A Scenic Drive Through Monument Valley | Arizona
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Monument Valley is an iconic destination in the heart of the American Southwest. Chances are if you have seen an old Western film, Forrest Gump, Westworld, or any number of other movies, then you know Monument Valley. And perhaps now, more than ever, thanks to social media, places like Monument Valley that are quite some distance from a major town, are more popular than ever. As part of our second annual Southwest Road Trip, our stop at Monument Valley was the second to last destination, and one Julie and I were very much looking forward to. Our experience was a bit of a mixed bag, but there’s no denying the beauty of the destination, and it is one we will remember for years to come.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive: Details
Location: Northeast border of Arizona/Utah
Nearest Larger Cities: Moab, Utah – 152 miles; Page, Arizona – 127 miles
Park Open: Year round – there is a small visitor center at the View Hotel, open seven days a week.
Elevation: 5,564 ft.
Park Size: 91, 696 acres encompassing parts Arizona and Utah
Admission: $20 for non-commercial vehicles with up to 4 passengers, $6 per person after. Commercial vehicles range from $35-300 based on number of passengers. $10 per person for walk-ins, bikes, and motorcycles. Be sure to always check with the park’s website for more information.
Hiking: Permits are required for any backcountry hiking and are not included within the General Admission purchase. Because this is sacred tribal land (and essentially a National Park) it is important to practice Leave No Trace and respect and treat the park better than you found it. The park does not allow climbing, drones, camping (without a permit), littering, or cremation within the park boundaries.
Tours: Tours operators are plentiful in Monument Valley and can really expand your experience if you have the time and interest to do so. We opted against a tour since we were only in the area for 24 hours and instead enjoyed the park in our own vehicle. You can find a list of tour providers on the official website and both hotels also offer tours.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive: Getting There
Monument Valley sits on the northeast border between Arizona and Utah, on Navajo Tribal Lands. No matter the destination you are traveling from, expect a fairly long drive to reach the remote location.
On our trip, we left from Page, Arizona and made the just over two-hour drive into Monument Valley. Page is a relatively good sized town, considering its location, but if you’re looking for a bit more, the options are Flagstaff, Arizona (3 hours, southwest) or Moab, Utah (2 hours and 45 minutes, northeast). If you’re flying in, the best airports are: Las Vegas (411 miles, 6 hours and 45 minutes), Phoenix (326 miles, 5 hours – we flew in here), Salt Lake City (390 miles, 6 hours and 30 minutes), and Albuquerque (329 miles, 5 hours and 20 minutes).
Keep in mind that regional airports like Flagstaff and Grand Junction, Colorado also exist, but flights tend to be less frequent and more costly.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive: Where to Stay and Eat
Located on the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, means that you are in essence visiting a Navajo National Park. As with most U.S. based National Parks, lodging options are limited for those who want to stay near or in the park. The two main options to choose from are: The View Hotel, which is located within the park’s boundaries, and Goulding’s Lodge.
We opted to stay at the latter, due to our somewhat last-minute trip plans. Driving from the Lodge to Monument Valley is an easy 7.5 miles and took us about 20 minutes. Julie and I also visited in the cold of winter, so you can expect travel times and crowds to be higher should you opt for a peak season visit.
Goulding’s Lodge: The Room
Our experience at Goulding’s Lodge was mixed. The room we booked was Queen bed, and while functional for our one night stay, was also relatively small. For a lodge, I would count this room in the motel category, which was fine given the length of our stay and the close proximity to the park. Their website advertises a few villa and “apartment” style options which look to be a bit more spacious, and something we would likely opt for if we found ourselves in the area again.
Goulding’s Lodge: Dining
In the same vein as most National Parks, you are often at the mercy of the hotels for dining accommodations, and Monument Valley is no exception. We opted to eat at the hotel for dinner since we had arrived late in the afternoon, and the Stagecoach Restaurant is their three meal-a-day option. They offer a salad bar, and while we usually like to mix in a salad on our road trips, the selections did not look appetizing. Julie and I both tried to play it safe and ordered the Beef Stew with Fry Bread (a local specialty) and Hamburger, respectively. Both weren’t anything special, but it was nice to not have to leave and drive 20+ miles to eat elsewhere.
Goulding’s Lodge: Everything Else
With Monument Valley being located a bit of a drive from everything, you can find quite a bit at Goulding’s Lodge. In addition to the lodging and dining options described above, they also offer: gas, groceries, laundry facilities, RV and camping, a museum, an Earth theater center, and tours. Should you opt to stay at the View Hotel, know that they also have a restaurant, museum, trading post (i.e. local gifts), RV and camping, as well as tours.
At the View Hotel, because you are physically within the borders of Monument Valley, the views from the rooms will be spectacular, which means you can roll out of bed to catch the sunrise. If we found ourselves back in Monument Valley again, we would likely opt to stay at the View Hotel for it’s location, but would be sure to bring our own food. We ate at the View Hotel for breakfast on our second day, and wound up with food poisoning later that day.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive: The Valley Loop
Since we had only planned to spend 24 hours in Monument Valley, we agreed that the best way for us to enjoy the park was driving the Valley Loop. The loop road begins just to the west of the main entrance to the View Hotel. For the duration of the drive, you will be on a dirt road with it’s fair share of bumps. Visiting in the winter as we did, also included the addition of some snowy sections throughout the loop. As we often do on road trips, particularly where we plan to get off the highways, we were extremely happy to have rented a sure-footed Jeep Grand Cherokee for the road.
The Valley Loop is comprised of 17 miles, and includes regular stops along the way at significant viewpoints. Before starting the drive, we encourage you to stop at the View Hotel which has an overlook into the park. We caught one of the more incredible sunrises from there with the clouds inverting below the monuments.
Once you hit the loop road there are 11 points of interest that you can stop at. Since we visited in winter, and relatively early in the day, each stop wasn’t too crowded which made it easy to take as much time as we needed. The stops are as follows:
1.) The Mittens & Merrick Butte
2.) Elephant Butte
3.) Three Sisters
4.) John Ford’s Point – made famous by the aforementioned director who filmed Stagecoach here with John Wayne. A classic (and touristy) photo at the Point is worth a quick stop, if the crowds are low.
5.) Camel Butte (Sorry! No pic of this one)
6.) The Hub
7.) Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chi
8.) Totem Pole and Sand Springs
9.) Artist’s Point
10.) North Window
11.) The Thumb
With Julie taking photos, the leisurely drive took us around two hours. In summer, and with more people around, I can imagine this drive taking longer, so be sure to plan accordingly. Additionally, there is no shade along the loop, so packing plenty of snacks and water is key, especially on a hot day. The road eventually leads you back to the main parking lot, be careful of cars that are entering the loop since the road isn’t especially wide here.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive: Forrest Gump Point
Our last stop on the way out of Monument Valley was at Forrest Gump Point. The spot made famous by the movie is the location where Forrest Gump stopped running. Located just north of Monument Valley along the way to Mexican Hat, and our eventual destination of Moab, a sign marks the spot so you can’t miss it. And of course, you can expect a number of tourists and photographers to be stopped here as well.
Looking for more things to do in the American Southwest? Check out these posts!