Visiting Monument Valley is, for many, a life long dream. Its otherworldly landscape has captured the imagination of photographers and film makers for decades and Monument Valley’s orange peaks have risen to the status of an icon, the embodiment of quintessential American South West beauty.
Dreaming of visiting Monument Valley and actually taking the time to go there are however, two very different things. Monument Valley is remote and while not difficult to reach as such, a trip here requires some planning and time.
We visited Monument Valley in the summer, with the kids too, and it was the highlight of our South Western road trip. The hours of boring driving were more than compensated by the visual impact of this incredible valley and we highly recommend anyone to go visit: Monument Valley is, most simply, unforgettable.
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Monument Valley Utah /Arizona: where it is and how to get there
Monument Valley is in the South West of the United States and its territory is between two states: Utah and Arizona.
The best and most popular way to get to Monument Valley is driving. The valley is very much off the beaten path and having your own mean of transportation, maybe mixing it then with a local tour, gives you the maximum flexibility.
There are several good entry points to Monument Valley. During our trip we came from the Grand Canyon South Rim and left via Flagstaff (sleeping in Monument Valley one night).
The road to and from Monument Valley is long and while scenic in part, in others is dull and boring. If traveling this area make sure you allocate sufficient time and don’t get discouraged: once you get to the valley, all the boredom of the way in will evaporate!
To give you an idea of distances:
- Grand Canyon South Rim: 180 miles
- Phoenix: 320 miles
- Albuquerque: 324 miles
- Las Vegas: 400 miles
- Salt Lake City: 385 miles
How much time do you need to visit Monument Valley
How long to spend in Monument Valley depends on the type of activities you are interested in.
One day is enough to see Monument Valley if you want to take a drive on the Valley Floor and stop at the roadside scenic lookouts.
Two days are enough to visit Monument Valley if you want to add hiking in the Valley and explore more secluded locations.
Either way, I recommend you spend one night in the Valley as this will allow you to see it early in the morning or at sunset, when the rocks burn in the light of the sun low on the horizon.
Monument Valley National Park?
Many places of outstanding natural beauty in the States are national parks and the assumption is, often, that Monument Valley is one of them too. However, this is not the case.
Monument Valley is not a national Park but a Navajo Tribal Park. It belongs to the Navajo Nation and this means visitors must abide by the rules set by the Navajo Government and the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation organisation, which oversees all Navajo Tribal Parks on the Navajo Nation Reservation.
Best time to visit Monument Valley
You can visit Monument Valley all year round but it is worth noticing some differences between the seasons.
The best months for visiting Monument Valley are the spring and autumn. At this time, the weather is mild and the number of visitors not excessive. The months between April and June can be windy and the wind here can be fierce:bring an extra layer especially for morning and evening.
The summer is hot in Monument Valley although less than you may imagine. The temperature here doesn’t usually exceed 100F and evenings are mild. Thunderstorms are possible and you need to keep an eye on the weather, specially if planning on driving yourself. This is the busiest time of the year in terms of visitors so advance booking for accommodation is paramount.
The winter is quiet in Monument Valley and mild. You need a warm coat to visit and you may find the occasional sprinkle of snow, but the temperatures do not plummet often below zero and overall the weather is pleasant
Time zone of Monument Valley
When entering Monument Valley you may notice your phone staring beeping every few minutes with messages about being in Utah or Arizona and a change of time displayed.
This is because different places in the area respect / don’t respect summer light saving time. Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time and does not observe daylight savings time. The Navajo Nation, including Monument Valley, does observe it and so does Utah.
This difference is exceptionally relevant if you are taking a tour in the area and need to show up at a specific time. Providers usually do specify the time difference when confirming your booking.
Where to stay in Monument Valley: best monument valley hotels
Monument Valley is served by 2 main lodging options: Gouldings Lodge and the View hotel.
Gouldings lodge is where we stayed and it is a bit of an institution in the area. The lodge is just outside the tribal park and includes a hotel, a restaurant, a museum and souvenir shop as well as a large tour desk.
