Monument Valley Utah

Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Monument Valley Without A Tour

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Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve seen Monument Valley.  You know what Monument Valley is.  And you probably want to visit.  Well, good news!  It’s easy to visit and I’m going to make it even easier with this guide to visiting Monument Valley without a tour.  Don’t worry though, I’ll still tell you a little bit about the tours, too.

Monument Valley Arizona

Where is Monument Valley

Monument Valley is kind of in the middle of nowhere on the border of southeast Utah and Arizona.  It’s located on Navajo land on US Route 163.  I’ve included maps with directions from three places that you will likely be coming from to get to Monument Valley.  Of course, people visit Monument Valley from all over, but these are three common road trip stops in the area.

How much is Monument Valley

The entrance fee for Monument Valley is $20 per vehicle and a national park pass will not work here since it isn’t a national park.  It’s a Navajo Tribal Park and operates under a different system.

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When to visit Monument Valley

Personally, I think fall is the best time to visit.  The weather is pretty much perfect and it’s a little less busy than mid-summer.  But really, there isn’t a bad time to go unless you really, really hate super hot weather.

Spring

The temperatures will be really nice in the spring, usually in the 60’s or low 70’s.  Spring can get pretty windy though, usually April and May, but it’s not every day.

Summer

Expect temperatures to be in the high nineties and low hundreds in June, July, and August.  In late summer you can expect a little more rain, but it’s still nothing to cancel a trip over.  August, September, and October get the most precipitation.  This will be the busiest time.

Fall

My favorite time to go, the temperatures are usually in the 70’s and 80’s, depending on how early/late you visit.  It’s not usually super windy in the fall (it was the first time I went in October) but the second time (also October) it was perfect.  Rain is more likely in the fall like I mentioned above.

Winter

The coldest time to go, but also probably the least busy and most likely to see it with a little snow, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.

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Monument Valley Hours

Visitor center hours

Peak Season (May 1 – Sept 30) 6:00am – 8:00pm
Off Season (Oct 1 – Apr 30) 8:00am – 5:00pm

Park hours

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

You can stay in the park after closing hours, you just have to be in the park by this time.  And I would recommend staying for sunset if you weren’t there in time for sunrise.  Just make sure you get into the visitor center before it closes.

How long do you need in Monument Valley

If you’re not terribly concerned about seeing sunrise or sunset, one day is fine.  If you’re planning to stay the night, an afternoon and a morning should be plenty of time unless you’re doing a tour, too.  If you’re driving yourself and just doing the hike and stops, 5-6 hours should be plenty of time.

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Self-driving Monument Valley

This is what you’re here for, right?  The scenic drive is a 17 mile loop taking you through the park to all of the scenic spots.  There are 11 buttes to see along the drive  You’ll be up close to a few and further from others.  My personal favorites view-wise are the mittens and the view from Artist Point Overlook.

The drive is a dirt road, but 4 wheel-drive/high clearance isn’t necessary.  The only time it might be is if it’s been really rainy.  It is a rocky, uneven road but it can be done in a regular car.  My friend and I did the drive in his Honda Civic last time and I took a Ford Escape the first time.  You’ll just have to drive pretty slow, but traffic doesn’t move fast anyways because people are stopping a lot and looking all over.  I would just make sure, if you’re renting a car, that you can take it on dirt roads.

You don’t need any permits to drive yourself in Monument Valley, you just need to pay the entrance fee.  It’s kind of a lawless road.  People are all over and park all over, but they still stay on the right sides of the road.  There are some big-ish holes though that you’ll have to go around.  Don’t let this scare you though, you’ll be fine.  You must also stay on the main road and can’t hike out to the formations aside from Wildcat Trail.

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What else to do in Monument Valley

Monument Valley isn’t packed full of hiking trails, but the views are all over and there is enough to keep you busy during your visit.

Stop at the Forrest Gump spot

On your way in if you’re coming from Moab (or on your way out) stop at the Forrest Gump spot.  You know the one.  Where he keeps running.  This is on Highway 163 and you’ll probably be able to spot it just because it will be full of people.  It’s one of the pullouts on the side of the road on the drive into Monument Valley.  You’ll see people in the middle of the road taking pictures, so drive slow and if you do stop, move quick, keep an eye out for cars, and try don’t hog the road.  Other people want their pictures there, too.

