A minimalist look at the American Southwest, Monument Valley has big rocks, big sky, and…nope. That’s it.
The brisk march of progress passed right by Monument Valley. Which is great, because in places like this, “progress” has nothing to offer. The southeast corner of Utah looks about like it did 300 years ago, which looked like it did 3,000 years ago: vast, wild and sunbaked, with deep canyons and towering buttes variegating the desert plain. You’ll see the sky, bigger and bluer than you remembered. You’ll see the earth, red, rough and unpredictable. And you won’t see anything else. Monument Valley is what wind and water can make with enough time and creative license. Stand stranded at its center, struck by astounding simplicity. It will never happen again.
Where is Monument Valley?
Good question. Maps aren’t exactly ALL CAPS-ing its name. And part of the charm of Monument Valley National Park is its remoteness, about 60 miles west of the zero-dimensional Utah–New Mexico border on U.S. Highway 163. (You should probably go ahead and check Four Corners off your bucket list while you’re in the neighborhood.)
How to Get There
Most major airlines fly into Salt Lake City, and there are several regional airports across Utah. All of them are several hours from Monument Valley, Utah, so you’ll need a vehicle to drive the rest of the way. But there’s plenty of scenery to see along the jaunt, including Arches National Park. Consider the entire trek a part of your adventure.
- Salt Lake International Airport: 407 miles, 7 hours
- Provo Airport: 359 miles, 6.5 hours
- Harry Reid International Airport (Las Vegas): 437 miles, 7 hours
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: 334 miles, 5.5 hours
- St. George Regional Airport: 295 miles, 5 hours
- Canyonlands Field Airport: 178 miles, 3.3 hours
When you arrive, you’ll find a tiny town with a lodge, camping, outfitters and a few restaurants. Some comfy hotels are located nearby. The visitor center is open seven days a week.
- May to September: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
- October to April: 8 a.m-4 p.m.
If you’re driving north to Monument Valley via Highway 163, you’ll pass by the town of Oljato-Monument Valley, on the Arizona side of the Utah-Arizona border. It’s about 30 minutes from Utah’s section of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
Exploring Monument Valley
A 14-mile graded dirt road will show you around most of the major monuments — The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chai and Ear of the Wind. Navajo guides can lead you deeper, into Mystery Valley, Hunts Mesa and more. A handful of outfits will show you through the area on horseback, just the way people have been exploring it for hundreds of years. Book early for peak season.
There are plenty of things to see in Monument Valley, including natural bridges and a wealth of Ancestral Pueblo ruins. Find them on one of a dozen hikes nearby (mostly easy with a few that get tricky).
History and Culture
The earliest people to mark the area were Ancestral Puebloans (formerly referred to as Anasazi), who settled in around 1200 BCE. Their art and building structures remain, hinting at an ancient resourcefulness that found promise in a foreboding desert.
The Navajo culture took root centuries before Spaniards entered the area in 1581, and 250,000 of their descendants still live on the 16-million-acre Navajo Nation. Monument Valley is a window into their culture. Explore their history, their way of life, their cuisine and their art. You can even take a little home in the form of handmade jewelry or a dyed wool rug.
Monument Valley isn't a national park. It's not even a national monument. But it's as American as it gets.
Monument Valley captured a larger audience’s attention via director John Ford’s Westerns. Beginning with 1939’s “Stagecoach,” starring John Wayne, Ford’s many happy returns to Monument Valley shaped how much of the outside world pictures the American West.
It has since been featured as a backdrop in countless movies, including 1994’s “Forrest Gump.” Put on your smiley face T-shirt and a trucker hat to pose at the finish line — you know, where the title character said he was tired. Groupies not required.
Monument Valley Itinerary
After you’re awestruck by the scenic drive, there are other things to do in Monument Valley.
Hollywood’s interest in Monument Valley was piqued by local trading post owner Harry Goulding. He went to Los Angeles armed with photos of the unique landscape, hoping to convince directors to come here to film their Westerns. Today, you can see the persuasive photos, as well as artwork, pottery and family mementos at the Goulding Trading Post Museum. They also serve a mean Navajo taco.
Several adventure tour companies are located in Mexican Hat, about 30 miles northeast of Monument Valley. The town’s namesake rock formation — an upside down sombrero — is about 1.5 miles away and is popular with rock climbers. There’s also lodging, food and fuel.
Goosenecks State Park
Travel north along scenic Highway 163, then west on State Route 261, to reach Goosenecks State Park, a must see while you’re near Monument Valley. There you’ll get a stunning aerial view of the winding San Juan River. And we mean winding — 7 miles of twists and turns via water, but less than 2 as the bird flies. Talk about taking the long way around.
Valley of the Gods
Keep following Highway 163 northeast and you’ll come to Valley of the Gods, a cousin to Monument Valley, with similar wide open ranges and random rock castles — just fewer of them. But because it's Bureau of Land Management land, you can climb the rock formations and camp in the area, both activities that are strictly prohibited within the Navajo Park. There are no services nearby, so plan ahead.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is located in a remote area on the Utah/Arizona border. Here's an idea of how far it is from notable destinations:
- Lake Powell: 143 miles
- Moab: 160 miles
- Grand Staircase-Escalante: 163 miles
- Grand Canyon North Rim: 260 miles
- St. George: 289 miles
Monument Valley | Photo Gallery
Monument Valley Sunset
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