Dreaming of visiting Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park?
One of our bucket list destinations on our USA road trip in the American Southwest was taking our kids here. And with so many amazing things to do in Monument Valley and spending time with a local Navajo guide, our visit was an incredible experience!
After visiting many national parks in the country and experiencing the heavy crowds like at Zion and the Grand Canyon (and not even in peak season) I was stunned to see the lack of crowds visiting Monument Valley.
Stunned, yet delighted. It meant I had space to enjoy and appreciate America’s greatest spiritual treasure.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park reaches right into your soul and lifts you into the present moment and plops you right into wonder and awe.
You can’t help but stop, stare and contemplate a greatness that exists way beyond your small self.
It’s so much more than just a bunch of imposing buttes and mesas rising up out of the desert floor forming shapes such as mittens, camels, sisters, suns eyes, and wind’s ear.
This is the place where time stood still and has created a land of harmony and peace.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is NOT a national park. It is the traditional spiritual homeland of the Navajo people.
They own, manage, take care of and invite us onto their lands to experience what they have known forever.
This is a spiritual place that nourishes all who enter.
In native language, Monument Valley is called ‘Tse Bii’Ndzisgaii and means Valley of the Rocks.
Monument Valley is made up of mesas (rock formation that looks like a table), buttes (a mesa eroded further into a smaller form) and a spire (final stage of erosion when a rock formation becomes narrow and free standing).
It’s a place that can be instantly recognized from a photo.
This is partly because it is one of the most photographed landscapes in the USA, and also because its valley of buttes and monoliths have been the backdrop for many Hollywood films.
Since then many other films and shows have made it famous: the infamous running scene from Forest Gump, and even Metallica filmed a music video for the Mission Impossible song, I disappear where the band play together on top of a Monument Valley rock.
John Wayne is probably the most famous of all actors to have filmed a lot of movies here.
He called the wonders of this valley “Gods Treasure”
Things to do in Monument Valley
Visiting Monument Valley is restricted and most of it is accessible by a private vehicle and by joining a guided tour on limited roads.
There is no backcountry hiking or biking allowed. Use your imagination for each of the monuments.
Some names were created by early settlers and other names portray a certain meaning to the Navajo nation of people.
The Monument Valley Scenic Drive
The Monument Valley Drive (loop drive) is a 17-mile unpaved dirt road.
You can either self-drive the 17 mile loop road through Monument Valley or join a guided tour with a Navajo Guide.
It starts past the visitor center and lips around Rain God Mesa. Allow at least 2 hours to complete the drive and enjoy all the stops along the way.
We visited most notable sites on this Monument Valley road on our private guided tour (see down below).
This is the only road in Monument Valley you can go on in a private vehicle. Buses and RVs are not allowed.
The East and West Mitten Buttes are the most famous of all Monument Valley’s mesas and buttes.
When viewed from the south, these buttes look like hands, yet signify spiritual beings watching over the valley (and you)! You can feel their spiritual protection from the moment you see them.
Beyond the Mittens are Merrick Butte and Sentinel Mesa. Our guide pointed them out to us.
We never would have known what they were called otherwise as they are not noted on the valley drive map.
Camel Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters
On the road heading down to the famous John Ford Point you can stop off to take a look at Elephant Butte, Camel Butte, and the Catholic mum facing her two pupils at the three sisters.
This also looks like a large capital W.
Use your imagination to see these shapes and look closely at camel butte, it also looks like a giant Snoopy sleeping on his back.
John Ford Point
John Ford Point is where you will get epic panoramic views of Monument Valley.
It’s named after the Hollywood director who made John Wayne famous through the western movies filmed here.
You can also get a classic photo of the kids on a famous horse for $5 who has featured in many movies and TV commercials such as the Marlboro man.
Rain God Mesa
On the south side of this mesa are dark streaks on the rock. This is from the nature aquifer that seeps out of the base of the sandstone.
