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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:
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. The cost as of 2018 is $20 for a car of up to 4 people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For information about tours to these places, the Navajo Parks website lists a bunch of tour companies: http://navajonationparks.org/htm/monumentvalleytours.htm
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!
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!
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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