Julie United States 112 Comments

With sandstone buttes, colossal mesas, and panoramic vistas, Monument Valley is one of the USA’s iconic landscapes.

Sure, it’s possible to drive right through Monument Valley, visiting the main sites in just two or three hours, but if you really want to explore it, consider spending at least one day here. We were surprised at how much there is to do in Monument Valley. There are even quick excursions and scenic drives in the nearby area, if you are looking for even more activities to fill your time.

Important Update:  Monument Valley is open some restrictions. Get full details on the restrictions here.

What is Monument Valley?

Located on the Utah-Arizona border, Monument Valley is part of the Colorado Plateau. It is not officially a National Park since it sits within the Navajo Nation Reservation. Most of the area that is visited by tourists is called the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Until the 1930’s, Monument Valley was an obscure, seldom visited location. The only ones who really aware of the beauty of this place were the Navajo Indians who lived on the land. It wasn’t until John Ford featured this landscape in his well-known films (including Stagecoach and Rio Grande) that Monument Valley began to experience some popularity.

Now, Monument Valley has been featured in a large number of popular movies, including Forrest Gump, National Lampoons Vacation, Mission: Impossible II, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the new HBO series Westworld.

Monument Valley Desert

How to Get to Monument Valley

Monument Valley isn’t close to anything, which is why it stayed off the radar for so long. The closest airport is in Flagstaff, 176 miles away. However, to fly into this airport, you usually have to change planes in Phoenix, which does not save you any time.

Distances to Nearby Airports:

  • Phoenix – 320 miles
  • Albuquerque – 324 miles
  • Las Vegas – 400 miles
  • Salt Lake City – 380 miles

We flew into Phoenix and then drove to Monument Valley, which took about 5 hours.

Distances to Nearby Cities and National Parks

  • Four Corners Monument – 105 miles
  • Page, Arizona – 125 miles
  • Grand Canyon (South Rim) – 180 miles

Access to the Monument Valley Tribal Park is on US-163 just north of the Utah-Arizona border. It costs $20 per vehicle (up to four people) to enter the park. Once you pay this fee, you can come and go as often as you like.

Best Things to do in Monument Valley

Tribal Park Loop

This 17-mile loop, also referred to as the Valley Drive, is a scenic drive past some of the most popular sites in Monument Valley. It is a dirt and gravel road that starts and ends at the Monument Valley Visitor Center.

You can self-drive this loop. A 4×4 is not necessary; cars can drive this road without any real difficulty. It’s a bumpy, dusty road with a very low speed limit, but that’s OK, you want to take your time and enjoy the views.

The Mittens

The Mittens and the Valley Drive dirt road.

Please note: if it rains, this road can become impassable, even if you have four-wheel drive.

This is the only part of Monument Valley you can visit without taking a tour. To go off the Valley Drive and explore further, you must schedule a tour with one of the many companies.

Here are some photos of what to expect on the drive.

West Mitten Butte

West Mitten Butte


Three Sisters

John Fords Point

John Ford’s Point


John Ford Point

Another view of John Ford’s point.


Navajo Flag


If you only have a few hours to spare, your time is best spent driving the Valley Drive. Tours to places like Mystery Valley and Teardrop Arch are fantastic, but I think you would be missing out on something if you skipped John Ford’s Point or the Mittens.

Hike the Wildcat Trail

This is the only self-guided hike that you can do in Monument Valley. All other hikes must be done with a guide. This hike is a 3.2 mile loop that circles around the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Click here to learn more.

Take a Tour of Monument Valley

There are many options for tours depending on your interests. If you want, you can start the day at sunrise and go all the way to sunset.

The Valley Drive on a Tour

You can take a tour on the Valley Drive with a Navajo guide. This tour takes you to all of the same sites you would see on your own, however, you do it with a guide and in their vehicle. This is best for people who do not feel comfortable self-driving the dirt road or for those who just want to sit back and relax and enjoy the views.

Lower Monument Valley

There is a second loop that veers off of the Valley Drive. This is only accessible by tour. This tour takes you up close to the Totem Pole and past other rock formations and mesas you would miss if you only did the Valley Drive.

We took a sunrise Lower Monument Valley tour and had a great experience. Even in late April temperatures were cold and of course, it’s a very early start to the day, but it was awesome watching the sunrise in Monument Valley.

Monument Valley Sunrise

Prices average around $80 per person (depending on the tour company) and last 3 hours. Photography tours (usually offered at sunrise or sunset cost substantially more, about $125+ per person).

