Every time someone asks me to pick a favorite destination from my recent travels throughout the Americas, Monument Valley is the first thing that comes to my mind. There was something extremely special about my experience in the desert. I really can’t recommend this place highly enough. Here’s a practical guide to visiting Monument Valley!
How to get to Monument Valley
Monument Valley is in southeast Utah, right near the Arizona border. It’s not particularly near any major cities or airports which makes it a little tricky to get to. The closest major airports are Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, both of which are about 7 hours drive away. If you want to fly somewhere closer, then Flagstaff AZ would be your best bet as it’s only 3 hours drive away.
The drive into Monument Valley is via Highway 163 from the north through Utah, or the south through Arizona. I was coming from Mesa Verde in Colorado so I drove in via the north (which is where I got that phenomenal view pictured above!) then drove out via the south on my way to Page AZ.
If you’re short on time, you can do a day tour from Las Vegas or an airplane tour from Grand Canyon, but I think that Monument Valley deserves more of your time than just a few hours. I was initially going to drive through the valley and not spend much time there, but I’m so glad that I ended up staying overnight.
Some multi-day tours that include Monument Valley are:
- 4-day Las Vegas to Grand Canyon
- 7-day Highlights of the Canyonlands from Las Vegas
- 10-day Las Vegas to New Orleans
Accommodation options in Monument Valley
I stayed in a teepee at the Monument Valley Tipi Village. This place is run by a Navajo family, and it’s actually just a regular campground. There are a few powered sites for caravans, some unpowered sites for tents, and about 8 teepees scattered around the site. The teepees cost $90 USD per night during the summer season.
There are other accommodation options if camping isn’t your thing. Goulding’s Lodge is one of the most popular as it has rooms that have amazing views of the desert. The View Hotel is another option with hotel rooms and cabins. This is the only hotel inside of the Navajo Park. If you’re going to book either of these hotels, be sure to reserve your room far in advance as they book up quickly.Where to stay: Goulding’s Lodge Monument Valley
Where to eat in Monument Valley
There are a few restaurant options in Monument Valley. I ended up eating at Goulding’s Lodge restaurant for lunch when I first arrived. This restaurant was large and had amazing views. The food was ok – it mostly consisted of the deep-fried American foods that you’d expect from a restaurant in the middle of literally nowhere.
According to the Goulding’s website there is a coffee shop on site, though I didn’t see this when I was there. There is also a grocery store near the Goulding’s campsite that you can go to for supplies. I ended up stocking up on crackers and hummus to take back to the teepee for dinner.
As far as I can tell, the only other option for food at Monument Valley is The View Restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Seeing as this is the only place inside the Navajo Park, I imagine it’s the most popular.
Things to do in Monument Valley
There are loads of things to do in Monument Valley. Start with the Monument Valley Visitor Center, which has awesome views of the mesas and buttes (ie. the massive rocks!). This is inside the Navajo Park, and the entrance fee is $20 USD per vehicle (for up to 4 people).
Self-drive loop: Start at the visitor center, then drive along the only road. The road is a 17-mile dirt loop that takes you in and around the mesas. There are numerous stops along the way where you can pull over for photos or buy wares from the Navajo people.
Valley tour: You can choose to do the loop as part of a Monument Valley tour, which is what I ended up doing. There are definitely benefits to doing a tour with a Navajo guide over the self-drive loop:
- You get to sit in the back of a truck while your guide drives through the desert. Feeling the air and dust on your skin makes you feel more connected with the land instead of being closed up inside a car.
- You get to visit restricted areas of the park which are available only to guided tours. These areas are pretty special and include spiritual sites and rock monuments where your Navajo guide will play music. This was definitely my favourite part of the tour.
- Your Navajo guide will point out all the best viewpoints for photos, and will also be happy to take photos of you.
My thoughts on the tour was that it’s expensive considering half of the tour is doing the same stuff as the self-drive loop, BUT I honestly think that you just can’t get the same experience doing it yourself, so the cost was worth it. If you want the full Monument Valley desert experience, the tour is going to be the best option.
Goulding’s museum: This museum was tiny and the entrance fee was by donation, so it’s one of the cheapest activities in Monument Valley. The museum had information about the history of the lodge and movie posters from all the films that have been set in the area.
Wildcat Trail hike: This 4-mile roundtrip hike starts at The View Campground and descends 900 feet to the valley floor and then takes you around one of the buttes.
Other tips for visiting Monument Valley
When to visit: Temperatures in Monument Valley range drastically from 68-94°F (20-34°C) in July to 25-42°F (-4-5°C) in January. The shoulder seasons are probably the best time to visit if you want to avoid the summer crowds. Most people will drive through Monument Valley in the middle of the day, but I think the best time to visit is the early morning or late afternoon. The rocks seem to change colour throughout the day and I definitely think sunrise and sunset was when they looked their best.
Stay hydrated: It goes without saying: The desert is dry AF. Stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up by having a water bottle and some snacks with you at all times.
What to bring: During the summer, Monument Valley can get extremely hot. Take sunscreen and a hat with you during the day, and if you’ll be there after the sun sets, have a warm jacket on hand as it will get cool at night. Also note that everything you wear will be covered in a layer of red dust afterwards! Don’t worry, it will wash out.
Gas stations: Gas stations are sparse throughout Monument Valley. There is one station near Goulding’s Lodge, then the next station in either direction is about 20-25 miles away.
Cell signal: There is cell signal at certain points in Monument Valley, though there are also dead zones. I couldn’t get any signal from our campground, though it didn’t bother me that much as I was getting into the off-grid experience!