Monument Valley Walkthrough

The iconic Western scenery is one of the US’ greatest landmarks. Towering up to 1,000 feet tall, the sandstone rocks create a truly magical desert landscape

 

A red-sand desert, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a wild, vast and sun-baked region, offering deep canyons and sandy plains and rock buttes.

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Perhaps the most definitive image of the American West, the valley boasts sandstone masterpieces towering 400 to 1,000 ft framed by clouds casting shadows over the desert floor.

Bordered between Utah and Arizona, the valley is accessed by the looping, 17-mile Valley Drive. The graded dirt road will show you around most of the major monuments (The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chai, Ear of the Wind).

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Navajo guides can lead you deeper, into Mystery Valley, Hunts Mesa and more.

The earliest people to mark the area were the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, who settled in around 1200 BCE but in modern day, the region was frequently used for filming Western movies. The famous, steeply sloped Mittens buttes can be viewed from the road or from overlooks such as John Ford’s Point.

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Many Navajo families still live on the reservation annually. As such, it is part of the Navajo Indian Reservation and not a national park or state park.

Tip: You can view the valley on horse back just as they did hundreds of years ago. To book click here.

Opening times:

Peak season is 1 April – 30 September. Open from 6am – 8pm, seven days a week.
Off season is 1 October 1 – 30 March. Open from 8am – 5pm, seven days a week.
The site is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
Note that *Navajo Nation honours Daylight Savings Time (DST).
If driving the park, allow for half a day. To hike, allow for one day.

Getting there:

The monument is reached via US-163 from the north or south.

Some of the valley can be seen from overlooks along US 163 but most can be enjoyed by driving along it 17-mile dirt road.

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Monument Valley is 244 miles from the Grand Canyon, 380 miles from Salt Lake City and 395 miles from Nevada’s Las Vegas. Subsequently, Las Vegas is the closest international airport to the valley. A drive there will take around 7-8 hours.

From the Mexican Hat, Utah, drive west on US 163 for 20.5 miles to Monument Valley Road. Turn left (southeast) onto Monument Valley Road and drive 3.9 miles to the visitor centre parking area.

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Domestic flights:

The closest city to Monument Valley, Kayenta, is 23 miles away and has a small domestic airport.

Most shops, petrol stations and other facilities (including a small airport) are located along US 160 across the south edge of the city.

Chinle Airport is 101 miles away from the valley, Tuba City Airport is 111 miles away and Page Municipal Airport is 128 miles from the valley.

Admission:

Per vehicle pass: $20 per non-commercial vehicle up to 4 people ($6 each additional passenger)

Per individual pass: $10 per walk-in, bicycle, or motorcycle

Commercial pass: (based on capacity of vehicle):

  • 1-4 passengers: $35 (additional $6 each)
  • 5-15 passengers: $100
  • 15-25 passengers: $125
  • 26+ passengers: $300

Note: General admission passes do not include Backcountry Permits. If you wish to hike and/or camp beyond the valley, you must purchase a permit before entering. (See more below). Backcountry Permits are for hiking and camping on designated trails and campgrounds.

What to see:

1 – Valley Drive

The 17-mile dirt road starts at the visitor centre and heads southeast among the towering cliffs and mesas. One of the most famous is Totem Pole, a spire of rock 450 feet high but only a few meters wide.

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The drive passes 11 numbered stops at the most scenic places, and a typical journey around the loop takes at least 2 hours.

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Below are some of the key things to see along the drive with their respective numbers on the drive:

2 – Artist’s Point

Perhaps the second-best overlook, Artist’s Point can sometimes be less busy as it’s not as visited. The edge of Spearhead Mesa towers quite high above to the east and to the west are the smaller spans of Cly Butte and Elephant Butte.

3 – The Mittens and Merrick Butte

The initial descent from the visitor centre includes the roughest section of the whole road, where it traverses a steep, rocky hillside via a series of switchbacks. After finishing this, three of the most famous Monument Valley formations can be seen on the east side – West Mitten Butte, Merrick Butte and East Mitten Butte.

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4 – Totem Pole and Sand Spring

The viewpoint of Sand Spring and nearby dunes allow a better perspective of Totem Pole. The parking area is along a side track that branches off at the south end of Spearhead Mesa.

