My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Take a scenic drive in Monument Valley

2013/03/26by Donna Hull

Updated 08.01.2013

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Are you interested in the natural landscape of the American Southwest? Grab your camera! A scenic drive in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the border of Arizona and Utah places you in the middle of nature’s wonderland of spires, buttes and red rock creations.

Sun rising at Monument Valley

Seeing the sunrise at Monument Valley is a must do!

To make the most of a scenic drive in Monument Valley, arrive before the sun rises. No, you won’t be able to begin the drive, but you don’t want to miss the chance to photograph the sun rising behind East and West Mittens. And arriving early gives you a chance to try Navajo fry-bread for breakfast at the View Restaurant in the Visitor’s Center before Valley Drive, the 17-mile road through Monument Valley, opens for traffic.

The Three Sisters extend from Mitchell Mesa

Notice the earth’s layers at the base of The Three Sisters (stop #3 on the scenic drive)

General admission to drive the 17-mile scenic loop road is $5 per person, ages 9 or younger are free (2013). But if you really want to learn about Navajo history and culture, plus have access to off-limit areas, hire a guide. Admittance hours change according to the season, so check the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park website when planing your trip.

Monument Valley horse corral

These horses have a gorgeous view of John Ford’s Point (stop #4)

After negotiating the steep (and sometimes rough) first 1/2 mile down Mitchell Mesa into the valley, the road levels out. Although you’ll read advice that a 4-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary, that’s not the case. However, you do not want to be in a low riding vehicle as you could experience a few clearance issues. And don’t rush—this journey is about taking it slow to appreciate (and photograph) the view.

Pinnacles at the edge of Rain God Mesa

A zoomed-in view of the Pinnacles at the edge of Rain God Mesa (near stop #6)

The scenic drive in Monument Valley includes 11 numbered stops. The American Southwest website has an especially good description of each stop included in the loop. Plan on spending at least two to four hours to get the most out of the experience.

Hunt Mesa looms behind Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole formations

Hunt Mesa looms behind Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole formations (stop #7)

Visitors must stay near the road and are not allowed to hike toward any of the formations unless accompanied by a paid guide. Be sure to bring drinking water as there are no facilities in the valley, not even restrooms.

Closeup from Artist's Point in Monument Valley

Closeup view from Artist’s Point (stop #9)

Monument Valley has been the location for many movies and television shows. Boomers will remember our parent’s favorite western —the John Ford movie, Stagecoach, starring John Wayne. Easy Rider and Forrest Gump are two more familiar movies with scenes that were shot in the valley. But did you know that Clint Eastwood was filmed atop one of the spires for The Eiger Sanction?

view from North Window in Monument Valley

An artistic look through North Window (stop #10)

As your vehicle climbs up the rocky road onto Mitchell mesa, you”ll look back in awe at at the natural wonder that you’ve just witnessed. Do you still have enough energy for a hike? Before leaving Monument Valley, get out of the car for the 3.2-mile journey around West Mitten Butte.

Where do you stay in Monument Valley? Kayenta is the closest town (23 miles to the south) with lodging; but I’d rather wake up with a Monument Valley view outside my window. If you agree with me, then plan to stay at The View (the Navajo hotel at Monument Valley) or Gouldings Lodge.  Although Gouldings doesn’t have the same killer view, you’ll be surrounded by legends of the historic trading post turned lodge.

To escape the tourist crowd, drive 33 miles north on Highway 163 to Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast, or even a few miles farther north to Desert Rose Inn in Bluff, Utah. Both accommodations make a great headquarters for visiting other sites in the area such as Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park, Cedar Mesa, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyon de Chelly and more.

As I mentioned earlier, those choosing the self-drive option in Monument Valley must stay on the main road. The next time Alan and I visit the area, we’ll book a Navajo guide for a trip through Mystery Valley and perhaps a night of communing with nature while camping under the stars on Hunts Mesa. Although the scenery is stunning in its own right, the real meaning of a trip to Monument Valley comes when one learns about the culture and history from the Navajo point of view.