Forrest Gump Spot Monument Valley

Watch the sunrise or sunset

I won’t lie, I still haven’t done either of these, but I want to.  You can get some of the best pictures in the golden glow of sunrise or sunset.  It’ll be hard to find a bad spot to watch it, but the viewpoint right by the visitor center would be really good with the scenic drive not being open in time.  This is one of the classic Monument Valley shots you see.  The View Hotel will be a great place to watch either.

Hike Wildcat Trail

This is the only hiking trail in the park that you can do without a guide.  The trail is a 4 mile loop and leaves from the campground area.  I would say it’s an easy trail, but it could be moderate because it’s pretty sandy in some areas.  The trail takes you between the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.  Plan a couple hours for this so you can take your time and stop for pictures.  Spring and fall will be the best time to do this hike because it’s right out in the open, no shade to be found.  It gets extremely hot out in the sun, so stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.

I did part of this trail on my last visit and really liked what I did.  It was getting really hot though, so we decided to head back.  When it forks, we went to the left a bit.  It’s not the most exciting trail since it’s just out in the open, but it’s cool that you get to see a few of buttes so close.

Monument valley without a guide

Stop at John Ford’s Point Overlook

This is another one of the really famous overlooks.  It’s also where you’ll find the cowboy.  For $5, you can have your picture taken on the horse overlooking the valley.  If that’s not your thing (I get it) you can still take pictures of the cowboy on the horse, but expect to leave $1-$5 for it.  It can get pretty busy out there so you may have to wait to get a clear picture.

Go horseback riding

I haven’t done this (horses freak me out in case you didn’t know) but I think it would be a cool way to see Monument Valley aside from the typical tour and self-driving.  You can find more information about horseback riding and companies that offer it in Monument Valley here.

Monument Valley Scenic Flight

This would definitely be one of those things to splurge on if scenic flights are your thing.  Redtail Aviation out of Moab offers scenic flights all over the area including Monument Valley.  If it’s in your budget, this would be an awesome way to get to see southern Utah in general.  I would love to do this someday.  They also offer tours over Arches, Canyonlands, and Lake Powell.

If you are planning on hiking to Rainbow Bridge on Lake Powell, you can get a permit here.  This isn’t a regular day hike, it’s a long overnight multi-day backpacking trip.  Here is more information on that.  If you want to easily access Rainbow Bridge, there are tours from Wahweap Marina in Page, Arizona.  You can also rent a boat from there or Bullfrog at North Lake Powell and visit on your own.

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Where to eat in Monument Valley

There isn’t much in the area, but there will be a few places to eat near Monument Valley.  The food is a little pricey, but you’ll be able to try traditional Navajo dishes with some pretty stellar views of the valley.  I’ve eaten at both The View and the Stagecoach Restaurant and wouldn’t really recommend one over the other.  Both were good.  Stagecoach can be really busy with bus groups and The View has, obviously, great valley views.

The View Restaurant

Hours:

  • Breakfast 7am to 11am
  • Lunch 11am to 2pm
  • Dinner starts at 5pm to close

This is at The View Hotel in Monument Valley.  It’s right by the visitor center.  For breakfast you’ll find a buffet.  Lunch and dinner will offer more sandwiches, burgers, Navajo Tacos, green chile stew, fry bread with honey and other things along those lines.

Goulding’s Stagecoach Restaurant

Hours: 7AM-9PM everyday

This is technically outside of Monument Valley and is nestled in the cliff above the lodge and gift shop.  You’ll find a mix of typical restaurant fare and traditional Navajo dishes here as well.  I would recommend trying a Navajo Taco while you’re here.

Outside of Monument Valley

You can find food on your way in and out of Monument Valley as well.  Bluff, UT and Kayenta, AZ are going to be the two closest towns before getting into the park.  If you’re coming from Moab, you can also stop in Moab, of course, Blanding, or Monticello before Bluff.  Page, AZ is another popular place to come from with food.

Bluff, UT

There aren’t dozens of options for food in Bluff, but there are a few that are pretty good.  Twin Rocks Cafe (the only one I’ve been to) is a cute little cafe with Navajo dishes and is quick(ish) and pretty reasonably priced.  Duke’s Bistro, Cottonwood Steakhouse, Comb Ridge Espresso Bistro, and Dairy Cafe are other options.

Kayenta, AZ

Amigo Cafe and Blue Coffee Pot are two great options in Kayenta if you’re looking for something that isn’t fast food.  Wagon Wheel reastaurant is another choice.

