ROAD TRIP,  UNITED-STATES

Visit Monument Valley: the complete guide

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Monument Valley is a superb natural site located on the lands of the Navajo Indians. He alone embodies all the mystery of the American West. The site is mainly known for its three huge rocky peaks located in the middle of a valley: West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte. We discover immense expanses of desert of a dazzling orange where enormous monoliths come out of the ground. This landscape has also been used as a setting in many films, and has been for many years: Forrest Gump, Cars, Transformers 4, Back to the Future III, Thelma and Louise… Although touristy, Monument Valley remains one of the best places to see in the United States.

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What can I see and do while in and around Monument Valley?

Useful information

  • Park Entrance: Entrance to Monument Valley Park is via US163. At the Navajo Welcome Center, take Monument Valley Road east. After just over 2 miles you will reach the entrance to the park (toll).
  • Park hours: The Valley Drive (16 miles circuit) is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to September and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from October to March.
    You must start Valley Drive before closing time. Once closed, vehicles have until sunset to drive the track and exit.
    Please note that Monument Valley is on Utah’s schedule in the summer and Arizona’s in the winter.
    Take this parameter into account if you have a guided tour scheduled.
  • Price: The America the Beautiful Pass (also called Interagency Annual Pass) IS NOT ACCEPTED as it is in Navajo territory. Count $8/person (valid for 4 days).
  • Visitor Center: it is located at the end of Monument Valley Road, and offers a breathtaking view of Monument Valley. Private companies providing excursions in 4×4 (jeep tour) or on horseback await you in 2 huts in the car park.
    The Visitor Center is in principle open every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May to September and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to April. Sometimes closed due to lack of staff.
    For more information about the park: https://navajonationparks.org/
  • Recommended visit time: to enjoy the park, I recommend that you stay there for 1 afternoon, one night and the beginning of the morning (enjoy the sunrise and for those who are motivated, take a short hike).
  • ATMs: at Goulding’s Grocery and the Gift Shop
  • Petrol station: next to Goulding’s Lodge

1 | Ride Valley Drive

The Valley Drive is a 16 miles long track (allow 2h to 2h30 to complete the loop including photo stops) that crisscrosses Monument Valley and offers different points of view on the rock formations of the park. This is the number 1 activity to do in Monument Valley. The entrance to the circuit is on the left when arriving at the parking lot of The View hotel and the Visitor Center. The track is quite chaotic for the first 500 meters where it describes two hairpins to descend the slope and reach the valley. You will then pass West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte. Many parking areas are placed along the track allowing you to enjoy the scenery.

This circuit is accessible by car. Be careful though because depending on the weather of the previous days, the track which is generally in poor condition can really deteriorate. If you have an SUV or 4×4, you should have no problem. However if you have a “classic” car, check the conditions before! Motorcycles and motorhomes are not allowed to drive there.

2 | Take part in an organized excursion in a 4×4 or on horseback

It is also possible to discover the park through a guided tour with a Navajo (from $70 per person for 1h30, a bit expensive for my taste). You will then discover Monument Valley with a guide and you will pass by places prohibited to the public. Take the time to quietly consult the offers on the internet. You can also consult the list of ~30 service providers at the Visitor Center.

You can also explore the park by horseback riding. The start is inside the park (therefore it takes 20 minutes by car on the track from the Visitor Center to get to the Corral), Count $80 per person for a 1 hour ride (reservation recommended).

3 | Trek around West Mitten Butte

The Wildcat Trail is an easy 1.8 miles hike (allow 2 hours) that starts at the entrance to the campsite, at the start of Valley Drive. Although little known, I recommend that you do it if you have the time, it will allow you to have a different view of the mounds that you can approach closer. It is not mandatory to be accompanied by a Navajo to do this trek. You can do it independently by following the path.

4 | Witness sunrise and sunset

Whether it’s sunrise or sunset, the best spots are around The View Hotel’s terrace. Right in front of the mounds. The show is truly magical.

Sunrise:

Monument Valley

Sunset:

Monument Valley

5 | Thinking you’re Tom Hanks at Forrest Gump Point

Take the time to stop on the US163 road to enjoy the exceptional panoramas that will be offered to you. The best-known viewpoint is Forrest Gump Point, made famous by Robert Zemeckis’ film. It marks the end of Tom Hanks’ mad dash across the United States. This viewpoint is located 7 miles southwest of Mexican Hat. A few parking areas are provided along the road.

Monument Valley

Outside the park:

6 | Explore the Valley of the Gods

I really recommend you to expore this valley! An SUV or 4×4 is normally mandatory (we did it with a “classic” car indeed it was perhaps a bad idea. We were lucky!). Warning: to be done only in dry weather because the road crosses rivers. However, they are often dry.

The only interest of the site consists in following the 16 miles track (allow 1 hour to go around), in the middle of hills and rocks in red-orange colors. We are in a miniature Monument Valley (ochre-colored desert, fabulous rocks), without people!

Monument Valley

Access: East along US163 between Mexican Hat and Bluff OR West along UT261 between Mexican Hat and Muley Point.

Price: Admission is free and there is no Visitor Center

7 | Admire the splendid view of the meanders of the San Juan River

Goosenecks State Park is a 328 yard deep canyon carved into a black, barren landscape. You will be impressed to see the river flow over 10 km in the form of serpentines! It is a must if you go to Monument Valley.

Directions: From Mexican Hat, follow US163 towards Bluff for about 1.8 miles, then take a left (UT261) for 1.5 miles and finally the W316 left for 3.4 miles.

Price: $5/car (up to 8 people)

8 | Drive up to the panorama of Muley Point Overlook 

It is an incredible view of the San Juan River and Monument Valley. The access by car is a bit long and one can wonder if one has not taken the wrong road. But no, absolutely not and just for the view I recommend you go there. Of course, there is no one there, that makes the place even more magical!

Monument Valley

Access: Continue on UT261 past the Valley of the Gods turn. Just after, the road (unpaved) climbs in hairpins on the cliffs. At the top, where the asphalt begins, take the track to the left for 5 miles. At the very end of the mesa, we reach an incredible view!


Where to sleep in Monument Valley?

You should know that Monument Valley is in the middle of nothing. Towns, even medium-sized ones, are hours away. Despite the influx of tourists, the options for accommodation are very limited, and places are limited. Here are 3 addresses that I recommend.

  • The View at Monument Valley : it is the only hotel located inside the Tribal Park, directly facing from the famous West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Buttes. You will have a front row seat to admire the sunset and sunrise over this splendid landscape. The View offers rooms, cabins and camping.
  • Goulding’s RV & Campgrounds: a few km from the park, this is surely the best affordable option. If you don’t have an RV or tent, you can book a small cabin. More than enough for 1 night. Remember to book well in advance (cancellation not always possible). You will find a few shops and a gas pump on the road between the campsite and the park.
  • Dream Catcher House : it is a much less known accommodation than The View. I haven’t been there but the reviews on Airbnb are great and the view looks great.

Monument Valley

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John Gray

What and amazing article about one of Gods most wonderful gifts.