Monument Valley in Arizona - Best Time and 7 Need-to-Know Tips
Monument Valley in Arizona - Best Time and 7 Need-to-Know Tips

Monument Valley in Arizona - Best Time and 7 Need-to-Know Tips

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

Monument Valley is simply one of the most iconic landmarks in the US, known for movies like Stagecoach, Easy Rider and Forest Gump. The popularity of Monument Valley began with the famous Stagecoach movie. Your visit to the Southwest is not complete if you do not stop here. Monument Valley is not a National Park. It is a Navajo Tribal Park, which is equivalent but not the same. Your National Park Pass is not accepted here.

Monument Valley the Mittens at sunset

Monument Valley is an outstanding destination throughout the year. Take a step back in time and feel transformed into a wild western movie on the 17-mile/ 27 km Monument Valley Scenic Drive Loop. The summer is hot and crowded, but if you don’t mind hiking the Wildcat trail, you get a glimpse of this unique and famous landscape with fewer visitors.

A horse and equestrian at the John Ford Point
My favourite picture by Ray Downs - The John Ford Point close to the parking Google Maps

Feel the John Wayne spirit in Monument Valley and at the John Ford Point. Each night, John Wayne movies are shown in the little cinema of Goulding’s Trading Post (more about it in the hotel section).

I would like to let you know everything you need to know, as well as the best time and daytime for this overwhelming landscape.

Gray Whiskers Butte
The Merrick Butt to the right is an excellent sunrise spot.

The best times for Monument Valley regarding the crowds are spring and autumn, followed by winter. In summer, go early already, at 6 am when the park opens. 

The Mitten Shadow

The rare Mitten Shadow in Monument Valley
The Mitten Shadow in high-resolution

The Mitten Shadow, a photographer's dream, occurs at the end of March and mid-September for a few days only at sunset. The West Mitten Shadow appears on the East Mitten. You must have already found the perfect position an hour before to get such a unique shot. Thanks, Ray, for this excellent shot. ​

Getting such a shot is not as easy as you may think. It is weather-dependent. On the first day, it was rainy, on the second, shortly before the Mitten Shadow appeared, clouds came up, and suddenly, the sky was overcast. Finally, the third and last evening was excellent, and Ray could take this magical picture. So, if you plan to see this spectacular shadow, keep in mind that it may not appear on the first evening.

Best Daytime and View

Sunset at Totem Pole in Monument Valley
The 450-foot high Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei 

The sunrise and the sunset are otherworldly in Monument Valley and a Must-Do during your visit. The sunrise is great from almost everywhere, and the sunset is breathtaking from the View Hotel already. In the early and late summer, enter the park at 6 am and enjoy the sunrise at one of the iconic red sandstone buttes.

Sunrise in Monument Valley
Sunrise at the Mittens by Ray

From May to July, the sunrise is slightly before and after 6 am. During these months, the only option is a guided sunrise tour. If you want to watch the sunset inside the park along the scenic drive, you must book a guided sunset tour, too. 

Thanks for booking via my website by GYG at no extra cost. With your support I am able to provide honest content for free.

Sunrise and Sunset Monument Valley

    How to Get to Monument Valley?

    Monument Valley Panorama
    Monument Valley North Window Overlook

    Monument Valley belongs to the Navajo Nation. It is one of the largest Indian reservations in the US. The valley is remotely located in the desert in Arizona, close to the Utah border at Highway 163. You either need a guided tour or a rental car to get here. Usually, Monument Valley is combined with other outstanding National Parks in the Southwest. It is 400 miles east of Las Vegas and approximately 400 miles south of Salt Lake City. These cities are easy to reach by plane. Phoenix and Albuquerque are a little closer. 

    Monument Valley Location

    Monument Valley Hw 163
    Looking south toward Monument Valley

    Monument Valley, The Navajo Tribal Park, is located in Arizona at the Utah border close to Highway 163. It is two hours east of Page and 2.5 hours north of Flagstaff. The park is near the Four Corners Monument, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet. ​

     Opening Hours Monument Valley Scenic Drive and Visitor Centre

    Monument Scenic Drive the main buttes
    West and East Mitten Butt and Merrick Butt - much bigger than pictures convey.

