Monument Valley Area Must-Do Guide
Tour Monument Valley Drive for Inspiring Views
As you drive into the valley, you may feel as though you're driving through one of the classic Hollywood westerns. The feeling comes for good reason: hundreds of movies and commercials have been shot right here–it easily makes the list of the top things to see in Utah. And as you travel, you're following in the footsteps of legends like John Wayne and contemporaries like Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park offers some of Utah’s most magnificent and famous views. It’s a place of grandeur and majesty, and much of that beauty can be experienced by driving the rough 17-mile dirt road that begins at the visitor center and swings through the park. The road passes many notable features, including the Mitten Buttes, Three Sisters, Yei-bi-chai, North Window, and the famous Totem Pole, a slender 500-foot-high dart that towers over surrounding sand dunes. Passenger cars can drive the road, although care must be taken in loose sand and rocky areas. No hiking or driving off the posted track is allowed.
The angular rocks in Monument Valley that you will see from this drive are composed of De Chelly Sandstone, and they resemble a silent, stone city. The monuments can even be described in an architectural language, abounding with domes, cupolas, steeples, cathedrals, and skyscrapers. The landscape is grand. Everywhere the eye looks it finds an ever-changing panorama.
Hike the Wildcat Trail for an Up-Close View of the Monuments
The Wildcat Trail is a 4-mile loop hike into one of the most scenic areas that Monument Valley has to offer. This trail lets hikers feel like they stepped back in time into the Wild West. Hikers will travel around one some of the most famous rock buttes in the park, and will at one point find themselves standing in a spot where three towering buttes surround them. The Wildcat Trail is the only self-guided trail in the park but offers some world- class scenery as it takes hikers for a walk through the world-famous Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.
For more information on hiking the Wildcat Trail, see our Hiking Guide.
Goulding's Lodge and Guided Jeep Tours
When you arrive in Monument Valley, your first stop should be at the Goulding Film and Cultural History museum at Goulding's Lodge. It's the perfect introduction and educational resource for what you'll see in the valley and serves an excellent Navajo Taco.
Some say the best way to experience Monument Valley is to take a half-day or full-day Jeep tour with a Navajo guide. In addition, valley drive can be rough in patches, so those who travel by tour bus, motorcycle, low rider, or some passenger vehicles may find this scenic drive inaccessible. If your tour takes you on the Valley Drive, you’ll pass, and potentially stop at, 11 different scenic viewpoints. Most other tours will also take you off the beaten path — where exactly will depend on who you book with and the trip you choose.
Sunrise Over Monument Valley
The stillness of the desert in the early morning is magical. The long shadows of early light bring out the sinuous curves of a canyon landscape sculpted over tens of thousands of years by forces largely invisible to us as we pass through. On drives like these, it's easy to let your mind wander and imagine what it must have been like traversing these lands a hundred and fifty years ago. No cars, no blacktop highway, no cell phones. Just the steady hoof beat of your horse on the dusty earth, the creaking of the leather in the saddle and the sound of the wind beneath the wide brim of your hat.
Monument Valley Dark Skies
If you're staying in the park, consider staying up for a show like no other. If you're passing through the area, plan to stop the car by the side of the road, turn off the engine and step out into the vast expanse of desert; you'll find the stillness and the solitude of the mesas and the canyons remains just as it has for centuries. Pondering timelessness, the frontier and the mythology of the West is perfect for framing your visit to Monument Valley, Utah.
Gaze Upon More Unusual Geology near Mexican Hat
The town of Mexican Hat, Utah, is about 20 miles northeast of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. However, the namesake rock formation for the town of Mexican Hat is actually about 1.5 miles north of town on the left, well marked and with good dirt roads leading right to it. Local legend tells of the love of a young Mexican vaquero for a Native American maiden who, alas, was already married to an evil old medicine man. When the medicine man learned of the affair, he turned the vaquero to stone. If the rock doesn’t seem to look much like a sombrero to you, it might help the illusion to consider it to be upside down, suggesting the medicine man first turned his rival on his head. Behind the sombrero is an interesting geologic formation called the Navajo Rug, a wavy pattern in the cliff strata.
The little town of Mexican Hat has depended largely on several minor oil and mining booms; today it benefits from the fair stream of tourists to this remote corner of Utah. This is home base for several land and river tour companies and makes a good base for exploring the surrounding wilderness areas.
For those who are accomplished technical rock climbers, the unusual rock formation called Mexican Hat offers a tempting summit. Unlike the rock towers in the tribal park, Mexican Hat is on BLM land and climbing is legal. Read more about climbing on the Mexican Hat.
Visit Valley of the Gods and Goosenecks State Park
On your way to or from Monument Valley on U.S. 163 southwest of Bluff, Utah, you will pass by several interesting attractions that are well worth the side trips, including Valley of the Gods, which is like a miniature Monument Valley on BLM land, and Goosenecks State Park. It would be a shame to miss these fascinating stops on the road between the town of Bluff and Monument Valley, so make sure to carve out some time for this drive. For more details about the attractions on this drive, see our Scenic Driving Guide.
Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway
Monument Valley is also a cornerstone of a trip along the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway. Packed with scenic vistas in all directions and both archaeological and cultural intrigue, the byway encounters numerous examples of Ancestral Puebloan history in the Four Corners area. A tour of the Utah portion of the Trail of the Ancients includes Four Corners Monument, Edge of the Cedars State Park & Museum, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument and many other areas of interest across the map. A more circular route hits the steep and spectacular Moki Dugway, comprised of white-knuckle inducing gravel switchbacks. (The narrow 11 percent grade is not recommended for trailers or larger RVs.)
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