7 Top Things to See and Do in Monument Valley

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Looking for what to do if you’ve got a day or afternoon to spend in Monument Valley? I was there in October of 2016-a great time to visit as it wasn’t too hot or cold. Here are some of the best things I found to do there:

sunrise monument valley
Watching the beautiful sunrise or sunset is always a great option!

Monument Valley Tribal Park & Visitor’s Center

Monument Valley is on the Navajo reservation located on the border of Arizona and Utah, and as such, the main park area is run by the Navajo. It is not a National Park, so you can’t use a park pass to get in. There is an admission fee, check the Navajo Park website for up to date pricing!

Monument Valley Tribal Park Museum
Monument Valley Tribal Park Museum, Gift Shop, The View Restaurant & Hotel

Check out the Museum, View area, Restaurant, and Gift Shop

There’s exhibits with lots to read about the Navajo code talkers from WWII, displays of traditional clothing and jewelry, and history on the area. Now, I’ll be honest, after seeing a lot of National Park visitor’s centers and museum, this is a lot less spectacular. They simply don’t have the budget big parks do, but paying the entry fee supports the natives that live in the area, and if you’re only going there once in your life I think it’s totally worth it. The gift shop is a bit of a museum onto itself with tons of beautiful silver Navajo jewelry and other crafts to look at. They really are amazing artisans.

Be sure not to miss the view out in the back on the patio. We packed our own lunch for the day and sat there eating and just enjoying it.
That’s the View Hotel on the right. An interesting fact is all the rooms face the east, which is traditional Navajo custom.

Go for a tour on the 17 mile Scenic Drive

You can drive your own car, but it is an unpaved road, and parts are rougher so you may want a 4 wheel drive vehicle if you go. We were told you can turn back around if the road got to rough for you though. We had a rental car so we opted not to go, that and we didn’t have a whole lot of time there overall.  If you don’t want to drive your own car, they do offer tours that will take you through the drive as well for an extra price.

A panorama of the view from the patio viewing area. This is also the view you see if you stay at their hotel. Talk about an amazing sunrise!

Hike the Wildcat trail

It’s a 3.2 mile trail that goes around the Western Mitten Butte and is said to take up to 2 hours. Unfortunately there’s not much else in the way of hiking trails here unless you go with a guide.

That’s the West Mitten Butte on the right that you would walk around on the Wild Cat Trail.

Go horseback riding!

We were only in Monument Valley for the afternoon and part of the morning, so we simply didn’t have the time, but if I ever went back I’d love to go for a horseback ride through the valley! What a beautiful place to do it and experience the west! There were stables right near the visitor’s center offering rides.

Take a Navajo Guided Tour

There’s not a whole lot you can do on your own in the valley as they don’t want tourists running around and messing things up. A lot of sites have religious significance to the Navajo. So if you want to take a longer hike or get off the tourist path, you’ll have to go with a Navajo guided tour or get a special permit.
Places to look into if you’re interested are Lower Monument Valley, Mystery Valley-where you can see some petroglyphs and ancient dwellings, and Hunt’s Mesa for incredible views.

The View on the way to Goulding’s

Visit Goulding’s Lodge

If you are a fan of John Wayne and old western movies, this is totally the place to go. It’s not far at all, just follow the road going out of the tribal park and go straight at the intersection. You can’t miss the signs. There’s a museum that’s completely free to go into and browse that has old papers with John Wayne and other famous actor’s signatures on it and all kinds of memorabilia. Also there is a gift shop, restaurant, and hotel and campground. It’s worth it to check out for the view of Monument Valley alone!

This was apparently John Wayne’s Cabin from one of the movie sets they filmed here. It was also really neat being up close to those big red cliffs and buttes!
Signatures of John Wayne and other famous actors, along with some beautiful old drawings! There were pages of these that you can flip through. This was located in the museum at Goulding’s.
Beautiful view of the valley with an old time stagecoach.
Another view down the road looking towards where we came from at the tribal park.
It was worth it coming up here for the views alone! As the sun started to set the monuments started to light up with a golden glow.

Go Camping!

And lastly, if you’re going to stay the night, I highly recommend to go camping! It was a highlight of our trip to camp under the stars and sit at a campfire right in Monument Valley. There are several campgrounds in the area, you can bring your own tent, or stay at a place that has one already set up for you. We chose the latter and stayed in a big canvas tent that had cozy beds in it. It was October when we went, and it did get windy and cold at night, but in the tent we had no problem staying warm enough.

*You can read about my camping experience along with places to stay here!

The sunset was just spectacular!
camping in Monument Valley
We lighted a campfire, and sat and watched as the stars came out over the monuments.

If you want to know more about the history and people of Monument Valley before you go, here’s a book I recommend: Monument Valley: The Story Behind the Scenery

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18 thoughts on “7 Top Things to See and Do in Monument Valley”

  1. Just added this to my bucket list! I am super interested in Native American culture in general so I could definitely spend a few hours here!

    • Oh yeah you should, and if you get a chance to talk to some locals–best bet is to stay at a place owned by them(our campground was). Some people are friendly and can tell you more of the area and their culture 🙂

    • It is beautiful! It’s not a national park though actually it belongs to the Navajo, so it’s a park on their land and has a separate entrance fee. Just in case you go and were wondering 🙂

  2. Wow what a beautiful place! I would love to camp there and watch stars! Horse riding also seems like a cool idea and I would almost feel transported back in time by doing that. Incredible photos! 🙂

    • Thanks so much! I would have loved to go horse riding as well, but it was a bit pricey and we only had so much time so we opted not to. If we go again though it’s definitely one of the things I want to do-will make you really feel like you’re in a western movie!

  3. Wow, this looks amazing. It really makes you feel like you’re part of a western movie, doesn’t it? I’d love to see it with my own eyes. I’d love to go for a tour on the scenic drive. It looks spectacular. I like that the money you pay to visit, buy souvenirs etc goes to supporting the natives.

    • Yes there’s a whole town of people that live right in Monument Valley, and other towns nearby. All the workers there were Navajo, so tourism in these places is a big livelihood for them.

  4. I’m planning a trip cross country and plan to hit Utah and Arizona. This awesome guide of what to do in Monument Valley couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I’ve bookmarked it for my planning process!

  5. This is such a practical guide to Monument Valley. Well done! I would also love to try the horse riding tour, and camping under the stars sounds amazing too.

  6. Nice little read. I would only be interested in the camping under the stars. Some great photos as well.

  7. I never knew you could not explore most of this place on your own. I have always wanted to visit and this gives me a good guide of alternatives. I think I would love the 17 mile drive and would have to make sure I have the appropriate car for it or plan to take the tour as you mentioned. I also like hiking but since you cannot go on your own not sure I would wind up doing it. Thanks for this great guide.

    • You’re welcome glad it helped you a bit! 🙂 Yeah I love hiking too and was disappointed to learn there’s just one trail really open in the park.

  8. It looks very wild wild west! I love your honesty about the museum’s lacklustre appeal. But I think that you’re right, since the money supports the natives that live in the area, I think I’d pay it as well even if I’m already warned of what I may or may not find inside.

    • Thanks! And I probably should have made it a bit clearer, it’s $20 not just for the museum, but to go on the 17 mile drive, wildcat trail, or on any of the premise of the main part of Monument Valley. Some people say it’s too much of a price and opt just to drive on through on the highway-which indeed you can see the monuments from too, but if you want to stop and sit down for a while and enjoy the view, the Tribal Park is worth it in my opinion 🙂


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