20 Things To Do In Monument Valley

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Monument Valley is one of the most famous and iconic places in the United States. The valley is inside the Navajo Nation, meaning it is protected and owned by the Native Americans who live there – they have their own laws and customs and even their own president. The towering rock formations, known as mesas and buttes that dominate Monument Valley have become famous through films set in the Wild West, such as The Lone Ranger, How The West Was Won and Stagecoach, directed by John Ford, who gave his name to one of the valley’s most famous locations.

Monument Valley receives thousands of visitors annually, even though it can be tricky to reach. It is spread across the Utah and Arizona border, around a 6.5-hour drive from Las Vegas or three hours from Flagstaff. The area is breathtakingly beautiful and offers plenty to do, such as the Monument Valley loop, which encompasses all the major sights, and outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and stargazing.

Monument Valley

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20 Things To Do In Monument Valley

1- Drive The Monument Valley Loop

things to do in monument valley utah
Another thing to do in Monument Valley is go explore in a motorhome.

The Monument Valley Loop, also known as the Scenic Drive, is a 17-mile drive that goes past all of the best and most famous sights in the area.

It travels along an unpaved dirt road and begins at the Visitor’s Centre.

Ideally, you’ll have a 4×4, but it can be done in any car in dry weather as long as you go slowly!

It takes a minimum of two hours, but with the number of photo stops, it can easily turn into double this.

There are two options for the drive: the first is self-drive, which is excellent for spending as long as you like exploring and taking photos at different points.

The other option is a tour guided by a local Navajo, which you can book online.

This is a great option to learn more about the area’s history, and also, many of these tours go to off-road sights that self-driving visitors aren’t allowed to go.

2- Learn About History At The Monument Valley Museum

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The famous view of the Mexican Hat Monument on US Route 163.

Before setting off on a tour or drive, make sure to visit both the Visitor’s Centre and Monument Valley Museum, located inside the former.

The museum houses a series of exhibitions and displays about Navajo history and culture, so you can learn more about the life of the people who live here and about the Navajo Nation, which is the largest in America.

There is also lots of information and leaflets on hand about tours, amenities and the local area, and it is very close to The View’s onsite restaurant, where you can enjoy a very scenic bite to eat.

If culture is your focus, you may like this cultural jeep tour.

3- Admire The Mittens

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Admiring The Mittens, the three buttes is another classic thing to do in Monument Valley.

The Mittens (East and West) are probably the most famous buttes in Monument Valley, so called because they resemble hands when seen from a certain direction.

They are some of the largest buttes and are spiritually significant to the Navajo people.

These two stunning buttes can be seen without heading onto the loop drive and from most accommodation in the area.

The Mittens have risen in popularity with visitors in March and September when you can spot ‘The Mittens Shadow’.

In this unusual biannual event, one mitten’s shadow falls perfectly on the other. You’ll see the Mittens on this popular tour.

4- Enjoy The View AT The Three Sisters

best things to do in monument valley
Three Sisters buttes and a horse at dawn in Monument Valley Tribal Park in Utah, USA.

One of the major stops on the scenic loop drive is at the Three Sisters, a huge rock formation made up of three spindly pinnacles.

They also look like a giant letter W.

This is one of the most scenic spots in Monument Valley, and if you’re visiting on a tour, they usually stop for a short time to allow you to take photos of the sisters and the panoramic view nearby across most of the valley.

A small Navajo shop also sells pretty handmade jewellery and gifts.

As this is such a popular point, it’s wise to go early, as it gets crowded later in the day.

5- Get A Lone Rider Photo At John Ford Point

things to see and do in monument valley young woman wearing straw hat in Monument Valley.
Looking for things to do in Monument Valley? Check out our top 20.

John Ford Point is the most famous spot in Monument Valley, if not the whole state of Arizona.

It is named after John Ford, who directed some of the most famous Western movies filmed here and made actor John Wayne a worldwide success.

The overlook has panoramic views over the entire area, including sights such as The Mittens, Merrick Butte and Sentinel Mesa.

Naturally, John Ford Point gets super crowded, so you may need to wait in line for photos if you arrive late, however you can explore the local shop or grab a small bite to eat.

For a unique souvenir, you can also pay $5 for an iconic ‘Lone Rider’ photo on a wooden horse. You’ll see John Ford Point on this popular tour.

6- Gaze Up At The Totem Pole

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Monument Valley Totem Pole sunrise.

