Monument Valley: What to Know Before You Go

“Where the Earth Meets the Sky” reads the brochure for Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Stretching along the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley is the iconic image of the American West: red sandstone pillars sticking out against the vivid blue sky. For the best experience at Monument Valley, you’ll want to read up on what to know before you go.

With the beginning of spring comes one of my favorite times of year: Spring Break. After the long months cooped up in the house, I love planning a fun trip for the week of Spring Break. Since the weather this time of year can be a bit unpredictable, I prefer to head south where I don’t have to worry about snow. And I couldn’t wait to check two locations off my list of the 10 Places I’m Taking My Family This Year. I had the perfect spot in mind for this year’s trip.

I decided spring would be the perfect time of year for a road trip through Arizona. I’m glad I didn’t go any later than this because it already was extremely hot in Phoenix. OUr main destination for the trip was the Grand Canyon. But the first stop on our Arizona road trip was someplace I’d never been: Monument Valley.

Personally, I love the red rock landscape of this area of the country. Maybe because it’s completely opposite of where I grew up in Ohio. The majesty of the red rock against the blue sky always fills me with awe. If you really want to experience the West, here is my complete guide to everything you need to know before you visit Monument Valley.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, read our Disclosures.

baby girl at Monument Valley Visitor Center

When to Go

Seeing as this is the desert, obviously the worst time of year to visit would be in the summer. If you do visit Monument Valley in the summer, it’s higher elevation keeps it from generally getting too toasty. Our visit was the first week of April, and it wasn’t exactly cold, but, with the wind whipping through, we had our jackets on to stay comfortable. Generally, the best time of year to visit is April-May or in October.

Another thing to consider is sunset and sunrise times. If you really want to see the red rock shine, you need to visit when the sun is reflecting off the rock. We visited in the middle of the afternoon, and while my photos still look fantastic, they don’t have the red glow like the photo below. One last tip: Don’t forget to factor in time zones. Monument Valley’s is on Mountain Standard Time, which is not always the same as Arizona’s time. Since Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings, for half the year the two are an hour apart. Just consider Monument Valley to be the same as Utah.

AVERAGE MONTHLY TEMPERATURE (°F)
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Max 43 47 54 65 73 85 90 88 82 66 50 42
Min 25 26 33 40 47 58 63 62 57 41 30 24

 

road into Monument Valley at dusk

Cost

The park itself costs $20 per car for admission. Technically admission was for only 4 people, with every extra person costing $6. Thankfully, children under 9 are free. Admission for motorcycles is $10. They do accept credit cards at the entrance. Remember that your National Park passes will not give you admission to Monument Valley.

If you don’t want to pay or if you don’t have time to stop, you get some great views just driving by on US 163. The road has plenty of pull offs for you to stop and admire the view or snap a few pictures. The image above is from outside the park. It’s the iconic spot where Forrest Gump is seen running in the movie. Just so you are aware, a permit is required for all commercial photography taken within the park boundaries.

During the summer (May-August), the park is open from 6am to 8pm MST. However, the scenic drive is only open from 7am to 7:30pm. Similarly, in the Winter (September-April) the park is open from 8am to 5pm MST, and the scenic drive is open from 8am to 4:30pm MST. Monument Valley is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Related: Arizona Road Trip: Discovering the Magic of the Southwest



Monument Valley view from the visitor center

What to Do

Visitor Center

Your first stop at Monument Valley will be the Visitor Center. The views from the patio are beautiful. If you are really short on time, you could just come in to enjoy the view here. There is a gift shop featuring Native American wares along with your standard gift shop fare. The pottery seemed extremely high quality. Overall, the gift shop seemed a bit pricier than most National Park ones I’ve visited.

The Visitor Center also contains The View Restaurant with Navajo native dishes included on the menu. It’s open from 7am to park closing, though it closes every day from 2pm-5pm. Of course it was closed when we were there, so I didn’t get a chance to check out the menu. The view is spectacular, and in nice weather you can also dine on the outdoor patio.

Reading the brochure now, I see that it mentions a Junior Ranger program. I wish I had read that at the time. My kids love doing the Junior Ranger program whenever we visit any National Parks. So if you have kids, make sure to ask about it at the Visitor Center. The way it works, at least at the National Parks, is that your child gets a booklet and has to complete a specified number of activities. Then they can return it and are sworn in as Junior Rangers. They generally get a badge and a sticker. My kids now have quite the collection. I just need to figure out how to display them.