 5 – Three Sisters

On the west side of the road, the Three Sisters are a group of thin pinnacles, eroded remnants of a narrow ridge extending southwards from one corner of Mitchell Mesa. Together with adjoining Wetherill Mesa, these two flat-topped hills shield this part of Monument Valley from US 163 further west.

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6 – North Window

The penultimate stop along the Valley Drive is at North Window – a gap between the edges of Elephant Butte and Cly Butte that frames East Mitten Butte.

The parking area is just off the main road, from where visitors may walk (not drive) along a 1/3 mile track that leads closer to the two buttes for even better views.

 7 – John Ford’s Point

Film director John Ford used Monument Valley as a location for many Westerns between 1939 (Stagecoach) and 1960, and one site that featured often is now known as John Ford’s Point – a promontory at the edge of a plateau overlooking desert land around the first few miles of the Valley Drive.

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Tip: The main summits in view at the point are Sentinel Mesa, West Mitten Butte, Big Indian, Merrick Butte and the Castle Rock-Stagecoach group, plus Three Sisters/Mitchell Mesa to the west and Elephant Mesa to the east. It is here you can get a 360-degree panorama.

8 – The Thumb

The last overlook along the drive is next to The Thumb, a rounded pinnacle at the eastern tip of Camel Butte, close to the parking area for North Window.

9 – Visitor Centre

From the centre, there is a ‘Lookout Point’ offering great views across three of the valley’s most photographed peaks – East and West Mitten Buttes, and Merrick Butte.

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Tip: Click here for a map of Valley Drive.

Tip: Away from the park are other scenic backcountry areas, including Mystery Valley, on the opposite (west) side of Wetherill Mesa. This may be visited on half-day tours starting at Gouldings Lodge. Highlights include the Skull, Honeymoon and Pine Tree arches and Anasazi ruins.

Tip: If time and weather permit you, stay in the park for amazing ‘golden hour’ for sunset pictures. Click here for sunset and sunrise times.

Tip: There are plenty of guided tours available for Monument Valley, for example Navajo Spirit Tours, Sandstone Tours or Monument Valley Tribal Tours. For a more extensive list, click here.

When to visit:

Most visitors arrive at the park during spring and autumn to best enjoy the high-desert environment. Excessive heat begins in late May and can last into mid-September. Temperatures may reach mid-90s F in July and August. Summer monsoon season is July – September.

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For the most stable weather, visit in Autumn provides for warm, sunny days and cool nights.

Winter in the region can be cold and windy.

Where to stay:

Inside the valley:

The View Hotel is the only lodging in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. It’s advised to book as early as possible, to enjoy the amazing views of Monument Valley. Click here for reservations.

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Gouldings Lodge is another nearby option. This lodge is tucked under soaring rimrock cliffs two miles west of the Monument Valley turnoff from US 163 in Utah.

Gouldings also has a campground offering RV hookups, a pool, and separate cabins. Click here for reservations.

Outside the valley: Kayenta, 23 miles from the park, offers the Hampton Inn of Monument Valley. (Address: US Hwy 160 PO Box 1219, Kayenta, AZ 86033). Click here for rates.

Hiking:

The Navajo Nation is comprised of more than 25,000 sq miles, allowing an isolated trail and route.

The Wildcat Trail is a 3.2-mile loop hike (4 miles total, including the return) and takes around 2-3 hours to complete.

It is the only self-guided trail in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park but the route goes through the world-famous Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.

Finding the trailhead: Once at the visitor centre parking area, park in the northwest corner. The trailhead is just a short walk on Indian Route 42. For a short distance, walk along Route 42 and follow the road as it turns right (east).

The Wildcat Trail trailhead is at the northeast corner of the road intersection. Begin hiking north on the sandy trail, which will slowly descend to the valley floor.

Trailhead GPS: 36.985333, -110.113350

The trail is not maintained but is usually marked with rock claims. Most of the trail are rated ‘strenuous to moderately strenuous’ and the terrain is rough and the weather can be extreme.

In the summer, the trail can be hot and dry, while in winter, there can be severe cold and high winds. Be aware to the dangers of flash flooding, especially during the summer monsoon season (July through September).

Note: General admission passes do not include Backcountry Permits. Click here to purchase permits for hiking.

 

Checking out C & J

 

 

 

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