The Totem Pole is the most well-known of the thinner buttes you can see on the scenic drive and is a giant rock spire that has been extensively eroded over thousands of years.

The spire is the tallest in the world, standing at 400 feet high.

Totem Pole is next to other similar outcrops of spires known as Yei Bi Chei, and many others are dotted around the park.

The formation was named Totem Pole by the Navajos as it is traditionally a spiritual market created by tribes out of wood.

The locals have uniquely named the buttes and mesas in the park.

7- Hike The Wildcat Nature Trail

Monument Valley does not have many hiking options since it is not a national park and some areas are restricted, but if you’re keen to explore on foot, then the Wildcat Trail is the best option.

The trail is a four-mile loop around Monument Valley’s most scenic locations – you’ll immediately feel like you’ve stepped back into the Wild West, so don’t forget your camera.

The self-guided trail begins by the Visitor’s Centre car park and usually takes around two to three hours.

You’ll need a park entry permit and plenty of water; the trail is mostly sand and Monument Valley can get excessively hot in the summertime.

8- Explore A Hogan Village

A Hogan is a traditional hut in which the Native Americans used to live.

Nowadays, the younger generations live in ordinary houses, but many of the elders still reside in huts constructed out of mud and left to harden in the sun.

There is just one room for the whole family with a fireplace in the centre and a hole in the ceiling to let out smoke, and inside, the structure is secured with huge logs.

The floor is completely bare, and the open door always faces the mountains since these are spiritual places for the locals.

Many tours (such as this tour) visit at least one Hogan, or even a Hogan village, where you can see inside and learn more about the ceremonies that take place inside Hogans and the traditional weaving and cooking they do.

For a unique experience, try an overnight stay so you can sit around a campfire and listen to stories and learn more about the Navajo culture.

9- Grab A Photo At Big Hogan Arch

Big Hogan Arch is an important spot on the scenic drive and is not an actual Hogan.

Like many rocks here, it is named as it looks like a Hogan made by mother nature – a giant smooth red rock formation with a perfectly shaped hole in the ceiling, as you would find in a Hogan hut.

There is the main Big Hogan Arch, and next to it, a smaller but very similar one, and often when stopping here, a local Navajo tribe member will stand underneath the arch playing traditional music, so it’s worth staying for a while to have a listen. This tour will get you there.

10- Climb The Sand Dune At Ear of the Wind

things to do in the monument valley area
A giant hole in rock face at the Ear of the Wind arch.

The Ear of the Wind looks very similar to Hogan Arch in that it is a giant red rock formation with an even bigger circle carved out of the centre, caused by millions of years of natural erosion from wind and sand.

The name seems to come from the shape of the rock, which looks like an ear, and the wind blowing through it creates several sand dunes.

To reach it, you’ll need to climb one of the biggest sand dunes, which offers beautiful views from the top, and there is also a lone tree.

If you stand in the right spot it will be perfectly aligned in the centre of the ‘ear’. This tour will get you there.

11- Stay At The View

As Monument Valley is protected land, accommodation options are few and far between.

There are one or two low-priced B&Bs, but the best places to stay to make this an unforgettable trip are The View or Goulding’s Lodge.

The View is in a prime location, overlooking the Monument Valley Loop, The Mittens and many other iconic sights.

The hotel has its own campground for tents and RVs, plus standard inside rooms, but for a special occasion, try to book one of the balcony rooms to wake up to an epic sunrise across the whole vista – but plan ahead, as The View gets booked up months in advance.

12- Stock Up At Goulding’s Lodge

The next best place to stay is Goulding’s Lodge, which sits in the shadow of a large mesa and has equally cool views over the valley, just slightly further away.

They have a range of rooms, including the sought-after ones with balconies.

However, Goulding’s is a much-loved choice because it’s far more than a hotel.

Since Monument Valley is self-contained, the nearest town is Kayenta.

If you need supplies, head to Goulding’s, which has its own supermarket, restaurant, souvenir shop, museum, gas station and laundry block.

They also offer some of the best scenic drive tours, including sunset and sunrise trips.

13- Go On A Sunrise or Sunset Tour

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Enjoying the sunsets is one of the things to do in Monument Valley as it has a unique nature landscape.

Seeing Monument Valley at sunrise or sunset is one of the best times to explore.

You’ll find that although there are standard tours during the day, many places offer either a sunset or sunrise trip.

