Known for its towering sandstone buttes, panoramic vistas, and colossal mesas, Monument Valley is considered one of the United States’ most iconic landscapes.
Despite its popularity, Monument Valley's distance from pretty much everything makes many tourists hesitant to visit at first.
Short answer: Monument Valley is absolutely worth visiting!
Long answer: The valley is so much more than just a couple of rocks in the middle of nowhere. With a wide variety of scenic drives, hiking trails, cultural attractions, and amazing guided tours, there is much to see at Monument Valley to keep you and your group entertained.
However, if you’re still wondering whether or not you should visit, we’ve highlighted some of the best features of this location. We've also broken down what it's like to explore solo versus on a guided tour!
What Is Monument Valley?
Monument Valley is a red-sand desert region on the border of Arizona and Utah. The most characteristic features here are the towering sandstone formations.
This gorgeous landscape was previously overlooked and rather obscure until the 1930s. Since then, the valley has been featured in some of Hollywood’s biggest hits, from Forrest Gump to Mission Impossible: II (and a bunch of Western films, of course!).
Hollywood pushed the area into the spotlight and brought immense economic growth, transforming it into the tourist hotspot we know today.
Before that, however, Monument Valley was already important to the native inhabitants of the land. The valley is a sacred area within the territory of the Navajo Nation. They call it Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, which means "valley of the rocks."
Monument Valley is not a national park or national monument in itself but is considered part of the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Park.
Things to Do in Monument Valley
You can catch a glimpse of Monument Valley for free if you drive through the U.S. Route 163, but that won’t allow you to truly immerse yourself in what the area has to offer.
We recommend paying the entrance fee and getting up close and personal with the scenic landscape, as well as taking on the hiking trails and visiting the various attractions! There are quite a lot of things to see and do in Monument Valley; here are just a few.
Marvel at the Rock Formations
Monument Valley is filled with sandstone buttes — isolated, steep hills that usually have flat tops. They look majestic and almost otherworldly in the middle of the red-sand desert!
The buttes range in height from around 400 to 1000 feet (120 to 300 m). The most famous and impressive ones are the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte, which form a triangle. Another one to keep your eye out for is the slender Totem Pole, a 500-foot (150-meter), dart-like formation.
Explore the Valley on the Wildcat Trail
The Wildcat Trail is the only self-guided trail in Monument Valley Park, so you don't have to pay extra and you can take it on at your own pace. It is also one of the easier and shorter trails, usually taking about 2 to 3 hours in total.
This 4-mile loop is incredibly scenic and takes you to some of the most iconic rock formations in the valley, including Merrick Butte and the Mitten Buttes!
Get a Glimpse of History at Goulding's Trading Post Museum
For a unique, first-hand look into the trading and cultural history of the Navajos and other Native Americans, take a stop at Goulding's Trading Post Museum.
Here, you can see a showroom where locals would trade goods. You can see artifacts and photographs from those bygone days, as well as exclusive photos and props from the movie sets of Westerns that were filmed here!
Is Monument Valley Worth Exploring on My Own?
Exploring Monument Valley on your own can definitely be worth it and might actually be preferable, depending on what kind of traveler you are.
If you want to have more control over your tour and explore at your own pace, a self-guided tour of Monument Valley is your best bet. Simply paying a park entrance fee allows you to access most of the region's breathtaking landscapes.
Though you can enter and explore much of the valley on your own, there is only one hiking trail that you can access without a guide: Wildcat Trail. There is also a driving trail that you can take on your own, using a free map that you can get from the Visitors Center.
Seeing just the main few attractions at Monument Valley will probably only take you about 2 to 4 hours. If you have the time, however, it'd be good to explore more of the lesser-known attractions the valley has to offer!
Are Monument Valley Guided Tours Worth It?
Guided tours are one of the most popular ways to explore Monument Valley. Just as we discuss our Bryce Canyon tour in our post on how to visit Bryce Canyon, there are also equally beneficial guided tours for Monument Valley.
Guided tours are usually worth it, since all of the planning and transportation are taken care of for you and you can focus on enjoying the experience. In fact, you can have a full 3-day trip to Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and more planned out for you!
While on a guided tour, you can better discover the incredible local culture of the Navajo Nation. If you’re a geography enthusiast, you might also enjoy the tour guide’s explanations of the region’s fascinating rock formations and other interesting facts as you drive along.
Another perk of taking a guided tour is that, as tour guides are so familiar with the area, they can take you to lesser-known locations outside of the general tourist routes!
No matter how you want to traverse Monument Valley, there is a guided tour available for explorers of all kinds!
Whether you prefer solo exploring or traveling as part of a guided tour, Monument Valley has much to offer and is well worth your time.
With its red rock formations, sandy plains, and desert landscapes, it’s easy to see why this area has been the backdrop of some of Hollywood’s most iconic films. This unique and magical region is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits!
So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Monument Valley with MaxTour today!