The View is spectacular at Monument Valley

You've seen it before, on movies and commercials. These red rock formations soaring high above the desert are one of the iconic views of the southwest. I'll tell you one thing, though. What you've seen doesn't do it justice. You haven't really seen Monument Valley until you've experienced it in person.

The iconic southwest scene, with Monument Valley's rock formations Monument Valley's famous landscape is often photographed, never captured

Monument Valley is on the border of Arizona and Utah, on the large Navajo Reservation. It's a land of wide open spaces, with few towns and no major cities. This is quintessential road trip country, where you savor the scenery as the miles click by. And as road trip attractions go, Monument Valley belongs on the "must see" list.

What to do in Monument Valley

The #1 thing to do here is to take the drive around the valley. You don't really get the sense of scale until you get up close and personal with the landscape. A 17-mile dirt road does a long loop around the valley floor, giving you views of the formations from many different vantage points. A self-guided brochure gives you information on a number of stops along the way.

Most passenger cars can handle this rocky road if you go slowly. If you have low clearance or the road is in bad condition due to weather, then it's wiser to take one of the guided 4x4 trips. The advantages of a guided trip are that you can gain information and insights from the guide, and a Navajo guide can take you places that visitors aren't allowed on their own. The advantage of doing it yourself is that you can dawdle along, and take as many pix as you want.

Hiking opportunities at Monument Valley are limited, but well worthwhile. You can hike a loop trail around one of the "mittens" (the major formations with a "thumb" on one side). Walking all the way around gives you an appreciation of its size. You can also hike up to a ridge line overlooking the valley for a birds-eye view. The front desk at the hotel can give you trail information.

Each room at Monument Valley's The View hotel has a private balcony Every room at this hotel has a private balcony facing the famous "mittens"

Where to stay in Monument Valley

Don't make the mistake of booking yourself into a hotel with a name like the "Monument Valley Inn". Sure, it sounds like a good idea, but you will be sorely disappointed to find that your room is 20 miles from the valley, and your view is a parking lot. Believe me, I know!

No, the place that you want to stay is The View hotel - the only hotel right at the valley. This hotel is located on a ridge facing the valley itself. Every single room has a private balcony with the expansive views you came to see. You won't be disappointed here, and it's well worth the extra cost. For more information, see: The View hotel.

The sun rises over the rocks of Monument ValleySunrise over Monument Valley, from our balcony

Monument Valley travel tips

  • The hotel and restaurant are run by the Navajo, so why not take this opportunity to try something traditional like mutton stew or Navajo fry bread?
  • Alcohol is not sold on the reservation, so don't count on buying any beer or wine here.
  • Of course it does rain here sometimes, but sunshine is far more common. The most important things to have are plenty of water, sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and a camera.
  • It does get chilly at nights and in the winter, so it's smart to bring layered clothing appropriate for the season. See Monument Valley weather averages

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PHOTO CREDITS:  All photos (c) Deanna Keahey.

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