It’s been on my travel bucket list to go to Monument Valley FOREVER.
I don’t even remember the first time I saw photos of Monument Valley. Probably in a classic old western…John Wayne and Clint Eastwood both filmed a handful of movies here. Ansel Adams took the most famous photographs. And of course there was Forrest Gump.
Monument Valley is incredibly iconic. Maybe one of the most iconic American landscapes out there. In a land of exceptional landscapes (the American Southwest is one of the dreamiest places on the planet), Monument Valley stands out as truly special.
And I finally got to see it!
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park on the Navajo Reservation along the Utah and Arizona border.
Surprisingly it’s not a National Park. But after doing Utah’s “Big 5” plus the Grand Canyon, I can honestly say that Monument Valley is every bit as impressive (maybe more so) than the legendary National Parks that surround it.
It’s also pretty remote. This isn’t a spot where you’re going to fly into a major airport and pop over for a quick visit. It takes some planning.
The best way to see Monument Valley is on a road trip through the southwest.
Monument Valley Road Trip
Here’s everything you need to know about adding Monument Valley to your epic southwest road trip:
How to Get to Monument Valley
Like I said, Monument Valley is kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s about 2.5 hours from Moab, UT, about 3 hours from Gallup, NM, and about 2 hours from Page, AZ.
If you’re doing a southwest road trip, the best way to squeeze it in is probably while driving between Moab, UT and Page, AZ.
If you’re plotting out a big road trip of all the best sights in southern UT and northern AZ while flying in and out of Las Vegas, my perfect itinerary would look like:
Las Vegas > Valley of Fire State Park > Zion > Bryce Canyon > Capitol Reef > Moab (Arches & Canyonland) > Monument Valley > Page (Antelope Canyon) > Grand Canyon > Las Vegas
How Long Do You Need at Monument Valley?
If you’re not doing a big loop, it’s still doable as a day trip from either Moab or Page.
Driving south on Highway 163 from Utah to Arizona is where you’ll stop for “Forrest Gump Point.”
Mobs of cars (and even tour buses) pull over on the side of the road for people to take pictures. It’s actually pretty chaotic with people running out into the middle of the road for photos. But you’ve gotta get that shot!
This is a 15 minute photo stop, max. And it’s not even actually the heart of Monument Valley.
Many Navajo actually live on the valley floor, so access beyond the highway is somewhat limited. There’s a 17-mile scenic loop that’s the main attraction.
It’s $8/person to enter and it’s recommended you have 4WD or at least a high clearance vehicle (I saw a few small cars). Most people spend 2-4 hours driving the loop. With your admission you can also access a visitor center and trading post at the View hotel and it’s a MAGNIFICENT VIEW.
So, you can really see most of Monument Valley in about 3-4 hours (there’s very limited hiking in the area so it’s mostly just the drive).
The caveat here is that sunrises and sunsets are SPECTACULAR at Monument Valley so if you’re coming all the way then you really should spend the night so you can experience both.
You can watch both from the viewing decks built around The View hotel. Everyone is welcome for sunset, but sunrise is just for hotel guests (the gates to the park don’t open until 8 AM).
Where to Stay at Monument Valley
Opens are pretty limited if you want to stay right near Monument Valley.
By far the best option is The View. This place was built to offer you, hands down, the best view of Monument Valley. You’ll see the most famous view of Monument Valley right from your balcony!!
There’s a restaurant onsite (with free breakfast) plus this is where the big trading post is. Besides people staying at the hotel, this is the main tourism hub for people coming to do the 17-mile scenic loop drive.
Now, it’s not cheap…in mid September I paid about $400/night for an upper floor monument view room, but I think it’s worth it.
The rooms are nice (but dated), but you’re 100% here for the view. It is magnificent.
**Wait to do your shopping at the trading post until after you check in because they’ll give you a 20% off coupon.
Goulding’s Lodge is another good option. Harry and Mike Goulding bought the land in Monument Valley in the 1920s and started a trading post with the local Navajo. They were instrumental in bringing Hollywood to Monument Valley and built the first tourism amenities in the area. It’s not quite as nice at the View (and the view isn’t quite as good), but it’s still the best option if you can’t get a room at the View.
There’s also a KOA campground just north of Monument Valley.
If you want more of a resort experience that’s a base camp to explore the surrounding area, I would take a look at the Bluff Dwellings Resort & Spa. It’s about an hour from Monument Valley, but it looks really nice.
Do You Need a Tour?
Tours aren’t required to drive the 17-mile scenic loop, but there are guided tours that will take you beyond the scenic loop into the back country.
We had a Jeep and I felt confident in being able to do the full scenic loop, but after doing some research, we decided to do a guided tour instead.
I booked the extended three hour sunset tour with Monument Valley Tribal Tours and it included a lot of the scenic drive loop plus a trip to the back country. And I think it was totally worth it.
Honestly, you’ll be able to see the most iconic parts of Monument Valley just on the beginning of the scenic drive but some of the most special parts are in the back country.
All of the pictures below are things you’ll only see on a back country tour.
In mid September, the sunset tour was from 3 PM to 7 PM. We got to Monument Valley about noon and had plenty of time to take pictures at Forrest Gump Point, shop at the trading post, get checked into the View, see Goulding’s, and have lunch (the View has minimal offerings at lunch but there are food trucks over by Goulding’s) before our tour.
It’s a good idea to have cash and small bills with you. The photo op on the horse at John Ford’s point is $10/person plus you’ll want to tip your tour guide and maybe even leave some donations at the hogan and other places.