Mystery Valley

This is a very popular tour that takes visitors on a three-hour excursion to see petroglyphs and Anasazi sites. It’s more of a cultural experience than a panoramic, scenic experience.

Prices average around $90 per person (depending on the tour company) and last 3 to 4 hours.

Teardrop Arch

This is an unpopular, off-the-beaten-path tour. Which is exactly why we did it. Was it worth it? For us, absolutely. We were able to do a little hiking, explored caves, and got one of the most unique views of Monument Valley.

Teardrop Arch Earth Trekkers

It’s not for everyone, especially if you are short on time, but we recommend it if you want a little adventure or like to get away from it all.

Read more about our experience: Is Teardrop Arch Worth It?

Prices average around $80 per person and last 2 to 3 hours.

Backcountry Access Tour of Monument Valley

This 3.5 hour tour of Monument Valley includes the main highlights along Tribal Loop Road as well as backcountry sights that you can only visit with a Navajo guide. It ends with a visit to a Navajo Hogan, which is a traditional Navajo home, as well as a musical performance. This is a great tour to consider if you want to learn more about the culture and traditions of Navajo Nation from a local guide.

Hunt’s Mesa

The ultimate excursion in Monument Valley is the day trip (with an optional overnight stay) on Hunt’s Mesa. Pricing out around $300 per person, this was too expensive for our budget. But what you get are unbelievable sunset views over Monument Valley and a steak dinner cooked over a campfire. It’s a long excursion, lasting about 7 hours, and most of that time is spent driving over rugged terrain. It sounds awesome and we strongly considered it, but the price tag was too high. But if you are looking for an adventure and the best view of Monument Valley, put Hunt’s Mesa on your list.

How to Choose a Tour Company

There are at least ten reputable companies offering tours in Monument Valley. We use Trip Advisor to pick not only tour companies but also accommodations and restaurants. Take a look at the reviews on Trip Advisor and then visit the company’s website for pricing and full details on their tours.

We used:

Quick Excursions from Monument Valley

If you have a little extra time and want to explore farther, here are some ideas for you. By the way, just driving down the road here is packed with stunning views. This really is a beautiful part of the USA.

Forrest Gump Point

Located on US-163, the famous view of Monument Valley featured in the movie Forrest Gump is not to be missed. GPS coordinates: 37.101393, -109.990973. This is just a 20-minute drive from the Visitor Center. 

Forrest Gump Point

Forrest Gump

Note that this photo spot is located on a highway. There have been recent fatalities and injuries here. Here is information from the Visit Utah tourism website: 

Please be aware this iconic photo-op is located along a highly-trafficked road. Due to the road’s traffic leading to past injuries and fatalities, we urge you to take your safety seriously and refrain from taking photos from the middle of the road. Visitors are welcome to pull off safely on the side of the road and take photos from the shoulder only.”

Forrest Gump Point

The view of Monument Valley from the Forrest Gump pull out.

PRO TRAVEL TIP:  The best time for photography is in the morning, midday, and early afternoon. In the late afternoon and early evening, you will be facing the sun. This creates a terrible sun glare. We have been to Monument Valley twice. On our second visit, at the end of December, we were staring directly into the sun and we were here at 4 pm. Our photos were terrible. The photos that you see above were taken in the early afternoon in May.

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods features a landscape similar to Monument Valley. It may not be quite as spectacular, but it also has much less tourist traffic. If you like scenic drives and want to leave the crowds behind, put this spot on your list.

Valley of the Gods

Mexican Hat

This rock formation is named for its Mexican Sombrero-like appearance. You can see it from US-163 on the drive to the Valley of the Gods. If you want, you can hike up onto the formation.

Mexican Hat

Goosenecks State Park

For a view of the San Juan River snaking through a canyon, visit Goosenecks State Park. Imagine two Horseshoe Bends right next to one another! You will pay a $5 entry fee and it is a short drive to the viewpoint.

Moki Dugway and Muley Point

This short but scenic drive is located very close to Valley of the Gods. Moki Dugway is an unpaved road that is carved into the cliffs, offering stunning views over Utah and Valley of the Gods. If you are doing well on time, once on top of Moki Dugway, take Muley Point Road to the end for more spectacular views.

How Much Time do You Need in Monument Valley?

Since it takes about three hours to get to Monument Valley from almost anywhere else in the vicinity, it helps to stay overnight, at least one night. This gives you the opportunity to do a sunrise and/or sunset tour if you desire.

