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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

I am pretty sure everyone knows even a little about Monument Valley.  If you haven't heard the name before, then you certainly saw it on film.  This tribal park has served as the backdrop for various films such as National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Back to the Future part III (1990), Forest Gump (1994), Disney's The Lone Ranger (2013), and a ton of old western movies. I am sure you recognize this famous backdrop, the long paved road to Monument Valley, from Forest Gump. 

What you probably didn't know, is that Monument Valley is a Tribal Park located on the Navajo Indian Reservation. The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal park was established in 1958 and covers about 30,000 acres.  The park lies on the Utah/Arizona border, with most of the monuments on the Arizona side.  The park has an entrance fee and because it is tribal land on the Navajo Indian Reservation (not National Park land) your National Park pass will not work here.  

FEES:  $20 for a car with four people, and an extra 6$ per person beyond that (kids 6 and 
under are free). If you take any guided tours (horse, jeep, etc), it is an additional cost. 

Visitor Center - has a restaurant, exhibits, restrooms, and a gift shop 
Peak Season (May 1 - Sept 30) 6:00am - 8:00pm, 7 Days a week
Off Season (Oct 1 - Apr 30) until 8:00am - 5:00pm, 7 Days a week
Thanksgiving Day - 8:00am - noon
Closed Christmas Day and New Years Day - closed

Scenic Drive Hours
Peak Season (May 1-Sept 30) 6:00am - 8:00pm 
Off Season (Oct - Apr) 8:00am - 4:30pm

The park consists of mesas, buttes, and spire rock structures, all named by early settlers of Monument Valley.  To see these monuments you can drive the seventeen mile dirt road scenic drive called "Valley Drive" through the park.  The road is unpaved with various potholes and can be very dusty.  Some sources say you need 4 wheel drive, but any car that isn't too low will work just fine.  If you came on a tour bus, RV, or large commercial vehicle, you can complete the scenic drive on one of the parks tour buggies (no windows so get ready to be covered in dust off the road). You will see the tours advertised in the parking lot by the visitors center. 

While driving around the park, you will be able to spot the 11 marked monuments on the map that can be found on the guide given at the visitors center. Enjoy the drive around the park, spotting the monuments and stopping to take in their amazing size (the monuments range from 400' to 1,000'). It's hard to believe these gargantuam monuments planted on this flat arid landscape are real or natural.  You will get a map at the entrance station, or you can see one here.  This Site explains in even more detail all the monuments you will see. 

The East and West Mitten Buttes are some of the most famous and popular monuments in the park.  They resemble a left and right mitten, and can be seen clearly from the visitors center.  Merrick Butte and Mitchel Mesa are named after two prospectors who discovered silver inside the park.  


Other famous monuments in the park are John Ford's Point, which was named after the Hollywood Director who made John Wayne famous with his old western movies.  Artists Point (below) is this amazing vista, where you can find artists painting the landscape on easles.  Along the drive, and while you stop at various scenic overlooks, you will notice various tribe members selling good such at jewelry.  

If you are up for an adventure, you can take the one non permitted hiking trail on the park, Wildcat Trail.  Besides this trail, everything else on the park has to be permitted or with a Navajo guide (for an extra cost).  There are horseback riding and hiking tours with guides, but Wildcat Trail is the only trail you can hike without a guide. 

The Wildcat Trail is a 3.8 mile loop circling West Mitten Butte.  By hiking this trail, you can really get a sense of just how large the monuments are.  The trail is well marked and sandy, giving you an extra workout as you walk along the monuments.  There is no shade, and the temperatures can be very warm especially in the summer.  Bring lots of water and sunblock, and try to hike in the off season, early morning or later afternoon. * Dogs are not allowed on the trail or anywhere besides the parking lot. You will find the trailhead by the drive entrance and visitor's center at the beginning of the park. 

If you want to stay at MV, you can stay at the campground or in the cabins overlook the monuments.   There is no backcountry camping allowed, only at designated campsites in the campground. 
  • The View Hotel- restaurant, hotel and trading post inside the park.
  • The View Campground and Cabins in the park- tent sites, RV sites, and cabins (former Mitten View Campground)
  • Gouldings Lodge- closest lodge outside the park
  • Hat Rock Inn - in Mexican Hat 22 miles north 
  • Mexican Hat Lodge 
  • Goosenecks State Park (camping)

  • Spring or fall is the best time to visit the park, as the temperatures are ideal in the 60's to 70's.  
  • Go early for the sunrise behind the mittens - the scenic drive won't be open but the early trip is worth it for the beautiful sunrise. 
  • Personal photography is allowed, but when photographing Navajo residents and their property permission is required and a gratuity is expected. Commercial photography requires a permit.
  • Dogs must be on leash, and are not allowed on the trail. (any dogs you see around the trails belong to the Navajo people).
  • No alcohol is allowed on Navajo Land
  • Visitors must stay on the scenic drive (or Wildcat Trail) unless accompanied by a Navajo guide. 
  • Use the bathroom before you go on the drive and bring water, there are no amenities in the park along the drive, only at the visitors center.
  • I read about a mysterious man with a horse, that for $5 you can get on for a photo op (sadly, I did not see man or horse).
  • Nearby attractions include:  Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Arizona is on Mountain Time but does not honor daylight savings time changes.

The park is located on US Highway 163 and is 25 miles from Mexican Hat, UT, 51 miles from Bluff, UT and 77 miles from Blanding, UT. It is also 22 miles from Kayenta, AZ and 121 miles from Page, AZ.


  1. Your photos turned out great!!! I love your little cactus image too. - Alicia @

    1. I am so thankful Ian helped me out with the exposure! I love the group shot and the one of you and Ian looking at a map. I will send you the originals without the watermark. Thanks for stopping by!


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