This is where Navajo Medicine men pray and give thanks to the Rain God for storing water for the people.
I loved seeing this in the distance on our private tour with a Navajo guide.
Behind (or in front of when looking from the drive) is Totem Pole, which is a mythical or historical marker created by Northwestern tribes, typically out of wood.
Here in Monument Valley, Mother Nature has carved it from the rock. This is a spire monument which is an example of what erosion will do to a butte.
Bird and Sand Springs
At the bottom of the sand dune is a gorgeous spring area lined by cottonwood trees. It’s a natural aquifer that seeps out of the De Chelly and Navajo Sandstone.
This section of the tribal park was so different to the dry, barren landscape of the rest of Monument Valley.
On our private guided tour of Monument Valley we could drive beside this spring.
If you drive the Valley Drive independently you will look over the sand dune from Bird Spring.
We typically recommend independent travel as the way to travel.
But not when you visit Monument Valley!
We recommend joining one of the Monument Valley tours with a Navajo guide.
Craig and I did it on our own back in 2006 as that was all we could afford and manage. We absolutely loved our experience in Monument Valley driving the loop road ourselves.
But this time we joined a tour with our Airbnb host family and loved it on a whole new level.
The best thing about doing a guided tour is you get to go in restricted areas where only Navajo people are only allowed to go. You have permission to visit if you are with a guide.
Plus, the benefit of having a Navajo guide pointing out features you never would have noticed and explaining the significance of different parts of the park is priceless!
If you are visiting Monument Valley with kids, I feel they will enjoy this experience more than just driving around in a car with you.
We jumped in our open air jeep with 8 kids (and 6 adults), all of who chattered, giggled, whooped, and beamed for four hours.
They all said how much fun they had and I know this experience will be one of those special places that stays in their heart.
Apart from the stops above on the Valley Drive, here are the other things to do in Monument Valley we experienced with our Navajo guide.
I loved pulling off to the side of the road to see the mountain shaped like an Indian Warrior head.
He’s protectively looking down upon the valley and over the Navajo Hogan village we could see in the distance.
There were a few rocks here the kids enjoyed scrambling over while we enjoyed the views.
Wildcat Nature Trail
The Wildcat Trail and Klee City Trail begin from the campground and follow a 3.3 mile scenic loop through washes and sandy slopes around West Mitten Butte.
We did not do these Monument Valley hikes, but it’s on my list of things to do in Monument Valley for when we return.
I’m pretty sure this is a place I’ll return to again and again.
You will need a hiking permit for the Wildcat Nature Trail. Be sure to stay on the trails and take plenty of water.
I especially loved this part of the tour.
It’s important to not only marvel at the extraordinary rock formations and spiritual nature, but to also marvel at how the people who live inside the valley have lived a simple, fulfilled life at one with spirit and nature.
Many Navajo people still live in traditional Hogan’s, although a bigger version of the original, and as our guide told us, many of them now have separated rooms inside.
Whereas a traditional Hogan is just one room that is shared by the family.
A Hogan is a simple sun baked mud home shaped like a dome. The simple structure is perfectly made and lasts for hundreds of years – no steel needed.
We loved the craftsmanship of the cedar banded together inside the home giving it its frame.
The outside is made from sand bark and water. A simple fire retains heat inside the Hogan for long hours in the winter and it is 25% cooler inside a Hogan during the summer.
As the Navajo believe in balance they have a cone shaped home, called a Male Hogan, which is more of a temporary home that can be built quickly and taken apart to use at another location.
The round shaped home is called the Female Hogan and is more of a permanent structure and can accommodate more people.
We saw the sweat box Hogan, and went inside the ceremonial Hogan (the smaller cone shaped male Hogan) and the sleeping Hogan (the round female Hogan).
Inside the female Hogan we met a Navajo women who gave us a blanket weaving demonstration and explanation of how they turn the sheep’s wool into the elaborately decorated and beautiful Navajo blankets.