Gouldings is a complex made of several facilities all in the same area (you do need a car to move from one to the other) and is a great place to base yourself to explore the Valley. We stayed in their cabins which are of a very good standard and had dinner in their restaurants, which has a vast choice of food and a child menu. Please be advised that they do not serve alcohol (non alcoholic beer is available, along with water, juices and sodas).
The View hotel at Monument Valley
Like the name suggests, this hotel is strategically positioned to give you the best possible views over the valley. It is located inside the Monument Valley Tribal Park and is a great place if you want to leave the car and not have to worry about it after the long drive to get here.
The View Hotel and offers several types of accommodations ranging from hotel rooms to premium cabins, has a restaurant on site and is the departure point of many Valley Tours.
How to visit Monument Valley: tour vs self drive
You can visit Monument Valley on your own, driving along the Valley scenic loop road or you can join a tour. Both options have advantages and disadvantaged.
Driving in Monument Valley Tribal Park
Driving in Monument Valley is the most cost effective way to visit the park and gives you maximum flexibility. The drive does not require a 4×4 nor special tires but can pose obstacles that you need to take into account when deciding your mean of transport.
First, part of the Monument Valley Loop road is a dirt track and as such off limit for most rental cars. While rules change from company to company, rental agencies usually do not insure you for off road driving and this would count as such. If in doubt, check with your provider.
The second issue is the first / last part of the loop: this is a short enough stretch of road that allows you to reach the bottom of the Valley and it pretty steep, something you notice especially on the way back up.
While we were there, we didn’t see cars getting stuck but did see more than one having majour difficulties. While all ended well, it really looked like a stressful moment for the people inside: you do not want to find yourself pushing a car up the hill under the Arizona sun!
The same issue may arise with cars with very low clearance: the road is bumpy and very low cars can have trouble with the less even parts of the track.
Overall, if in doubt at all about the suitability of the vehicle, I reckon a guided tour is a much safer option.
Visiting Monument Valley with an organised tour
If you opt for a guided tour you have several options. Since this is tribal land, the tours of the area are led by Navajo guides and they cater for several types of travellers: depending on your interests and party you can take a sunrise or sunset tour, a photography tour and decide to explore more or less know parts of the Valley.
The guides are knowledgeable, friendly and a wealth of knowledge: we took a sunrise tour with Navajo Spirit guides and learnt things about the Navajo culture and the valley we would have otherwise missed.
The advantage of getting a guided tour is also that guides have access to areas of the Valley otherwise closed to the public. In our case, this meant we were able to visit remote locations where we were alone in nature and we were even treated to a Navajo song that we listened to while lying under a natural arch. It was alone worth the cost of the tour!
As I mentioned, the tour we chose was with ‘Navajo Spirit Tours’ and the one we opted for was a sunrise one. The tour had a pick up at an ungodly hour, I believe our alarm went off at 4.30 am, but we chose it because we reckoned the effect of the sun rising on Monument Valley’s red rocks would be worth it.
Indeed, we were right: even the kids agreed this was a highlight and were in awe of the magnificent scenery.
To take this tour, you need to book in advance and make your own way to the meeting point, which is just in front of the View hotel. Here you have a small open back van and a guide.
There were about 8 more people or so, we were a small group, and the tour started in darkness: in a matter of minutes the darkness started to lift and the guide made several stops to allow us to look at the shapes of the peaks slowly coming in sight and to give us time and tips to take photos.
As the sun slowly made it appearance above the horizon we stopped again and listened to our guide telling us stories about the area and its nation. He was very informative and open to questions, even if I am sure he probably hears the same ones over and over again at every tour!
After more photo opportunities and time to soak up the moment, we got back on the van and visited part of the Valley you can only access with a guide. This is not the one you may have in mind from Forrest Gump but an equally stunning and possibly more interesting one with natural arches and stone carvings.
We had the time to get off the van again and the tour guide told us about the ancient signs on the walls, and showed us special rock formations in the area.
He also brought us to a peculiarly shaped rock arch and invited us to lie down to admire it and to listen to him as he sand a traditional Navajo song.