    Open seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The park closes during severe weather. You get the entrance ticket for the scenic drive in the visitor centre. The parking lot is elevated, offering excellent views of the main butts, the Mittens and Merrick Butte. The View Hotel is also here, and opposite starts the Wildcat Trail.

    • Peak Season from April to September
      Scenic Drive 6 am to 7 pm
      Visitor Centre 6 am to 8 pm
    • Low Season October until March
      Scenic Drive 8 am 4.30 pm
      Visitor Centre from 8 am to 5 pm

    If you want to watch the sunset inside the park along the scenic drive, you must book a guided sunset tour. Thanks for booking via my website by GYG at no extra cost. With your support I am able to provide honest content for free.

    The Forest Gump Road with Monument Valley in the back
    The so-called Forest Gump Road where Tom Hanks stopped running Google Maps.

     

     

     

    Entrance Fee Monument Valley

    A tree in the shade of a mesa in Monument Valley

    • Adults pay $8 each for walk-in
    • Age 9 or younger are free
    • Per vehicle, $20 for up to four people is $6 each; additional person is $6, too

    17-Mile Scenic Loop Drive

    Another Panoramic view called Navajo Code Talker Outpost

    The 17-mile/ 27km scenic loop drive starts east of Highway 163, next to the View Hotel. The road is pretty rough, and AWD or a 4WD is recommended. It is often mentioned you need 2-4 hours for the loop drive with photo stops. IMO, plan four hours at least for the eleven picturesque stops.

    The three sisters at sunset with little snow in the winter
    Stop number three, the Three Sisters.

    There aren't any restrooms along the dirty loop road. Several stalls along the drive are selling water and native souvenirs.

    The gravel scenic road in Monument Valley
    Picture from Ray's dash cam.

    These are just smaller and bigger photo stops; no hiking trails are available here. Take your time, and don’t come in a rush to this truly stunning place. I bet you will take a bunch of photos.

    Wildcat Hiking Trail

    Monument Valley in the distance

    The trail starts opposite the visitor centre. This is the only self-guided tour at Monument Valley. The circular trail is 3.8 miles/ 6 km long, leading around West Mitten Butte and between the other two. The moderate track takes at least two hours. The trail is marked with rock cairns and brown markers. First, you walk downhill and back uphill with some sandy parts. It is scorching in summer without shade, and sometimes the hike closes at noon because of the heat. 

    7 Need-to-Know Tips

    The Mittens and Merrick Butt from the distance

    The Navajo are the owners of the Monument Valley. Please respect their traditions and rules.

    1. Alcohol consumption is prohibited within the Navajo reservation.
    2. Hiking is permitted on the Wildcat Trail only or guided.
    3. Rock climbing is prohibited. In former times, the Totem Pole was famous for rock climbing.
    4. Also, wild camping is not allowed. 
    5. Please ask for permission if you wish to photograph a Navajo. 
    6. Remember that the DST from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November at the Navajo Nation, but not in Arizona, means 1 hour ahead.
    7. Always carry plenty of water, not only during the summer heat but also on windy days and on a hike. 

    Weather and Crowds

    Spectacular sunset at the Mittens

    Monument Valley has a desert climate at a high altitude located on the Colorado Plateau at 1.500 m/ roughly 5200 feet above sea level. Rain is not an issue, it is instead the opposite, it is dessert-like. Heavy wind gusts occur in spring and fall, and a Gore Windstopper is quite a good idea. To give you an overview of what kind of temperatures to expect, I divide the months and seasons slightly differently.

    Spring (March-April)

    The Monument Valley desert with animal tracks
    The red sand contains iron oxides, the reason for the colour

    March is a real spring month with an average day temps around 15°C/59°F. Nights are almost freezing. April is pleasant; temps rise to 20°C/68°F, but nights are chilly due to the high elevation. Heavy winds come up in April and continue until June. It is still a quiet time except for Easter.