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Where to stay in Monument Valley

Camping in Monument Valley

There are RV and regular tent sites avail at the campground at Monument Valley.  These views will be some of the best, right on the edge of the valley cliff.  Bathrooms with showers are available and there is a convenient store in the registration building.

Goulding’s also offers RV and tent camping outside of the park.  Each campsite has a picnic table, fire pit, and grill.  Each spot is also close to a bathroom.  They have a convenience store on site as well.

Hotels in Monument Valley

There are really only two hotels in (or just outside of) Monument Valley, but there are other options within an hours drive.

The View Hotel

The View Hotel is the only hotel in Monument Valley.  They have a restaurant on site as well as the trading post.  There is no swimming pool out of respect for residents on the valley floor that have to haul water in every day (straight from the website).  Wifi is available in the lobby and reaches some rooms.  I would book the hotel as far in advance as you can for your trip since it’s a popular (and one of the only) place to stay.  Depending on when you visit and room type, it looks like you’ll be spending $150+ per night.

The View Hotel also runs the Premium Cabins right next to the campground.  The cabins are fully furnished and may even have better views than the hotel (also straight from the website).  These are more private than the hotel rooms and can sleep up to five.  I would recommend booking these as far in advance as you can as well.  The cabins seem to be starting at around $200 per night.

Goulding’s Lodge

Goulding’s Lodge is just outside of Monument Valley but is the only other hotel that is right by the park.  They have a few different room styles: two queens, standard two queens, king bed, one bedroom villa with kitchenette, one bedroom villa with kitchen, two bedroom apartment, and Red Rock Hill House.  Depending on when you go and room type it will be $150+ per night.  There is an indoor swimming pool here as well as a small grocery store and laundromat.

Goulding’s also offers cabins right outside of their campground.  Like the View Cabins, they have a kitchenette and similar amenities and sleeping capabilities, they’re just outside of Monument Valley instead.

Outside of Monument Valley

You can also stay in Mexican Hat, Bluff, Blanding, or Kayenta.  They’re a little further away, but if you can’t stay in Monument Valley and aren’t camping, those are great options.

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Monument Valley Tours

If you want to see more of Monument Valley, a tour is the way to go.  Depending on what you choose, they can range from $60-$400 depending on the tour and company.  Monument Valley Safari offers quite a few different tour options including a regular Monument Valley Tour, Mystery Valley, Hunts Mesa, combination, starlight, and full moon.

If you want something a little more intense and photography oriented, Phillip’s Photography Tours offers and overnight camping tour on Hunts Mesa.  This is going to be at the high end of the price range at $400.  They also offer regular tours, sunrise, sunset tours, plus a few others.  Basically, if you want to get off the scenic drive, take a tour.  You can always do the drive yourself and take a tour in addition to that.  One big benefit of a tour (aside from getting of the scenic drive) is that you’ll get to learn more about the history and the area.

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General tips for visiting Monument Valley:

  • It gets so hot in the summer so be sure to drink a lot of water.
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen, too, if you plan on hiking.
  • There aren’t any bathrooms along the drive, so make sure you go before you leave the visitor center.  If I’m wrong, let me know, I’ll fix this.  I don’t remember seeing any.
  • Since you are on Navajo land here, you have to stay on the main road and can’t hike out to any of the formartions outside of Wildcat Trail.
  • As usual, make sure you have extra water in the car.  I mean, it is the desert.
  • Bring some snacks to tide you over when you’re on the scenic drive or on the Wildcat Trail.

Have you been to Monument Valley?  Did you drive yourself or do a tour?  What did you think of it?  

5 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Monument Valley Without A Tour

  1. This is on my US bucket list and has been for so long. I can’t wait for the day I make it to Utah / Arizona. Soon soon soon…. beautiful photos by the way. You really sell it. Oh, and I’d defo want to stay at The View and see sunset there!

  2. Great guide, Megan! Monument Valley is my favourite place in the US, I’ve just written about it too! We chose not to drive on the trail as we rented a nice white car and didn’t want to risk it haha. Tours are fantastic though, as you get a local’s perspective and learn so much about the valley. 10 years ago I did an overnight tour too, which to be honest is 100% the best way to experience the valley but it is pricey (this time we just camped in a tent for like $20 haha). It’s well worth staying overnight for sunset / sunrise anyway. I had Navajo tacos at the View restaurant and they were DELISH! I love your photos, by the way!

    1. Thank you! I enjoyed your post on it, too! If I go back again, I’d want it to be for one of the overnight tours. I totally get not wanting to risk the rental car haha

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