As geared towards tourists as this is, the beauty of the landscape and the unfamiliar melody was incredible for us to listen to and stayed with us as a strong memory of our day in Monument Valley.
The sunrise tour ended before the scorching summer sun hits the Valley and we noticed on our way back how this was the time when many cars started pouring down into the valley.
This confirmed once more that such as early start was indeed a good call.
Other available Monument Valley Tours
Monument Valley at sunset, sunrise, full moon
The main Monument Valley floor sees regular tours taking place at several hours each day. As well as normal daylight tours you an select a sunrise or sunset your or you can opt for one during full moon. Details of hours and availability change daily so check with your provide of choice for your specific requirements and time of travel
This area is only accessible with a guide and has great religious meaning to the Navajo people. The tour here allows you to visit a more isolated part of Monument Valley and learn about important monuments such as The Square House, the hose of many Hands and to see rock formations such as Skull Arch.
This tour brings you to Horse shoe canyon and allows you to see pearl drop ruins and teardrop arch, peculiar in shape. This tour brings you off the beaten track and will lead you to scenic areas not many visitors get to experience.
This is a special tour both in the sense of the effort required and the reward. The tour includes a 2.5 hour trek up the mesa and takes overall about 7 hours. This is said to be one of the most scenic tours of all if you have time and stamina for it.
What to see and do in Monument valley
See the view from the visitors centre
Monument Valley is generous with views and you will notice as you arrive at the visitors centre. Already from here you can see the famous mittens and Merrik butte that have made this valley so popular and iconic.
Take the scenic drive
Monument Valley is crossed by the scenic drive, a famous 17 mile loop along the Valley Floor. The loop has several, well signposted scenic stops and you an drive in in about 2 to 4 hours. The best time to drive here is early morning and off season: in summer, despite the desert landscapes, the traffic gets mad and you will have to take turns to take photos without people in them, despite the immensity of the landscape!
Hike the Wildcat Trail
The Wildcat Trail is a 4-mile loop hike into one of the most scenic areas that Monument Valley has to offer. It is the only self-guided trail in the park and leads you up close to the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte, among spectacular scenery. The hike takes 2 to 4 hours approximately and is moderate in difficulty, according to official information, due to sandy stretches.
Watch the Sunrise or sun set
Monument valley is awe inspiring at all times but the long shadows of early morning or sun down and the red tones of its rock add an extra layer of beauty to it. We were lucky enough to arrive before sunset on our first day and get up early (very early!) on our second day to see the sun coming up. Both experiences were special and I would urge anyone to try and do the same.
Go star gazing in Monument Valley
Monument Valley is pitch dark at night and this makes it perfect for stargazing. We didn’t go insider the park at night and even just from Gouldings we were able to enjoy clear sky visible like we had never experienced before.
Tips for visiting Monument valley with kids
Visiting Monument Valley with the kids proved a lot easier than I had anticipated. The main issue you have here is the distance from pretty much anywhere, but once you get to the valley you have a surprising amount of facilities
In Gouldings, we secured a family room in one of their lodges which had easy access to local grocery stores and was surrounded by other cabins (so we never felt isolated or excessively exposed to the unfamiliar landscapes)
Gouldings itself has a good restaurant with ids menu and their facilities are excellent.
The tour catered for the kids with lower fares and they were able to sit in the van with us using the main seat belt provided.
If you have a baby or toddler, the ride is bumpy and note really suitable for a car seat so you ant to make sure you have a baby carrier or are prepared to keep your baby or toddler on your lap
While in the valley, normal safety precautions apply.
What to pack for Monument Valley
Unless you are hiking, in which case you need proper walking shoes, you don’t need special equipment to visit Monument Valley. The main thing to remember here is that the place is isolated so what I would stress is to bring water especially is visiting in the hottest hours of the day.
I hope you enjoyed our overview and tips on how to visit Monument Valley. Safe travels!
Please note: this guide is written on the basis of our experience only. We paid in full for the tours and the accommodation we used and we mention in this post and received no payment nor incentive for their inclusion.