Hiking the Wildcat Trail
Start: Wildcat Trail trailhead sign at the northwest corner of the visitor center parking area
Distance: 3.2 miles to end of loop with return trip totaling nearly 4 miles
Hiking time: 2 to 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate due to sandy sections
Trail surface: Sand, dirt, and rock trail
Best season: Spring and fall
Other trail users: Horseback riders
Canine compatibility: Leashed dogs permitted
Fees and permits: Park entry fee required
Schedule: Open year-round; check website for closures
Maps: USGS: Rooster Rock, AZ-UT; trail map available at the park visitor center
Trail contact: Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation, PO Box 2520, Window Rock, AZ 86515; (435)-727-5871 or (928) 871-6647; website.
Finding the trailhead: From Mexican Hat, Utah, drive west on US 163 for 20.5 miles to Monument Valley Road. Turn left (southeast) onto Monument Valley Road and drive 3.9 miles to the visitor center parking area and park in the northwest corner of the lot. The trailhead is just a short walk on Indian Route 42.
Trailhead GPS: 36.985333, -110.113350
The Wildcat Trail is the only self-guided trail in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, but the route offers some world-class scenery as it takes hikers for a walk through the world-famous Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.
The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department, which manages the park, shares this message with visitors: “The Navajo people have a custom that has endured. Whenever visitors come they are always treated as honored guests. They are offered shelter, warmth and nourishment so they can continue on with their journey. The same hospitality we offer to you, and we hope that you have a safe and pleasant visit to our land.”
After parking in the northwest section of the main parking area, walk north along Indian Route 42 for a short distance and follow the road as it turns right (east). The Wildcat Trail trailhead is at the northeast corner of the road intersection. Begin hiking north on the sandy trail as it slowly descends to the valley floor. The trail passes numerous rental cabins that face out toward the buttes as well, a great place to stay for the night. This section of the trail has some very sandy sections and may be a little challenging on the return hike. At 0.7 mile reach the loop portion of the hike and stay right (southeast) to follow the park’s preferred direction of travel. The trail to the left (northeast) is the return trail.
As this portion of the hike begins, hikers will navigate through an area where the well-worn trail joins the wash and/or crosses the wash a time or two. Again, the trail is well worn and beginner navigation skills are all that is required. At 1.7 miles you will find yourself standing in the center of the two Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte for a great panorama. Here the trail also joins a two-wheel-drive road for a short section. The road leads to private residences.
At 1.8 miles veer left (northwest) off the road and back onto the narrow footpath. The trail continues along the valley floor through the desert shrublands and slowly circles northwest and then west around the westernmost Mitten Butte. The trail drops down into a large wash at 2.7 miles and continues in the wash for a short distance to 2.8 miles, where it exits the wash to the left (southwest). Hike up over a small hill and then back down to complete the loop portion of the hike at 3.2 miles. Turn right (west) to return to the trailhead and parking area via the same route at 4.0 miles.
Miles and Directions
0.0 Begin hiking north on the Wildcat Trail from the signed trailhead.
0.7 Stay right (east) at the junction to begin the loop portion of the hike. The trail to the left (northeast) is the return trail.
1.7 The trail joins a two-wheel-drive road for a short stretch while heading north.
1.8 Veer left (northwest) to leave the road and continue on the footpath.
2.7 The trail drops down into a wash. Continue hiking southwest in the wash.
2.8 Exit the wash to the left (southwest) and continue hiking on the narrow footpath.
3.2 Reach the end of the loop portion of the hike. Turn right (west) to return to the trailhead and parking area.
4.0 Arrive back at the trailhead and parking area.