Have you taken the scenic drive in Monument Valley? Did you go on your own or hire a guide? Post a comment to share your experience with us. Alan and I will definitely be hiring a guide on our next visit.

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I have included an Amazon Link to the movies mentioned in this article. However My Itchy Travel Feet does receive a small percentage for purchases made at Amazon.com.

My article is part of a nature-themed blog carnival hosted at Green Global TravelBe sure to check out all the nature related posts, they’ll give new meaning to Earth Day, which is April 22, 2013.


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

jill March 26, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Beautiful pics, guys!! I miss that area so much. We didn’t get a guide when we went there (being broke college students), but would love to if we ever come back. It’s always a big improvement of the experience knowing the context of what we’re seeing.
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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 7, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Having a guide makes a difference. We’d like to go back to explore Monument Valley with a private Navajo guide.

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Heatheronhertravels
Twitter:
March 27, 2013 at 3:17 am

That’s a really iconic American landscape, great for photographers and I think I would definitely try and hire a guide as you suggest to get a close up view and more informationa bout this area
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Donna Hull
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August 7, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Monument Valley is an iconic Western landscape. So many western movies and TV shows were filmed here.

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sheryl March 28, 2013 at 5:23 pm

So very beautiful. I must go! Fabulous photos.
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Donna Hull
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August 7, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Hope you get there, Sheryl. It’s an experience that every American should have.

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Living Large April 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I’ve always wanted to see this, it is definitely on my list. Great photography!
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Donna Hull
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April 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Kerri, Monument Valley is such a mix – that’s why I find it so interesting. You have this beautiful natural setting but then there are the touristic trappings that surround it as well as Navajo trying to be true to their culture. Very interesting.
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HeatherL
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April 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm

That’s one of the filming sites for The Lone Ranger. It really is awe-inspiring. You took great photos.
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Donna Hull
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April 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Heather, I didn’t know it was a filming location for the Lone Ranger. Cool. Glad you enjoyed the photos.
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Kris
Twitter:
April 1, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Alright. I’ll admit it. I have exactly no desire to travel through this region. Your photos are great, and I know I should *want to see this, but I just don’t.
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Donna Hull
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April 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Kris, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to visit a certain place. Before I moved to Arizona, the idea of living in the desert was unappealing to me. It took spending time there to understand the beauty of the place.
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Alexandra April 3, 2013 at 10:08 am

These photos are spectacular. I’ve visited Monument Valley but remember Valley of the Gods better. Why? Because it turned out to be a one-lane dirt road with no place to turn around. I wish we had stuck with the more touristy main road. I had kids in the car and felt very vulnerable, so much so that it ruined that part of our trip for me.
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Donna Hull
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August 7, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Oh no, sorry to hear that Alexandra. We love Valley of the Gods but I can see where it would be intimidating by yourself.

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Jane Boursaw
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April 4, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Oh, your photos just make me weep with joy, they’re so beautiful. Southwest U.S. is definitely on our list of must-travel-to places.
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Donna Hull
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April 8, 2013 at 8:19 am

Don’t weep, Jane. Get in the car and go!
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Linda ~ Journey Jottings
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April 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm

If you love landscape its hard not to be head over heels with joy seeing your gorgeous photos and an immediate – I’ve gotta go there response!

