Visiting Monument Valley
You might not know of Monument Valley by name, but I bet you’d recognize it in photos. It’s one of the iconic landscapes used in general when mentioning the southwestern US, and more specifically, Monument Valley is the backdrop to many famous western movies. Andy and I knew this had to be a stop on our US road trip itinerary, and it was an easy stop in between Page, AZ and Moab, UT. Here’s what we did while visiting Monument Valley.
Things to know about visiting Monument Valley
Unlike most of the stops on our road trip, Monument Valley is not a national park. It’s on Navajo land, which means you pay a $20 fee to the Navajo Nation to enter. This covers up to four people in one vehicle.
Monument Valley is located on the Arizona-Utah border. The Navajo Nation recognized daylight savings time, so no matter which side of the border you’re on, the time in Monument Valley is the same as the time in Utah. Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, so this can get confusing.
Dress in layers. I imagine it gets pretty hot during the day, especially if you visit during the summer, but when we visited in early October it was rather chilly and windy. Even when we arrived in the early afternoon, a short sleeve shirt wasn’t enough to keep me warm.
Once you’re inside the park, you are free to explore on your own as long as you stick to the designated roads. Remember these are dirt roads and not always the smoothest pathways. This is one of the many reasons I’m glad we decided to sign up for a Monument Valley tour.
Monument Valley tours
There are many different tours of Monument Valley, but what they all have in common is they are led by a Navajo guide. This means you’ll hear interesting stories and history from the people of this region.
After reading through a bunch of them, we decided on the Navajo Spirit Tours, and we booked their sunset tour. It started at 4:15pm, but this varies by time of year. Andy and I ended up with a small tour group, after a bit of panic while trying to find the starting point. The tour started while it was still daylight so we could get lots of photos before sunset.
Our guide took us to see many iconic sights including the famous mittens. You may recognize these giant rock formations from John Wayne movies, among others.
One of the best perks of being on a tour was getting to visit parts of Monument Valley that aren’t accessible to the general public. Big sections of the park are restricted, so it never felt crowded. I wasn’t always sure when we were on restricted roads or not, but some sections were incredibly rough and bumpy, and I was more than happy to have someone else doing the driving. I also would’ve worried about the undercarriage of our campervan getting damaged, since it was the only thing not covered by the insurance.
Some of the stories you’ll hear on a tour will be unique to the guide and their experiences, which was really interesting. But he also told us about the different sections of the park as we were looking at them, which was anything from a rock that looked like a bird to a story from the history of the Navajo people.
Towards the end of our tour, our guide drove us to the perfect lookout point for views of the sunset. The clouds weren’t quite cooperating for photos, but it was still gorgeous to see.
Overall this was an amazing tour, and I’m really glad we signed up for it. I highly recommend taking a Navajo Spirit Tour. It is one of the best things to do in Monument Valley.
Camping in Monument Valley
Outside the park you’ll find a handful of campgrounds. But we found one located inside the boundaries of the park, and it had amazing views of the Monument Valley landscape. It was aptly named The View, and they offered a tent only area, an RV/campervan area, cabins, and even a full hotel.
It was so windy at Monument Valley that we didn’t feel comfortable trying to cook that night. The restaurant in the hotel only seats campground guests before 7pm, so when we arrived after our tour, we weren’t able to get a table. Luckily they had no problem making us food to go, and since we were camping anyway, it wasn’t a big deal. Their food was pretty good too.
The next morning, we woke up in time to see the sunrise, and what a sight it was! This was exactly why I wanted to stay at this particular Monument Valley campground. The views were fantastic. In between eating breakfast and packing up our van, Andy and I kept taking breaks to wander around and take pictures of the landscape as it slowly lit up from the sun.
After leaving Monument Valley, we drove north into Utah, eventually heading for Moab. I wanted to go to the Four Corners Monument, and on the way was a tiny town called Mexican Hat. With a name like that, I had to see what it was all about. It’s named for a rock formation that kinda sorta looks like a sombrero.
Four Corners Monument
The Four Corners Monument marks the place where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado all meet. Since I like cheesy things like this, I insisted we detour and stop here before driving to Moab.
Again, this is Navajo land, so we had to pay a $10 fee to enter. It’s not the most exciting area to visit, but since most people are only there for as long as it takes to get a photo, I understand why there isn’t a lot of infrastructure. When we visited the Four Corners Monument, the only bathrooms were port-a-potties, and there wasn’t much else around besides souvenir stands.
But we got our cheesy photos, and I was happy.
Our original plan was to eat lunch out of our van in the parking lot, but it was a bit early for lunch, and honestly, the place was kind of depressing. So instead, Andy found us this amazingly delicious Mexican restaurant in Cortez, CO. Ever the list ticker, I was happy to at least have a meal in a state I had never visited before.
If you’re traveling through Arizona and southern Utah, Monument Valley can’t be missed. Even if you don’t care about the movie settings, this is some of the most beautiful landscapes around. Many people stop at Monument Valley while driving from Utah to Arizona or vice versa, and you certainly can visit it in a matter of hours. But I loved camping in Monument Valley and waking up to those magnificent views.
You might also enjoy:
- What to do in Page, AZ: Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, & More
- 1 Day in Death Valley National Park
- 2 Days in Grand Canyon National Park South Rim
- Ultimate Guide to Planning a Campervan Road Trip in the Southwestern USA