5 Things You Need To Know About Exploring Monument Valley

Explore one of the West's most iconic landscapes.

By: Hillary + Matt
January 4, 2016

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It's easy to see why Monument Valley has left countless visitors spellbound. Aside from its fame as a western movie set, the area's fragile pinnacles and windblown sand are infused with a kind of magic that can't be felt anywhere else.

However, other than the spectacular landscape, the park really doesn't have many of the things one might associate with the "wild west." Rather, an introduction to the Navajo culture is what awaits.

So, if you’re thinking about visiting Monument Valley on your next trip, here’s the lowdown on what to expect when you arrive. Trust us, we’ve done the legwork.

Photo: Hillary + Matt

1. You can camp there.

The best part of our experience was being able to stay at the park's primitive campground, which was $21 per night for the two of us, and overlooked the West and East Mitten Buttes. While researching places to stay in the area, all we could find was information about The View hotel (also within the park) and Goulding’s Campground. We had no idea you could camp within the park until we got there. Note: You have to book in person or call to reserve a spot (especially if you’d rather trade your tent for a little log cabin). And the views are so, so worth it.

2. There is only one do-it-yourself hike.

Other than the 3.2-mile roundtrip Wildcat Hike, there are no hikes for visitors of the park unless accompanied by a Navajo escort. The hike circles around the base of the West Mitten Butte and is quite exposed (this is the desert after all). Go early in the morning or late-evening and bring water.

3. Some of the best monuments can only be seen on a tour.

Because Monument Valley is located on the Navajo Reservation, a vast parcel of land spanning portions of Western New Mexico, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, the park is regulated very carefully. All of its attractions hold a spiritual significance for the Navajo and as such, visitors may not venture off the main park road to view those sites up close without a Navajo escort. But the guides, generally crowding the parking lot of the Visitors Center, are very easy to spot. If you don’t want to pay for a tour and you’d rather go at your own pace, most of the iconic monuments (think The Mittens) can be seen from the comfort of your own car on the self-guided tour.

Photo: Hillary + Matt

4. The fee to enter the park isn’t covered by a National Parks pass.

Very few of the parks/ recreation areas on Navajo land fall under the scope of the $80 National Parks pass that you can purchase. The general admission fee for a car of four is $20 (that price goes up if you have more than four people in there). Keep the receipt you receive at the entrance kiosk if you are planning to stay overnight/ visit multiple days in a row. The receipt allowed us to arrive at 5 p.m. and was valid the entire next day without paying an additional $20 fee.

5. You don’t need a 4x4 to explore.

Driving through the park doesn't require a 4x4 vehicle (we did fine in our little Nissan Altima), but we do recommend having a durable vehicle that can withstand unpaved, pockmarked dirt-and-gravel roads if electing to venture out by yourself. The beginning of the drive is the worst - the incline is steep and there are some major rocks jutting up from the roadway - but the rest is pretty smooth sailing if you take it at a reasonable pace. We clocked in at about 45 minutes to get from the entrance to the last viewing area on the self-guided tour with no stops.

Photo: Hillary + Matt

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.