I’ve definitely gotta go there ;)
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Donna Hull
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April 8, 2013 at 8:18 am

Linda, thanks for the lovely comments. I’ll tell Alan how much you enjoyed his photos.
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Patti
Twitter:
April 5, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Absolutely love the American Southwest. We’ve visited so many times/sites but haven’t yet made it to Monument Valley. It’s on the list though and good tip to know about the guide! Lovely photos.
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Donna Hull
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April 8, 2013 at 8:18 am

Hope you make it to Monument Valley soon, Patti. And I recommend driving on up the road to check out Valley of the Gods and Bluff, Utah.
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santafetravelers April 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

The southwest offers such amazing landscapes. We’ love exploring and discovering new ones.
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Donna Hull
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April 8, 2013 at 8:17 am

I agree, Billie. And there’s so much to see in the Southwest. It often reminds me of photos from Australia’s outback or areas in Jordan.
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Cathy Sweeney
Twitter:
April 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I’ve taken the drive through Monument Valley a couple of times in my life and loved doing it again through your photos. The Three Sisters always stands out for me for some reason. Beautiful place on earth!
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Donna Hull
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August 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm

The three sisters is definitely a unique formation. I enjoy all of it!

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Iain Mallory
Twitter:
April 11, 2013 at 10:47 am

I often forget how how stunning the US landscape can be so many places I haven’t visited there and need to. Monument Valley certainly qualifies for that list. A roadtrip seems on the cards one day, hope its not too long before I do.
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Donna Hull
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April 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm

When your western road trip rolls around, let me know. I’ll be happy to suggest itineraries.
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Gaelyn April 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

Seems every time I go that way I just end up driving through. Really need to stop and enjoy the area more.
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Donna Hull
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April 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Gaelyn, there’s so much more to Monument Valley than the scenic drive. It’s why I want to go back.
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MyKidsEatSquid April 12, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Gorgeous photographs–it makes me miss the Southwest. What kind of camera are you using?

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Donna Hull
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April 15, 2013 at 4:45 pm

These photos are a mix of mine and Alan’s. I use a Panasonic Lumix and Alan uses a Canon5D.
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Leigh
Twitter:
April 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I would so much love to do this drive one day – and will. I’ll also take your advice about where to stay. Your photos are terrific. I think I like the sunrise shot best – just beautiful.
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Traveling Ted April 22, 2013 at 10:57 am

Amazing photographs of Monument Valley with great tips. $5.00 a person is quite a bargain.That is .29 cents a mile. I am a big fan of scenic buttes so thanks for posting so many butteful shots.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for figuring out the cost per mile Traveling Ted. When you look at it that way, the drive in Monument Valley is definitely a bargain.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 7, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Thanks, Leigh. Glad you enjoyed the sunrise. You should have seen it in person.

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Life Images by Jill August 13, 2013 at 11:09 pm

stunning landscapes – I can almost see the cowboys and Indians and the calvalry charging through the desert from here! Have a wonderful week, and thank you for stopping by my blog this week.

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Donna Hull
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August 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Lots of western TV shows and movies have been filmed in Monument Valley. Glad you enjoyed the article and photos.
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noel August 20, 2013 at 7:58 pm

wow, that is a gorgeous place, hopefully I’ll get to travel to some of these amazing locations in the west, beautiful!
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Barbara August 21, 2013 at 11:56 am

Hi Donna and Alan, I’m new to your site and I’m really enjoying reading your post and I’m looking forward to following along. I love this article on Monument Valley as it’s one of favorite places to visit when we are in the area. We have always gone on our own and thoroughly enjoyed the drive with so much scenic beauty to see. I love your photos of the area. Happy Travels!
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Gabriel
Twitter:
August 24, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I lived in Maryland for 20 years and never realized how much beauty the States actually had to offer. It was only a couple of years ago that I started hiking in the Great Falls and started seeing how much diversity could be found so close to me.
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Michael
Twitter:
November 15, 2013 at 9:31 am

Donna,

Planning a trip there so these were great tips. Very helpful to know we can drive on our own through the valley.

Cheers,

Michael
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John March 29, 2014 at 5:58 am

This place is truly Amazing! It is like the hill towns of Italy . . . even if you try you cannot take a bad photo there! Nice write up.

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Twitter:
August 29, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I did this drive many moons ago, on my own, actually with my sister, in our VW hippie bus. We camped out in the valley. Spectacular!
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