We also learned more about some of the tools they use and the fascinating baby carrier, so purposefully created to ensure the baby didn’t fall out.
And her daughter was adorable. She was intent on picking up every item to come and show it to us.
Her grin and sprightly personality was infectious and charming.
Big Hogan Arch
We laid back on the rock here in the cool amphitheater and looked up to the roof to see the giant eagle the hole in the rock above us created.
The kids had fun running up the sand hill and rock face while we rested. Another Navajo guide arrived and began singing Navajo songs in the cave. It was spine tingling.
You’ll be able to hear that in our video when it is published. (subscribe here so you don’t miss it)
Another stop off was to Sun’s Eye to see the hole above looking down upon us – what a cool eye you have Sun!
Plus. there were petroglyphs here on the wall that were incredibly old.
Life never ceases to amaze me. How on earth can they stay on the wall clearly telling a picture of some kind of hunt that many years later.
Ear of the Wind
Again, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park surprised us with a very different and unique side of it.
Hidden at the end of a trail of mesas is a secluded section with a massive sand dune and a giant hole in the top of the rock that with your imagination you can see as being the Ear of the Wind.
Opposite it, an X marks the spot where when you stand on it and a tree is perfectly aligned in the center of the ear.
Under the Ear of the Wind is a massive sand dune that the kids had a blast running up and down. We had to drag them away from it. Be sure to climb to the top of the dune as the views out are gorgeous.
There was still more on the tour that we didn’t see.
We had already gone over time as our guide was so patient and allowed us time to enjoy every place we stopped off at. We had a big group, including many kids who were happy to play at each point of interest.
Having kids of his own, he understood how valuable this time was for kids. He also spent time taking group pictures of us all and our separate families.
I LOVED how he knew how to get the best picture at each of the spots.
He wanted to continue to show us more things on the tour, but as we were conscious of his time and it was getting late, we didn’t want to keep him from his family anymore, so we dropped the last couple of spots and went back to our Airbnb accommodation.
We first stopped off to enjoy Sand Springs mentioned above with views of Totem Pole. We fell in love with this pretty oasis and it was a side to the park I did not know existed.
Not without first enjoying a bumpy off-roading adventure back, which had the kids whooping and hollering.
Seeing the delight on their faces with the totem pole and other Monument Valley park structures behind them is a memory to last forever.
Check out our Monument Valley video
Tours of Monument Valley
Horseback riding Monument Valley is a popular thing to do. You can also join Monument Valley Jeep Tours that go behind the restricted areas to mystery Valley.
From my research, this valley and part of the tour goes more into the culture and history of the Navajo and ancient puebloans.
- You can book a Monument Valley guided tour here
- For an extra $10, you can do the sunset or sunrise tour. That would be AWESOME!
- This three day tour incorporates Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, and Horseshoe Bend
Southern Utah Travel Planning (bucket list)
Tips for Planning a Trip to Monument Valley
Where is Monument Valley?
Monument Valley is located in the south east corner of Utah, right on the Utah Arizona border.
So there is Monument Valley Utah and Monument Valley AZ. Most of the what you will experience is on the Arizona side of the border.
Las Vegas to Monument Valley:
- Distance: 398 miles
- Time: approx 6.5 hours
Grand Canyon to Monument Valley:
- Distance: 156 miles
- Time: approx 2.5 hours
Moab to Monument Valley:
- Distance: 149 miles
- Time: approx 2.45 hours
Flagstaff to Monument Valley:
- Distance: 176 miles
- Time: approx 3 hours
There are many awesome places in the Southwest near Monument Valley. A trip to this region in the US is well worth your while.
- Vehicle 1-4 people $20
- Additional People: $6
- Motorcycle: $10
National Park passes are NOT accepted.
Your park entry fee will be separate to your guided tour price.
The park entry fee is good for two days. If you enter the park on a guided tour jeep with a group of people, ensure that you pay the correct amount as if you were going in the next day in your own vehicle.