Inside the Visitor Center there is a small museum showcasing the history of the Navajo and the WWII Navajo codetalkers. My oldest had fun trying to pronounce the various Navajo words. Just past the Visitor Center parking lot is a collection of hogans, Navajo homes covered in sun-baked mud.

Related: Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids

 

John Ford's Point, Monument Valley

Valley Drive

The main event of Monument Valley is the self-guided Valley Drive. The full drive is a 17-mile unpaved dirt road. We were fine driving on it in our minivan. I even saw a few low-riding sports cars on the drive. There are spots to pull off and take pictures of the different buttes. Just so you know, there are no restrooms or water on the drive, so make sure to be prepared.

If you are pressed for time, you should at least do the first part of the drive to John Ford’s Point. This is the most Instagram-worthy photographic spot of Monument Valley. It’s a popular spot, so there are tables with people selling jewelry. There was also a building advertising fry bread, which was unfortunately closed. You can also pay $5 to have your picture taken riding a horse right where I’m standing. I’ve seen other people’s pictures, and they look amazing. Apparently we had terrible timing, because they were on a lunch break and returned just as we were leaving.

After John Ford’s Point, the Valley Drive becomes a one-way road, so you have to commit to the full drive if you want to continue. The scenery was nice, and there were about 3 major spots to stop, plus some minor pull-offs. By this time, our baby was super fussy, so for sanity’s sake, we opted to just keep driving. The road can be a bit more rough at times here, so you have to go much slower. Every time we went over a large bump, my 2-year-old would exclaim: “Daddy, that wiggled me!”

For reference, we visited the Visitor Center and drove the full Valley Drive. We were in the park for about 3 hours, though with little kids everything takes longer, so you could probably do a full visit in 2 to 2.5 hours if you wanted to.

Toddler Boy at Monument Valley

Hiking

Monument Valley only has two hiking trails in the park, both starting at the primitive campground by the Visitor Center. Neither trail is maintained or improved, so I would not recommend them with kids. The Wildcat Trail descends 900 feet to the valley floor and makes a 3.3 mile loop around West Mitten Butte (the one my son is taking a picture of below). So if you really want to get up close to the buttes, this is your only option. The Lee Cly Trail goes in the opposite direction toward Mitchell Mesa.

If you do decide to hike, make sure you are prepared for the desert. The general suggestion is to carry at least 1 liter of water per person. Wear a hat and sunscreen – skin cancer is not cool. And wear actual shoes. The sand can get extremely hot in the summer, so you really don’t want to be wearing flip-flops. Follow the basic hiking rule – Leave no trace. Pack everything out that you bring with you.

You can also obtain a back country permit for hiking and camping for $12. For more information, contact the Navajo Parks & Recreation department at (435) 727-5870 or (928) 871-6647. You can also download the permit application at: www.navajonationparks.org.

Related: My Year of Travel: 10 Places I’m Taking My Family This Year

 

Monument Valley - Valley Drive

Guided Tours

If you are willing to spend a bit more money, there are mainly two different types of tours you can do. One side of the Visitor Center parking lot was lined with companies offering vehicle tours. If you know what time you will be visiting, you should book in advance online. When we were there, they had plenty of openings for people just arriving though I assume those were for shorter tours. Also, I don’t know how quickly the tours fill up during busy days. The guided tours go significantly farther into the valley, so you’ll get views that you cannot achieve on the self-guided tours.

One other common activity I saw in the park was horseback riding. Ages limits generally start at 8 years old, so horseback riding was not an option for us. But it sure did look like fun. Prices seem to start around $60 for the 1/2 hour tour going all the way up to about $200 for the all-day (6 hour) tours. If you want to truly feel like you are in an old Western, horseback riding is the way to go.

The two big companies I saw for guided tours were Roy Black’s Guided Tours and Monument Valley Safari. I’m sure there are more, so you’ll want to do your research before you go.



Boy taking a picture at Monument Valley

Nearby Attractions

Let me share one of my road trips secrets: It’s not all about the destination. When I travel, I love to look for interesting stops along the way. For our family, Monument Valley wasn’t really a destination in and of itself. I would never have drive down just to visit it.

However, when I saw that it was along our route to the Grand Canyon, I knew we had to stop. It actually turned out not to be much of a detour at all. Compared to the suggested route, driving past Monument Valley added no extra driving time and was actually 5 miles shorter in distance. Win-win.

In case you were wondering, my son’s camera was a Christmas present from his grandparents. He is having so much fun taking pictures and videos of anything and everything. The thick case protects it really well as it has been dropped multiple times. Unfortunately, the case does not prevent your little brother from deleting all your photos. It really is a fantastic gift idea.

