Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: Ultimate Guide - Trailwalker Travels (2024)

Welcome to Monument Valley, located on the Arizona-Utah border part of the Colorado Plateau. The majority of the area is part of the Navajo Nation Reservation. This guide is a pathway through the valley for travelers who want to explore and capture the beauty.

Exploring the Heart of the Desert

The valley is renowned for its towering sandstone buttes, some reaching over 1,000 feet tall. These amazing formations have been carved by wind and water over millions of years.

The valley is more than just a geological wonder; it’s a cultural heartland for the Navajo Nation. As you explore, you’ll encounter the physical landscape and a rich history of Native American life.

What to See and Do

Scenic Drives and Overlooks

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The Valley Drive (Tribal Park Loop): A 17-mile dirt road winding through the most iconic buttes and mesas. Highlights include the East and West Mittens, Merrick Butte, and John Ford’s Point. You can drive this portion without a guide or a 4X4, as long as it has not rained to make it impassable. Be prepared for low-speed limit, dust, and bumps, but the views are worth it. You can also take a guided tour of this loop and be a passenger to enjoy the views.

Hike Wildcat Trail: The only self-guided walking trail in Monument Valley, offering an up-close experience of the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Sign in and out at the visitor center. This is about 4 miles round trip.

Shop Navajo Vendors

Make sure you stop and check out the vendors on Loop Road for hand-crafted jewelry and more. Help support the locals and take a keepsake home with you.

Guided Tours

Opt for a guided tour to learn more information and secrets about the Monument Valley area. Taking a tour is the only way you can explore further into the park, which I highly recommend or you will miss so much.

We used Phillips’ Photography Tours and did the Sunrise Photography Tour. They have several other tour options including a Night Photography Tour. Check them out, highly recommend them.

Below are some top-rated tours from Get Your Guide also.

Photography Spots

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Forrest Gump Point (outside Monument Valley) – Mile marker 13 for the iconic shot from the movie. Watch for cars, try different angles, and depth of field. Best at sunrise.

The Mittens From Observation Deck – Take the classic shot from the visitor center. Best at sunset.

Valley Drive – all along Valley Drive you will see views from different angles. Best at Sunrise and Sunset – (the scenic drive summer hours are 6:00 am to 8:00 -last cars are permitted onto the drive at 6:00 pm and must depart by 8:00 pm. Winter hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, last vehicle entry at 2:30). Check out the below:

  • John Ford Point
  • Artist’s Point
  • The Thumb
  • North Window Overlook
  • West Mitten Butte
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Sunrise and Sunset Photo Tour – A custom-guided photographic tour is the best option to get the finest photography as the guides know the changing light in Monument Valley like no one else. You will experience the Totem Pole, Sand Dunes, and more getting the best views in the best light for this desert photography.

.Drones are prohibited.

Monument Valley in Movies

Monument Valley isn’t just a marvel of nature; it’s also legendary in the world of cinema. This section will take you through the valley’s history in the film industry.

Hollywood’s Favorite Western Backdrop

Classic Westerns: The Valley gained fame through director John Ford’s Westerns. Starting with “Stagecoach” (1939), Ford’s film showcased the valley’s dramatic landscapes, forever linking them with the rugged spirit of the American West.

Continuous Inspiration: Over the decades, Monument Valley has been the backdrop for numerous films, including modern classics like “Forest Gump” (1994), “Mission: Impossible II” (2000), “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983), “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014), “Back to The Future Part II” (1990) and many more. See the full list of over 100 movies here.

How to get to Monument Valley

Reaching Monument Valley might seem like a journey to the remote heart of the American Southwest, and in many ways it is. But the journey is part of the adventure, leading you through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the United States. This section provides essential travel tips for planning your visit to Monument Valley, ensuring your adventure starts smoothly.

By Air

Nearest Major Airports and Drive to Monument Valley:

  • Phoenix (PHX) – Drive 322 miles | 5 hours
  • Albuquerque (ABQ) – Drive 326 miles | 5 hours
  • Las Vegas (LAS) – Drive 424 miles | 6.5 hours
  • Salt Lake City (SLC) – Drive 387 miles | 6.5 hours

Connecting Drives: Upon landing, you’ll need to rent a car to make the scenic drive to Monument Valley. The journey is a significant part of the experience, offering stunning desert landscapes and the freedom to explore at your own pace.

Tips for the Road

Scenic Routes: The journey to Monument Valley is as spectacular as the destination itself. Consider detours to explore nearby attractions like Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Valley of the Gods, Mexican Hat, and Grand Canyon.

Preparation is Key: Services can be sparse in this remote area. Ensure your vehicle is well-maintained, and carry plenty of water, snacks, and a first-aid kit.

Where to Stay in Monument Valley

Where to Eat in Monument Valley


Q: Do I need a permit to Visit Monument Valley?
A: No, but there is an entrance fee. Some areas require a Navajo guide.

Q: Can I explore the valley on my own?
A: Yes, on the main road and Wildcat Trail. However, other areas require a guided tour.

Q: What is the closest town to Monument Valley?
A: Kayenta, AZ for best amenities.

Q: When is the best time to visit Monument Valley?
A: Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) offer the best weather. Summer is the busiest time, and temperatures get into the 90’s. In winter, Monument Valley gets cold, but the benefit is fewer visitors.

Q: What time zone is Monument Valley in?
A: Mountain Standard Time. This is a little tricky because Utah and the Navajo Nation observe daylight savings time whereas Arizona does not. March through November there is an hour time difference. Phones will switch between Utah and Arizona time zones depending on where you are. Be aware so you don’t miss a tour or anything time-sensitive.


The journey to Monument Valley is an adventure offering endless skies, sandstone buttes, and the spirit of the Southwest. You will experience one of the most photographed and beautiful places in the world. As a traveler and/or photographer, you’ll find in this valley a source of endless inspiration.

You may also like my article on Capturing the Magic: 10 Tips for Better Sunrise and Sunset Photos

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: Ultimate Guide - Trailwalker Travels (4)

10 Tips for Better Sunrise and Sunset Photos

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: Ultimate Guide - Trailwalker Travels (2024)
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