
One dirt road cuts through the sandy landscape and travels among several notable rock formations in the valley. This Scenic Drive is 17 miles long and has 11 fascinating points of interest. You can read more and download the free brochure here. This road is generally in good enough condition for most vehicles, although if you are in an RV or a car with low clearance you may want to reconsider. Heavy rain may make the road impassable without 4-wheel drive.
I recommend traveling along the Scenic Drive during the morning hours before the road gets congested with cars, especially during the summer!
Another option is to take a guided tour through Monument Valley. These tours explore areas of the valley that are beyond the Scenic Drive and provide a more in-depth and rewarding experience. Many of the guides are local Navajo natives who have a special connection to the land and its history, sharing their stories and culture at each stop. To book a guided tour, check out this list of authorized tour guides or stop in at The View Hotel.
Monument Valley is located on the eastern part of the Utah/Arizona border. A small settlement, Goulding, is located just outside the Tribal Park and provides basic traveler services. The View Hotel is another option for lodging in the area and is located inside the park. Kayenta, Arizona and Mexican Hat, Utah provide slightly more populous base camps for exploring the area.
From Mexican Hat, drive south along US Highway 163 for 20 miles. Turn left onto Monument Valley Road and travel for another 6 miles to reach the Tribal Park.
From Kayenta, drive north along US Highway 163 for 22 miles. Turn right onto Monument Valley Road and travel for another 6 miles to reach the Tribal Park.