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

By: Mark | Last Updated: 16 Feb 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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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. 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, it’s easy to see why film producers are seduced by it. This is a land of sandstone masterpieces Surging from a red horizon

But beyond the bewitching buttes and mesmerizing messas, there’s a host of rewarding things to do in Monument Valley.

Our guide to visiting Monument Valley includes the unmissable sights, the best tours plus what to see around this special place.

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.


KNOW BEFORE YOU GO | THINGS TO DO | MAP | AROUND MONUMENT VALLEY | WHERE TO STAY | FAQ

WHAT IS MONUMENT VALLEY?

Monument Valley is a beautiful place on the Arizona-Utah border, in the United States. It has striking red sandstone formations that stand tall in the flat, dry desert.

The area is deeply significant to the Navajo people, who have inhabited these lands for centuries.

Its breathtaking landscapes have captured the imagination of artists, photographers, and filmmakers. Their works have made it one of the most recognizable places in the world.

GEOLOGY OF MONUMENT VALLEY

Monument Valley’s distinctive landscape is the result of millions of years of erosion on a layer of iron-rich sedimentary rock. Water and wind have chiseled away at softer rock layers, leaving the buttes, mesas, and spires you see today.

  • 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
forest gump highway in monument valley
FOREST GUMP HIGHWAY

MONUMENT VALLEY OPENING TIMES

Monument Valley Tribal Park has different summer and winter opening times that you need to be aware of before your visit.

PEAK SEASONOFF-SEASON
DatesApril 1 to September 30October 1 to March 30
Hours7:00 AM to 6:00 PM8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

MONUMENT VALLEY COSTS

Entrance to Monument Valley cost $8 per person, per day. The fee 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.

ARE NATIONAL PARK PASSES ACCEPTED AT MONUMENT VALLEY?

Monument Valley tribal park is NOT a US National Park, so US National Park passes, like America the Beautiful, are not valid.

view from the view hotel monument valley
MITTENS FROM THE VIEW HOTEL

MONUMENT VALLEY RULES

The Monument Valley Tribal Park is on the Navajo Nation Reservation and follows Navajo laws, some of which are different from 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.

COVID Restrictions — In January 2024, Navajo leaders finally lifted the last of the Covid restrictions in Monument Valley. Masks are no longer required.

totem pole in monument valley from the sunrise tour
TOTEM POLE FROM THE SUNRISE TOUR

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:

Nearest AirportDistance from Monument ValleyDriving Time from Monument Valley
Phoenix Airport320 miles5 hours
Albuquerque Airport320 miles5 hours
Las Vegas Airport400 miles6.5 hours
Salt Lake City Airport380 miles6.5 hours

ATTRACTIONS NEAR MONUMENT VALLEY

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:

AttractionsDistance from Monument ValleyDriving Time from Monument Valley
Page (Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend)120 miles1.5 hours
Canyon de Chelly 90 miles1.5 hours
Grand Canyon South Rim160 miles2 h, 40 min
Moab (Arches & Canyonlands National Park)150 miles2 h, 40 min
Route 66 170 miles2 h, 50 min

If you’re visiting other destinations in the area, read our guide to the best viewpoints at the Grand Canyon and our detailed guide to Canyonlands National Park.

monument valley sunrise walk
SUNRISE TOUR

MONUMENT VALLEY GUIDED TOURS

We highly recommend joining a sunrise or sunset tour at Monument Valley as there are several experiences you can’t get without a guide. Here are 3 great reasons to take a tour:

01. 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.

02. 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.

03. 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.

TOURS

OUR RECOMMENDED MONUMENT VALLEY TOURS

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SUNRISE TOUR

This 3-hour tour includes the best sites at Monument Valley and heads into the backcountry to see Big Hogan, the Sun’s Eye, and a Navajo Hogan.

Book the Sunrise Tour


PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

Sunrise tours start by watching sunrise over Totem Pole before visiting other backcountry sights. There’s plenty of time for photos and some handy tips from the guide, Carl.

Book the Sunrise Photography Tour


SUNSET TOUR

This 3-hour tour for sunset includes Moccasin Arch, Sun’s Eye, Totem Pole, and a visit traditional Navajo home.

Book the Sunset Tour


ALL-DAY TOUR

6-hour tour covering much of the above as well as exploring nearby Mystery Valley and Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs.

Book the All-day Tour

IMPORTANT TIPS FOR YOUR MONUMENT VALLEY TOUR

  • 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.
  • So you don’t miss your tour, don’t forget that in the summer months, Monument Valley runs on Utah time (Arizona time + 1).
monument valley guided tours
BACKCOUNTRY TOUR, MONUMENT VALLEY

WHAT TO DO IN MONUMENT VALLEY

Blessed with amazing scenery and rich in Navajo culture there are plenty of great things to do at Monument Valley. Here are some things we think you shouldn’t miss while in the area.

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. DO 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.

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 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.

Here are some of the main attractions to see on the Scenic Drive:

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. HIKE THE WILDCAT TRAIL

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. 

  • Distance – The 3.3 miles
  • Duration – about 2 hours
  • 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 a few canopies with seats offering some shade from the sun.
  • What to take – Take at least 1 liter of water and some snacks.

4. TAKE A MONUMENT VALLEY GUIDED TOUR

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 a guided tour gets you into areas of the park that are inaccessible on your own.

Additionally, some of the best views at Monument Valley are not open for sunrise or sunset unless you’re with a guide.

This Monument Valley Sunrise Tour last 3 hours and takes in the best sights. You also visit 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.

All our recommended tours are listed above.

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.

WHAT TO DO NEAR MONUMENT VALLEY

The incredible scenery isn’t confined to the Monument Valley Tribal Park. We highly recommend taking a 3 to 4-hour road trip north on Route 163 and visiting all the sights listed below.

6. 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.   

monument valley from route 163
SUNSET VIEWS FROM ROUTE 163

7. FORREST 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.

Forrest 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.

forest gump highway monument valley
FORREST GUMP HIGHWAY

8. 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.

9. MOKI DUGWAY

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.

10. MULEY POINT

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.

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.  


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.

TOP PICK

LOCATION

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.


GREAT FACILITIES

GOULDING’S LODGE

Goulding’s Lodge is a 3-star property just a few minutes’ drive from the Monument Valley Tribal Park. It has an indoor pool, a sun terrace, and lots of conveniences.


BUDGET OPTION

HAMPTON INN

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.


COOL CABINS

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 traditional rooms, a terrace, an indoor pool, and a fitness center.  


monument valley from route 163
MONUMENT VALLEY FROM ROUTE 163

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.

sunrise from the balcony of the view hotel monument valley
WEST MITTEN

WHERE NEXT AFTER MONUMENT VALLEY

Monument Valley is part of an amazing area of landscapes spread across Utah and northern Arizona. They can be explored on a wonderful 2-week US road trip that includes Utah’s Mighty 5, Monument Valley and Las Vegas. 

Here are our recommendations on how to see it all:

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ANYWHERE WE ROAM IS
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