This is because scenic drive tours last up to four hours, and temperatures can get extremely hot if you visit outside of winter.

The light is also better at these times – Monument Valley is very flat besides the mesas and buttes, so sunrise and sunsets are normally full of colour, and you can catch a stunning photo at John Ford Point or the Three Sisters at just the right time.

14- Run Along The Road At Forrest Gump Point

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One of the cool things to do in Monument Valley is to visit Forest Gump Point.

Not directly inside Monument Valley, Forrest Gump Point should not be missed if you’re a fan of the film, or are just looking for an epic view of the valley.

Only around a 15-minute drive from the Visitor’s Centre, you’ll know you’ve reached it when you start having to avoid tourists in the middle of the highway.

There’s plenty of space to park, and no matter what time of day you go, there will be people taking photos and pretending to run along the road like Forrest Gump himself.

There are also a few stalls selling Navajo jewellery.

Even if you just visit to take in the view, it’s a worthy detour.

15- Go Stargazing

Monument Valley lies in an arid desert area of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

The Native Americans have not built any large cities here, so there is no light pollution, making it ideal for stargazing.

Stargazing tours are offered online and by hotels like The View, and in the right conditions, you can see millions of stars and constellations in the sky.

Usually, tours have a guide who can point out stars and planets and include a telescope for a close-up look.

They stop at points like The Mittens and Forrest Gump Hill, and generally, guides are familiar with astrophotography if you want to get an amazing shot of the mesas and buttes against the night sky.

16- Go Horse-riding

things to do in oljato monument valley people on horse back
One of the things to do in Monument Valley is to go horseback riding.

There is arguably no better way to fully immerse yourself in the rural western landscapes of Monument Valley than by exploring on horseback.

Armed with a cowboy hat and a trusty steed, you’ll get to ride around one or two of the main sites, such as The Mittens or Sentinel Mesa.

There are a few tours available, but Sacred Tours runs dedicated trips with a local and even caters to beginners, with one-hour trips around The Mittens.

There are also tours for more experienced riders; usually, you’ll just need comfy clothes, water and a camera.

Since the Navajos traditionally rode horses, this is one of the most authentic ways to experience the area with a local guide.

17- Shop At The Navajo Markets

If you have some spare time, check out the many Navajo markets, shops and stalls you can find in Monument Valley.

There are dedicated shops around the Visitor’s Centre, but there are also individual stalls on the scenic loop and at Forrest Gump Point.

You can find incredible hand-painted artwork, locally-made jewellery and souvenirs and also stunning handwoven rugs, for which the Navajo people are most famous – one rug can take up to a year to weave by hand.

You can also find some cool photography prints and other artwork for sale, and it’s a great way to give back to the local community.

18- Wander Around Kayenta

things to do in monument valley
Monument Valley, Arizona, USA.

If you’re not lucky enough to secure a stay in Monument Valley, the only other place to stay is the town of Kayenta, just a short drive south.

The town is still a part of the huge Navajo Nation, meaning it has its own laws and customs.

It’s convenient to stay, with a few different food and accommodation options and distant views over the Mittens and Merrick buttes.

In the centre is the Navajo Welcome Centre and a couple of different Navajo tour operators where you can book Monument Valley trips, as well as the Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise, which sells local artwork.

19- Go Camping

things to do in monument valley national park
Staying in wigwams or tepees is one of the cool things to do in Monument Valley.

For a more rustic and authentic way to experience Monument Valley (or just to save money or if you missed out on a room), consider camping here instead.

There are a couple of campgrounds, including one at The View, Monument Valley KOA, Goulding’s and the Monument Valley Campground, all inside the valley.

All of these also have spaces for RVs and tents if you’re road-tripping through the area.

Campsites are simple to reserve online but get snapped up quickly, and most have shower facilities, a convenience store for camping supplies and hot food stands, not to mention the epic views you’ll get in these locations.

20- Join A Photography Tour

Anyone who comes to Monument Valley without a phone or camera in hand has forgotten an essential, and most people take hundreds of photos simply because the area is photogenic throughout the year.

Taking a photography tour is the best way to get amazing shots for those interested in more than snapping on an iPhone.

Tours usually occur at sunrise or sunset to catch the golden hour light (and avoid the harsh midday sun).

Guides will be experienced photographers who can ensure you go to the best photography spots and have all the right settings to capture those photos.

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India Jayne trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.