If you did want to spend more time in the area, or are just looking for more locations to add to your bucket list, here are some suggestions of attractions close to Monument Valley.

Aerial view of Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park33 miles
Mostly undeveloped, Goosenecks State Park outside Mexican Hat, Utah has some beautiful views of the bends in the San Juan river. The park doesn’t have any trails or water, but it does have vault toilets and primitive campsites.

Valley of the Gods
Valley of the Gods37 miles
If you want a similar landscape to Monument Valley without the tribal regulations, then you should check out Valley of the Gods. It’s BLM land, and there are no facilities or water available. Also you will need a high clearance vehicle. If you are willing to rough it, this would be a great option.


Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument69 miles
My parents visited here recently and raved about it. There are three natural bridges that you can hike to in a loop or drive to separately. The landscape is beautiful and the drive west from here is considered fantastic.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument97 miles
One of the most visited National Monuments, there is free admission at this spectacular park. Two separate scenic drives have plenty of overlooks of the canyons and give views of ancient ruins carved into the cliff.

Four Corners Monument
Four Corners Monument97 miles
Do you have the burning desire to stand in four states simultaneously? I sure did! This monument is also a Navajo Tribal Park. It basically consists of the memorial where people line up to get their picture taken. Cheesy, but fun. Also, the monument is completely encircled with stalls selling Native American wares.

Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park155 miles
If you have a chance, purchase tickets to one of the ranger-led tours to be able to go right into the cliff dwellings. Tickets sell out quickly, so if you can’t go on a tour, the park is still worth a visit. Just seeing the cliff dwellings from afar is worth your time.

Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park155 miles (South Rim)
The Grand Canyon was the whole reason we even visited Monument Valley. In my opinion, everyone needs to visit Grand Canyon National Park at least once in their life. The majestic view is simply awe-inspiring. If you want to learn more, read my advice for visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids.



Girl with blue binoculars at Monument Valley

Budget Breakdown

When I wrote about my year of travel, I promised I would give you a run-down of how much each trip cost me. Our visit to Monument Valley was part of a larger road trip of Arizona, so I will give the full road trip details in my next post on visiting the Grand Canyon with kids.

Total Cost: $22.26
Admission: $20
Postcards: $2.26

I’d say that definitely qualifies as budget-friendly. Obviously, you can spend a lot more if you want between guided tours, dining at the View Restaurant, or buying souvenirs more expensive than postcards. But you can have an extremely memorable experience without spending much money. So if you are ever driving through this part of the country, Monument Valley is definitely worth a visit.

The other item I’ll mention is the kids’ binoculars my daughter is holding. No, I didn’t stage that photo just to sell you binoculars. I just love her smile. And I didn’t want her to feel left out in case she ever reads this post one day. While they do make a great prop for photos, they make an even better tool to explore nature. My kids have been playing with them nonstop since we got them about a month ago. My 2-year-old calls them “spy-ers.” For full disclosure, I did get them for free as part of another side hustle I have. I just love them so much I wanted to share.

Next up on my Arizona road trip, I’m off to the Grand Canyon.

Have you ever been to Monument Valley? Let me know in the comments!

If Monument Valley isn't on your bucket list, it should be! Find out everything you need to know before you visit Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park with our complete travel guide and budget travel tips. If you love the National parks, you'll love Monument Valley.

If Monument Valley isn't on your bucket list, it should be! Find out everything you need to know before you visit Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park with our complete travel guide and budget travel tips. If you love the National parks, you'll love Monument Valley.
If Monument Valley isn't on your family vacation bucket list, it should be! Find out everything you need to know before you visit Monument Valley with kids using our complete family travel guide and budget travel tips. If you travel with kids to the national parks, you'll love Monument Valley.
If Monument Valley isn't on your family vacation bucket list, it should be! Find out everything you need to know before you visit Monument Valley with kids using our complete family travel guide and budget travel tips. If you travel with kids to the national parks, you'll love Monument Valley.
271 Shares
Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

3 Comments

  • Reply cassiethehag April 17, 2018 at 3:44 am

    The photos are incredible – I can’t wait to see the ones from the Grand Canyon. If I make it to the US, you seem to be posting about the places on the top of my list!

    • Reply Rachael April 17, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Thank you! I feel the same way about your blog! How about you keep writing about amazing places in Europe for me, and I’ll keep writing about awesome US destinations for you.

  • Reply April Elsewhere April 16, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    Always wanted to go to Monument Valley, and now I feel like I’m prepared! Amazing post 🙂

    April x

  • Leave a Reply