Rich in history and beauty, Monument Valley is a draw for American West enthusiasts and visitors interested in Navajo culture.
Monument Valley is a stunning, iconic desert landscape and home to many popular American West references and cherished Native American stories. It lies inside Monument Valley Tribal Park. The tribal park is host to a visitors center, which includes a museum and trading post, and The View Hotel.
Most families will add a day to their Grand Canyon vacation to visit here. The Navajo people consider Monument Valley to be the heart of the earth - a sacred land with rich history. After your tour, you’ll be quick to agree.
What to do?
My family and I toured Monument Valley with Navajo Spirit Tours, founded by Garry Holiday who was born and raised here. In fact, all the guides for Navajo Spirit Tours grew up in Monument Valley and bring with them immense knowledge and beautiful stories about the land and their culture.
KidTripster Tip: Tour companies don’t have any facilities inside the tribal park. Drive slowly so that you can identify your tour company by the logo on their vehicle across from the visitors center.
KidTripster Tip: If your child still uses a car seat, be sure to bring it. Safety first, but also, you’ll want to be sure your children are comfortable and high enough to see out of the car windows on your tour.
Our guide, Will, greeted us in a large Suburban. He was friendly and happy to wait as we got ourselves situated after a long car ride. Finally we were ready, and after a short trip down a very bumpy road, we stopped to see The Mittens. The Mittens are two sandstone buttes with “thumbs” facing each other. Will shared with us that it’s one mile between each thumb and then led us to the best spots to take photos. Fun fact: Will is a master of panoramic photos. He knew all the tricks, and the kids had a great time running around and appearing in pictures twice. He’s also a great teacher; our panos are so much better now.
During our 3-hour tour, Will led us through Monument Valley, sharing stories of his childhood and traditions of Navajo culture. For example, did you know that there are no nursing homes on the Navajo reservation? Grandparents are cared for by their children and grandchildren, allowing the grandparents to share valuable traditions, stories, and lessons. This is an integral part of passing down their culture from generation to generation. Will’s family on his mother’s side has been in Monument Valley for 18 generations!
Probably the most iconic spot in Monument Valley is John Ford’s Point, a nod to director John Ford who used Monument Valley in many of his Western films. You also may recognize it from 1950s Marlboro advertising - think of a lone man on a horse amidst a red, desert landscape. On most days, a man stands with his horse near John Ford’s Point, making himself available for pictures; photos start at $1.
We also made a stop at Ear of the Wind, a highly photogenic location in Monument Valley. Will encouraged my kids - ages 8 and 10 - to run up and down the sand dune three times to ensure a peaceful and sleepy ride home. The kids were up for the challenge, and we happily watched them wear themselves out.
Along the way, Will stopped for a quick demonstration on how Monument Valley was formed. He used sand and a bottle of water, and the kids were entranced.
Our last stop was Big Hogan, a natural amphitheater with perfect acoustics. Will pointed out an image of a Navajo warrior within the natural formation of the hogan (which is a Navajo dwelling). This was probably my favorite stop as it was the easiest to explore (no climbing), and the warrior image was so clear. Will also treated us to a song in the amphitheater; this impromptu concert was an unexpected and beautiful surprise. I sat and listened with my eyes closed and my daughter on my lap. It was a peaceful and grounding moment, and I’m grateful to Will for that gift.
My husband and I enjoyed the tour immensely and talked about it quite a bit on the drive to our hotel. The kids enjoyed it too, though I think my energetic, 8-year-old would have done better with a slightly shorter tour.
KidTripster Tip: Visitors to Monument Valley Tribal Park can choose to drive through a portion of Monument Valley on their own, but it isn’t recommended. Roads are extremely bumpy and full of potholes. Will told us that 30 to 40 visitors' cars are damaged on the roads every year.
Monument Valley Tour cost: Youth (under 5) Free; Youth (5-12) $37.50; Adult $75, plus a 5% Navajo Nation tax. Navajo Spirit Tours runs various other tours; price and duration vary. There is also a $20 fee to enter the park; the national park pass does not qualify for admission. A very informative guide will be emailed to you after your reservation is confirmed. It will detail policies, important Navajo customs, directions, and other general information.
KidTripster Tip: Tipping your guide is appreciated. Be sure to have some cash handy.
Where to stay?
Monument Valley Tribal Park has one hotel, The View Hotel. It is Navajo-owned and located directly inside the tribal park. The hotel offers 95 rooms, each with a private balcony facing Monument Valley. Rates start at $119/night.
Additional lodging is available in outlying towns. It’s best to search based on the direction that you’ll be traveling.
Monument Valley can be a bit tricky to find. It’s in a very remote area along the Arizona-Utah border. It took about 3-1/2 hours for us to drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Pay close attention to the directions on the Navajo Spirit Tours website or in the confirmation email. You can’t just plug “Navajo Spirit Tours” into your GPS. It won’t take you to the right place.
Our tour started at 1:00 p.m. and lasted just over three hours. After the tour, my kids were done, and we still had another long drive ahead of us. If we were to do it again, we’d schedule a tour for later in the day, allowing for more time to stop on the long drive there. We’d also choose to stay the night, either at The View Hotel or at another nearby accommodation.
KidTripster Tip: The roads to Monument Valley are dotted with Native American roadside stands that sell jewelry and art. Plan extra time and have cash handy, if you’d like to stop. I wish I had known this, as we didn’t have extra time or cash.
KidTripster Tip: Most ofArizona is in a different time zone than Monument Valley. Consider this when planning your travel.
Megan Moore Inchauste lives in West Michigan with her husband, four kids, and dog. She is currently homeschooling her youngest two kids and traveling the world.