The must-do activities are the Valley Drive and the view from Forrest Gump Point. In my opinion, doing at least one tour is worthwhile because it lets you experience more of Monument Valley.

However, if you are short on time, you can do the Valley Drive, taking just a few hours of your time, if you are on a road trip through the area.

How We Planned Our Time

Day 1 – We drove from Phoenix, Arizona. In Kayenta we stopped for lunch at Amigo Café. We spent the afternoon visiting Forrest Gump Point, the Valley of the Gods, and Mexican Hat. We ate dinner at Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room and then watched as the sunset over the Mittens.

Day 2 – Up very early for a cold but beautiful sunrise photography tour of Lower Monument Valley. After a late breakfast, we checked out of our cabin and spent the mid-part of the day driving the Valley Drive. In the afternoon we took the three-hour tour of Teardrop Arch. Then we drove west to Page, Arizona.

When to Visit Monument Valley

The best time to go to Monument Valley is during the spring and autumn months, when temperatures are pleasant. During the summer, it can be very hot. Plus, this is when the Valley gets to be more crowded as many people are here during their summer vacations. In the winter, it does get very cold and it can snow here. That would be a sight to see!

Where to Stay in Monument Valley

There are not a lot of options in the nearby area.

The View Hotel

Located in the Monument Valley Tribal Park, The View Hotel offers several types of accommodations. The priciest option are the hotel rooms, all which offer a view over Monument Valley. The higher the floor, the more you will pay, but you will also get the best view.

The Premium Cabins. These are relatively new. These cabins overlook the Mittens and some have better views than others. We stayed in a cabin (in the front row) and loved it. We had a deck with a great view and we could lie in bed and look out at West Mitten Butte. The cabins are clean and warm (it got down into the low 30’s during our visit).

The View Hotel Cabins

View from our cabin

View from our cabin


Cabin View


Camping. There is a campground and RV parking. This is the cheapest option. The campground is located between the cabins and the hotel and the view is out to the Mittens. This is also a popular spot to watch sunrise and sunset.

Monument Valley Sunset

Goulding’s Lodge and Campground

Located just outside of the Monument Valley Tribal Park, Goulding’s Lodge offers rooms with a view and a campground. They also operate one of the only restaurants in the area.

Firetree B&B is a B&B located in Monument Valley that gets good reviews (you sleep in a Hogan). The next closest towns are Kayenta and Mexican Hat.

Where to Eat in Monument Valley

This is not a place you visit for the food. Expect overpriced, mediocre food in and around Monument Valley.

Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room. We ate dinner here one night. Entrees cost about $25 but the food is very mediocre. Tim and I dined on salads, which were nothing special, but they were a fraction of the cost of an entrée.

The View Restaurant. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Like Goulding’s Lodge, their prices are on the expensive side and the food is average. However, we did eat breakfast here after our sunrise photography tour, and we thought the food was pretty good.

Amigo Café. This restaurant is located in Kayenta, a half hour drive from the Visitor Center. This is a cozy restaurant with a local feel that serves Mexican and Navajo food. I ordered the Navajo Taco, which was enormous. This is enough food for two adults. Navajo fry bread is similar to funnel cake or doughnut dough, although it is not sweet. It’s delicious! On top of the fry bread were beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese and onions. If you don’t mind the drive, consider making the trip down to Amigo Café. Ray, one of our guides, also recommends the Blue Coffee Pot in Kayenta.

Amigo Cafe

More Information about Monument Valley

Do you have any other questions or comments? Leave them in the comment section below.

See all of our articles about Arizona in our Arizona Travel Guide.

You Might Also Like:


Monument Valley Complete Guide


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Comments 112

  1. Avatar for Kate

    What do you think is the best time of day to book a tour. We can’t do sunrise but could do 4pm, 5pm or 10am. We will be there late August. ( travelling from the UK) thank you.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Kate. If it were me, I’d pick either 10 am or 5 pm. At 10 am, it won’t be too hot yet (the hottest temps of the day will be between noon and 4 pm) and the lighting will be good for photos. At 5 pm, it will start cooling off and lighting will still be good for photography. Of the two times, 10 am would be my first pick. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Sonia

    I love your blog about this area. I’m going back and forth on the view hotel or the cabins. Which has the best views, do you think? Do you favor one over the other?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      We have not stayed at the View Hotel, only the cabins. But we LOVED the view from the cabins, particularly if you can get a cabin with an unobstructed view of the Mittens. The View looks out over a different area of the park and I bet that would be nice too. On the official website, they should have a photo of what to expect. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for John Bloomquist
        John Bloomquist

        Great blog and information within!
        My wife and I are traveling the SW over the holidays. We will be driving through Monument Valley on our way back home. Any thoughts or points for us traveling this time of year through AZ/UT in late December?
        We are from Minnesota and cherish the outdoors in Winter and the fewer crowds.

