I’m going to do a little Tour Leader spiel on you guys and drop some knowledge, ok? Monument Valley is what you think of when you think old western movies. Classics like John Wayne and Stagecoach were shot here back in the day. It’s also known as the place that Forrest Gump stopped running… which means obligatory jumping photos on the road. Obviously.
Although the view from the visitor center is often breathtaking enough, nothing compares to driving through it—especially when you take one of the overnight tours offered by the Navajos there.
I know, I know. Me on a tour? Before this summer, I never would’ve considered doing a tour. However, after running a few of these… for instances like visiting Navajo Nation, I would definitely take a tour. It’s something that’s offered by the native people there and without their guidance, you definitely wouldn’t be allowed in backcountry. Similar to when traveling in Morocco, I’m glad I took the tour because I would’ve had no idea what to do in the Sahara on my own.
Usually we take a jeep tour through backcountry Monument Valley (can you say untouched??), have Navajo tacos, which are the best things on earth, and are gifted the ancient war dances of their tribe. At night, we fall asleep under the stars (or in their hogan if you’re not brave enough), surrounded by shadowy, giant, colossal buttes. I swear I haven’t seen the stars like that since camping under the stars in the Sahara.
Just knowing that you’re the only ones out there… but feeling overwhelming encompassed by the safety of the towering buttes… is nothing like I’ve experienced. This land has been preserved exactly the way it was back in the day (minus some treads from the jeeps, of course) and it’s so rare seeing something like this.
The next day, after a brutally early wake-up call, we huddle together to watch the sun crest over the monuments of Monument Valley. As it makes its way up in the sky, the air around us grows still like everyone is holding their breath. And they are. Because it’s the most breathtaking thing in the world.
It’s experiences like this that make me want to shout from the rooftops, utterly and ridiculously happy that I do what I do. It’s moments like this where, after answering the same question 500 times because they weren’t listening, I can still laugh with and love my passengers.
Monument Valley is conveniently located between Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. It’s quite easy to string all of these together to make one EPIC trip.
If you just wanted to revel in the landscape, the drive itself towards Monument Valley is awesome enough to drink in. Don’t forget to pull off around mile marker 13 for the classic Forrest Gump photo on US Highway 163.
Once you reach the ticket booths for paid access into Monument Valley, you’re able to drive along the dirt road, which is a 17-mile loop. This is pretty easy, gives you KILLER views… as long as you have a 4-wheel drive. Please note that cars in the Tribal Park must stay on the trails. Anything else is considered quite rude.
There is ONE route you can hike while in Monument Valley: The Wildcat Trail. It’s a 3.2-mile trail around the West Mitten Butte. There are also a couple of campgrounds—not inside the valley itself—for that extra experience. I highly recommend this.
But what I most recommend would be to take an overnight tour with the Navajos, sleeping either in their traditional hogans or outside. Included in these overnight tours is a chance to see the back country—views of the buttes and remote places that few visitors ever see in their lives. At night, they provide dinner (those Navajo tacos that I’ve been dreaming about since last summer), and perform some traditional dances. Although I’m a bit skeptical of making ancient traditions into a form of entertainment, it’s a joy seeing how well they’ve preserved these customs in a form of celebration.
After dinner, they take you to their hogans, where you’ll spend the night. These nights were undoubtedly the highlight of my tour guiding experience. The amount of light pollution out there is basically nonexistent. And then, the next morning, they’ll gently wake you up, and bring you to one of the most perfect places to watch the sunrise.
These tour operators usually offer a sunset tour as well, if a hogan is out of the question, which it is if I’m bringing my grandma there later this year!
Where to Stay
There are two options: Gouldings and The View, both cater to all types of travelers and both quite close to the park if you happen to arrive too late. Located across the street from the Tribal Park, they each offer campsites, hotel rooms, and cabins. Camping is my preference, but the other two seem to be good options from what I can tell. And you get to wake up to that amazing view, right across the street.
At the base of the road, there’s a little convenience store for everything that you can possibly need within a day or two. Alcohol is typically not permitted when on Navajo grounds, so you won’t find that in the store.
Have you ever visited Monument Valley?