Driving to Monument Valley Navajo National Park along US Highway 163 has to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. The drive is simply breath-taking as the iconic formations slowly become visible from miles away.
As you start to get closer and closer, you can appreciate why it is one of the most photographed landscapes in the USA.
Monument Valley facts
- Monument Valley is located on the border between Arizona and Utah
- Flagstaff, Arizona is the closest major city – 175 miles away
- The breath-taking landscape is made up of the many red sandstone buttes that tower at heights of 400 to 100 hundred feet
- A must see for any film fanatics, especially westerns, Monument Valley has provided the backdrop for numerous popular motion pictures including Stagecoach, Forest Gump and Thelma and Louise
- Monument Valley is not part of the US National Park Service as it is completely within and surrounded by the Navajo Indian Reservation
Monument Valley Visitor Centre
The Visitor Centre is extremely informative and overlooks the valley. You can stroll through the various exhibits of the Navajo Nation and learn about the area’s history, or visit the well stocked gift shop and restaurant.
Scenic Valley Tour
There are guided tours available to explore the park, but you can use the free maps in the Visitor Centre to guide yourself through the ‘Scenic Valley Tour’. The 17 mile self-drive tour takes 2 – 4 hours, following a rough dirt track (not recommended for the squeamish). There is a steep 1/2 mile descent into the valley, but once you have navigated your way down the drive becomes a lot easier as the road levels out.
As you drive around the park, you will pass 11 well marked viewpoints made up of mesas, buttes and spire rock structures. The names were created by the early settlers of Monument Valley, based on ones imagination and portraying a certain meaning to the Navajo people.
The Elephant Butte (viewpoint number 2) is likened to a gigantic elephant in the southwest desert. Other viewpoints include ‘Three Sisters’, ‘The Mittens’ and ‘The Thumb’. There are opportunities to purchase local Navajo jewelry and crafts at the viewpoints and you can’t miss ‘John Ford’s Point’ for a unique photo opportunity – guilty as charged!
‘Wildcat’ self-guided hiking trail
Escape the car and explore the landscape by hiking the 3.2 mile trail around the west Mitten Butt. Starting at The View Hotel, the Wildcat Trail is the only trail you can take unescorted within the Tribal Park and follows a well maintained and marked trail as you loop clockwise around the Left Mitten (it is recommended that you follow the trail clockwise as this is the direction that the Navajo follow).
Horse riding in Monument Valley
The horse is an important, integrated aspect of the Navajo culture and there are many guided trail rides available from morning to sunset, catering for all abilities. I booked in the park the day before and enjoyed a private 2 hour ride ($120), visiting a few different areas that I was not able to explore on the ‘Scenic Valley Tour’.
I camped at Goulding’s Campground, which is located 6 miles from the entrance of Monument Valley Tribal Park.
+ Clean, modern and social campsite with a view of Monument Valley
+ Well stocked General Store (you can also book tours from here)
+ Good laundry facilities with a public computer with free internet access
+ Lots of hot showers