        1. Avatar for Julie Post

          One of the two times we have visited Monument Valley was at the end of December, a few days after Christmas. The temperature can be rather mild this time of year (I believe it was 50 degrees when we were here). The main thing is that you will have limited hours of daylight, so note sunrise and sunset temperatures before your visit. Because of the lighting, morning to midday is the best time for photography for many parts of MV and if you want to take a photo at Forrest Gump Point, this is best done by noon or 1 pm, since later in the afternoon it is backlit by the setting sun. Since the end of December is a popular time of travel, if you want to take a tour of Monument Valley, make sure you book it in advance. Cheers, Julie

    2. Avatar for Gerald Williams
      Gerald Williams

      The View has great views and if you have an upper floor room, it is great for astrophotography shots with the buttes in the photos. Did some great Milky Way shots with the Buttes at night, and got great sunrise shots also. Just that bit of elevation makes a difference in your shots of the Valley IMHO. Cheers

      1. Avatar for owen leach
        owen leach

        We have the option of passing through Monument Valley from south to north or vice versa. Would one direction be preferable over the other for views or dramatic lighting in late June?

        1. Avatar for Julie Post

          I think it’s good in both directions. If you come in from the north, you’ll get the Forest Gump view, which is very cool. But the first time we visited Monument Valley we approached from the south, and even though you don’t get an iconic view in this direction, it’s still a great drive as the mesas come in view. Either way, don’t miss the Forrest Gump viewpoint. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Magdalena

    We visited Monument Valley 2 days after Thanksgiving and it was phenomenal. Not a lot of people. We used Navajo Spirits for our tour of the Teardrop. We were the only 2 people in the tour (plus the guide). I’m glad we read your recommendation on this. It was the best! We did the 17-Mile drive loop and hiked the Wildcat trail. We’re glad we did the hike the last because it was strenuous on its way out. Thank you so much for your tips.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  4. Avatar for Dan Baldwin
    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      It’s been several years since our visit and I don’t recall having much cellular service in Monument Valley. We use Verizon. You could check the coverage maps for these two companies. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Monument Valley
    Monument Valley

    No way words I possess can describe this national treasure. Like many national parks in the West, the drive from park to park is brutal, but when you look back at the pictures you’ll realize that it was totally worth it…

  6. Avatar for My Woo
    My Woo

    Sweet you promote taking pictures on the road when there are signs all over the road saying no parking and no stopping at Gump point because too many tourists have been hit by cars trying to go to work or go home. Stay off the road please!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      There were no signs posted during our visit, and the Utah Office of Tourism website says that photos can be taken from the shoulder of the road. But thank you for letting us know about these signs. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Richard Stobaugh
  8. Avatar for Kris

    Hello. I’m planning to visit this place in August. This is from the site https://navajonationparks.org/tribal-parks/monument-valley/: « If interested in visiting the Monument Valley we ask that you book a tour with a local Tour Guide (see Guided Tours tab above). There is no self-guided tour, due to very rough terrain in some areas of the valley. »

    Does it mean that I cannot self-drive the 17-mile Valley Drive loop and have to book a tour? I tried calling them, but no one answered.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Yes, based on the current info, it sounds like you cannot self-drive the Tribal Valley Loop. I’m not sure why, since taking a tour puts you into contact with more people than staying in your own vehicle, but that looks to be their policy right now. You could contact a tour company or the View Hotel for more information. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Libby

    How strenuous is this trip to Monument Valley? My husband and I are in our 80’s and would love to do this trip. We are in good health, but would take our time. We live in Illinois.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      It’s not strenuous at all. Mostly, it’s a bit of driving and short walks to viewpoints. If you don’t want to do the Tribal Loop Drive, you can join one of the tours and they will do the drive for you. You will tour the Loop on their schedule and with other people (unless you join a private tour), so keep that in mind when making your decision. Cheers, Julie

  10. Avatar for Ariana Pimentel
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
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