    Summer (May-September)

    The Totem Pole and the desert red sand with a blue sky
    Clint Eastwood once climbed the Totem Pole at the end of the scenic drive.

    The busy season begins, and July to September are crazy on the Scenic Drive and in the Visitor Centre. If you plan to stay in The View Hotel, book well in advance. The pro is you can enjoy the scenery before the traffic jams at all viewpoints and before dust and sand from the cars spoils your pictures. Day Temps in May and September are slightly below 30°C/86°F and from June-August above but not too hot. Frequently strong winds blow up sand and dust in May and June. Protect your eyes and mouth these days. Occasional thunderstorms occur from July to mid-September. Nights are still cold, so if you plan to camp, bring a 3-season sleeping bag.

    Fall (October-November)

    The Mittens and Merrick Butt at a pink orange sunset

    Finally, the crowds thin out, and there is less traffic on the Scenic Drive. However, avoid weekends or go early to the main outlooks if possible. October is pleasant with an average day temperature of 21°C/70°F but nights are already chilly below 10°C/50°F. November is cold, with daytime temperatures slightly above 10°C/50°F and almost freezing nights.

    Winter (December-February)

    The Mittens in black and white

    This is a tranquil time without traffic jams and dust at the most popular viewpoints. Snow can occur from mid-December to the end of February, but it is a light snowfall that melts within a day. Although winter day temps are mild, ranging in December from 6°C/42°F to 9°C/48°F in February, nights are freezing around -4°C/25°F. However, it does not affect the roads much.

    Guided Tours

    You get here by guided tour only
    The Eye Arch on a guided Navajo Tour

    Another excellent opportunity to beat the crowds is to go on one of the Navajo tours for small groups. The other reason is that some of the most beautiful parts can only be accessed on such a tour. The guides will show you outstanding shots which you usually would miss.

     

     

    Where to Stay: Hotels - Camping

    The view to Monument Vallley out of The View Hotel
    What a spectacular view from The View Hotel.

    There are just two hotels and two campgrounds, so there is not much to choose from, and it is usually fully booked in the peak season.

    • The View Hotel 
      The park's first hotel complex, with 96 rooms, opened in December 2008. The hotel was built and staffed mostly by Navajos. It has an excellent location next to the visitor centre, and all rooms offer a breathtaking view. The hotel was extended, and 29 cabins were added—the View Hotel - Premium Cabins - Campground Link.

    • The View Campground
      The RV sites and tent sites offer jaw-dropping sunrise and sunset spots. Clean facilities and bathrooms are available. You are in the desert, so don't expect more than just a place to pitch your tent or park your RV for the night.

      Tent under the night sky in the desert

    • Goulding's Lodge
      The Goulding's Trading Post offers 73 suites, deluxe, and budget rooms. It also hosts a restaurant, a store, a big souvenir shop, and a little cinema where old John Wayne movies are shown each night. It is a five-mile drive to the visitor centre of Monument Valley.

    • Goulding's Campground
      The views are not as spectacular as The View, but on the other hand, you get electricity and water here.

    Best Months to Visit

    Jan
    Feb
    Mar
    Apr
    May
    Jun
    Jul
    Aug
    Sep
    Oct
    Nov
    Dec

    Location and Tips

    Arizona
    United States
    United States

    Monument Valley is a vast monument of Mother Nature. The iconic sandstone buttes were formed more than 200 million years ago. They are ever-changing by erosion from rain, wind, and freezing temperatures. The left pillars are more resistant to weathering but won’t last forever. What once was a mesa became a butt, the second stadium of erosion. The sandstone buttes and pinnacles appear red because the sand contains iron oxides.

    Helpful Links

    The Mittens view from the ground

    Nearby Tip – Mexican Hat

    The Mexican Hat
    The Mexican Heat in Utah Google Maps

    Don’t miss out on the unique rock formation a few minutes drive north of Monument Valley.

    Ray Downs provided all the pictures. He offers exceptional photos from Monument Valley and other breathtaking places in the Southwest. You also can follow Ray on Facebook.

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