We got caught out with this.
Going into the park on the jeep we paid for 6 adults as the kids were free.
However, the next day when we wanted to go into the park and visitor center in our separate vehicles, we could not use that ticket to get all of the six adults through.
Even though we paid our entry ticket, we were now in three separate vehicles and fees are charged per vehicle!
How long do you need in Monument Valley?
You can visit Monument Valley easily in a day. But I recommend staying a little longer just to savor the experience.
We missed out on visiting a few places, most notably the famous sweeping views of Monument Valley from US163. This is the Forest Gump view that you’ve seen from the movie. It will be marked by a sign which reads Forest Gump Hill.
We didn’t drive in or out that way. Craig and I did that last time and captured the iconic Monument Valley photo.
To be honest, what I have heard now about the line ups and craziness about getting the perfect Instagram shot here now, I’m glad we missed it. I just can’t stand that world anymore!
Getting this shot tells a much better story for me. insert photo here
I don’t care if anyone even sees it, let alone who likes it.
I want life, not likes.
By all means, go and get that shot as it is spectacular. But don’t take that shot, upload it for likes and then leave this spiritual land saying that you experienced it. Go deeper!
When is the best time to visit Monument Valley?
This area experiences four seasons, including snow during the winter. Can you imagine how pretty it would look then?
The dry desert climates of the Southwest amazes me with the precipitation they receive. It’s so different to the Australian deserts.
The best time to visit would be April/May and Sept/October when it’s not as hot and the summer crowds aren’t around.
Monument Valley Visitor Center Museum
Pop into the Monument Valley Visitor Center to gain further insight into Navajo culture and history.
A series of displays and exhibits will share more about the nation’s largest Native American tribe.
For those also interested in the Navajo Code Talkers, there is an interesting exhibit and gallery rooms sharing more about this.
At the visitor center you can learn more about the various trails and tours on offer and purchase a memento from the trading Post to take home with you.
You can also dine at the View Restaurant.
- Summer (May – Aug) 6am-8pm
- Winter (sept- April) 8am – 5pm
Where to Stay in Monument Valley
We parked our RVs at this Airbnb property owned by a Navajo Family. Here you can also sleep in a Navajo octogon earth hogan, and Celia the host is lovely.
Our tour of Monument Valley was booked through her family, and at the end of the tour we enjoyed delicious Navajo tacos!
The location to the park entrance was very close, and a short walk from the property allowed us to we witness a magnificent Monument Valley sunrise and sunset!
The View Campground:
Choose from RV sites or wilderness campsites or premium cabins at the View Campground:
- Tents start at $19.95
- RVs start at $49/95
- Cabins start at $99
Open: March 13 – November 27
The View Hotel
The View Hotel (Monument Valley Hotel) is the only hotel built within Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
All rooms have a private balcony to enjoy those stunning views of the sun rising over the monuments. Bucket List moment.
The hotel also has a trading post with Navajo artisan wares such as jewelry, pottery, and hand-woven Navajo rugs.
The restaurant offers Navajo native dishes, and views of the mittens while you dine.
Historic Goulding’s Lodge
For hotels near Monument Valley, consider Goulding’s Lodge Monument Valley.
This place is one mile from the rim of Monument Valley and is known as western fort or the town setting for many John Wayne movies.
It offers accommodation and a campground as well as a restaurant, museum and grocery store.
Kayenta AZ is located 25 miles south of Monument Valley and contains a few hotels and motels for visitors to Monument Valley.
Things to do near Monument Valley
Stay tuned for more blog posts coming soon on:
- Antelope Canyon
- Lake Powell
- Valley of the Gods
- Natural Bridges Monument
More Southwest USA Tips
- 14 amazing things to do in Southwest USA
- Ultimate Guide – Things To Do in Zion National Park
- 8 Tips for Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon With Kids
- 11 best things to do in Arches National Park Utah