The Iconic Monument Valley
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | April 2nd, 2018
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a vast desert region located along the Utah - Arizona border. This incredible park features towering sandstone buttes, sweeping red-sand plains, and mind-blowing natural formations. The famous landscape is featured in many motion pictures such as Forrest Gump, National Lampoon's Vacation, Mission: Impossible 2, and Back to the Future Part III - just to name a few. When John asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday weekend, I knew it was time to take a trip to this breathtaking stretch of land.
How To Get There
Monument Valley is a road trip destination. The closest commercial airports are in Phoenix and Albuquerque, which are 320 miles or a five hour drive away from MV. Your best bet is to fly to a nearby town, rent a car, and drive to the park. Some nearby towns and destinations that tourists drive in from are.....
Page, AZ - 125 miles / 2.5 hours
Flagstaff, AZ - 180 miles / 3 hours
Grand Canyon (South Rim) - 180 miles / 3 hours
Albuquerque, NM - 320 miles / 5.5 hours
Phoenix, AZ - 320 miles / 5.5 hours
Salt Lake City, UT - 380 miles / 6.5 hours
Las Vegas - 400 miles / 6.5 hours
Denver, CO - 500 miles / 8.5 hours
Los Angeles, CA - 650 miles / 10.5 hours
Tip: If you do fly into a nearby airport and rent a car to drive to Monument Valley, I suggest renting an SUV, or at least a 4x4 car. Valley Drive, Monument Valley's sightseeing loop road, consists of loose gravel and A LOT of bumps, and 4x4 vehicles do much better on this type of terrain.
What To Do
If you only have a half day in Monument Valley, then I highly suggest doing a self-drive around Valley Drive. This 17-mile loop road takes you to eleven amazing lookout points inside the park. Each lookout is absolutely breathtaking but my three favorites are hands down John Ford's Point, Lookout Point, and Artists Point. Be sure not to miss those three.
Take a Tour
If you have a full day in MV, check out one of the local tour companies. You'll only need a few hours to see all of Valley Drives lookout points, so what better way to spend the rest of your day then on an off-the-beaten-path tour with a local Navajo guide. You'll get to experience areas of the parks that only guides can take you to. The tours are affordable (they average around $50-90 pp) and you'll definitely see some amazing sights. There are a dozen reputable companies in the area but the two that I can recommend are Navajo Spirit Tours and Monument Valley Safari - both are fantastic companies.
Hike the Wildcat Trail
The Wildcat Trail is the only hiking trail inside the park that can be walked without a local guide. This three mile path loops around West Mitten Butte and offers visitors one amazing view after the next. The trailhead is easily accessible from the Visitor Centers parking lot, and the round-trip journey takes most people around 2.5 hours to complete. Make sure you bring plenty of water!
Lunch at The View Restaurant
When you arrive to MV, you'll notice that there is only one hotel inside the park - The View Hotel. This hotel also has the only restaurant in MV - The View Restaurant. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the food is quite tasty and reasonably priced. Large windows surround the restaurant and give diners spectacular views. I highly recommend having at least one meal at this nice eatery.
In the movie Forest Gump, Tom Hanks decides to stop his cross-country running and head home. That scene takes place on Route 163 with the beautiful Monument Valley as a backdrop. To get to that specific location, head south along Route 163 from Mexican Hat towards MV. It's a beautiful spot to see and while you're there, cautiously grab a quick photo, just watch for cars.
Where To Stay
The View Hotel
There is only one hotel inside of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park - The View Hotel. Rooms start at $159 / night and each room has its own private balcony with unobstructed valley views. Alternatively, the hotel has a small set of private cabin rentals next door. Each cabin has its own patio and parking spot. Cabin prices start around $189 / night. If you want to stay in either the hotel or one of the cabins, be sure to book early, they sell out fast!
Located 28 miles south of Monument Valley is the small town of Kayenta. If you aren't staying inside MV at The View Hotel then this is the next best place to stay. There are a handful of hotels, restaurants, and gas stations, as well as a bank, grocery store, and post office. Kayenta Monument Valley Inn is a superb hotel choice - the rooms are newly remodeled and the nightly prices start around $85.
When To Go
Winters are COLD and summers are HOT! That's why I recommend going during the shoulder months of April, May, September, and October. During these months the temperatures are much more comfortable but layering is still a must. Even on the hottest days in MV, once the sun goes down it can get quite chilly. Be sure to pack sunscreen, lots of water, and a camera. This magnificent place is breathtaking year-round.
Park entrance is $10 / per person or $20 / per car (up to 4 people).
Alcohol is prohibited in the Navajo Nation, which includes Monument Valley and Kayenta.
Monument Valley sits at an altitude of over 5000 ft above sea level. Some people encounter symptoms of altitude sickness.
Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, even during winter months, as the sun is strong year round.