Monument Valley is one of those instantly recognisable destinations. It’s so iconic, that we’d argue that Monument Valley is second only to the Grand Canyon as the most famous sight in the Southwest. It’s every bit as magnificent in real life as it looks in photos, so it’s a place that definitely needs to be on your US road trip itinerary.
However, a lot of people simply stop briefly at Forrest Gump Point on the main highway, then carry on driving. In our view that’s missing the real beauty of this incredible landscape.
That’s why we think Monument Valley deserves a whole day and preferably an overnight stay if you can squeeze it in!
An epic day in Monument Valley
Sunrise (from anywhere!)
We’d recommend starting early at Monument Valley as the sunrises here are spectacular. Not only do you get those magical desert skies, but the silhouettes of those famous rock formations make this a sunrise you’ll never forget.
If you stay at “The View” hotel in the park, you’ll witness a million dollar view of the three famous rock formations bathed in a gorgeous light with no one else around. If you aren’t staying at The View there are many other places that make for a spectacular sunrise experience, including the area around Taylor Rock just outside the hotel.
Forrest Gump Point
Forrest Gump is one of my favourite films and you can visit the spot where one of the most famous scenes from the movie was shot. It is the point where after 3+ years of running coast to coast of the USA, Forrest just stops and says “I’m feeling pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now…..”
This spot has become so popular, that it is now known as “Forrest Gump Point”. The view here is spectacular and is at the top of the long road that leads straight into those deep red mesas.
However, it is a highway and cars do fly along this at 60mph, so going early means the road is a lot quieter! We were here an hour after sunrise and whilst there were cars, there were a lot fewer than there were when we visited around sunset. Be careful, listen out for any oncoming cars and make sure you don’t put yourself at risk for a photo. Having more than one person will benefit you here to keep lookout!
Saying that, you can easily appreciate the view from the side of the road, but then you can’t pretend to be Tom Hanks!
Getting to Forrest Gump Point
Forrest Gump Lookout is about a 20 minute drive north of Monument Valley (almost 15 miles) and is on one of the many “Scenic View” turnings along highway 163. It is marked on Google Maps or you can get the location below.
The Monument Valley Scenic Drive
A lot of people who visit Monument Valley decline to do the Scenic Drive, which is a little strange. Whilst we understand that $20 to drive on a bumpy dirt-track seems more than a little steep, going to Monument Valley and not doing the Scenic Drive is like going to Paris but skipping the Eiffel Tower.
The Scenic Drive gives you a chance to get much more close up to those iconic monuments, starting with the three most famous rock formations in the park. From here, the road meanders round, taking you to several more formations such as the Totem Pole, the Three Sisters and the beautiful John Ford Point.
Doing this in the middle of the day isn’t a bad choice as you can retreat to your air conditioned car to cool down from the heat and it’s not really an activity that is improved by having less people around. Essentially, you are looking at the formations from your car and occasionally stepping out to take photos or soak up the views. Note that hiking anywhere in the park except for the Wildcat trail is strictly forbidden so you must stay only by the viewpoints.
The Monument Valley Scenic Drive is about 17 miles long and should take between one and two hours to complete (unless you stop for a really long time at each point). What really made the drive worthwhile apart from getting closer to the famous monuments is the chance to see all the other formations in the park that you rarely see photos of. There is so much more to Monument Valley than what you can see from the main road.
Tips for the Scenic Drive:
You’ll want to drive with your windows up sadly as we can tell you from experience the alternative is the inside of your car and all its contents covered in a fine orange dust!
You can make the journey in a non 4x4 car, the road is rough in places (we’ve driven it twice and the second time it was graded better than the first) but drive slowly and you shouldn’t have a problem.
Getting to the Monument Valley Scenic Drive
The Monument Valley Scenic Drive begins in the Navajo Park land and requires a $20 per car (larger cars with more passengers incur higher fees) entry fee. This will include entry to the Wildcat Trail as well.
The iconic view from John Ford Point
One of the best stops on the Scenic Drive is the stunning John Ford Point. This rock platform looks out to the most famous formations in Monument Valley and is one of the best views in the park.
There’s also a guy with a horse who charges for tourists to sit on it for photos ($10 if you want to sit on the horse yourself). We didn’t do this but took some photos for a couple who did. He told them he needs to drive for two hours to get grass for the horse and that he lets it run free every evening (and the horse miraculously comes back to spend a whole day with tourists on its back on a cliff edge). We thought it sounded a little far fetched but…..
Whilst we don’t recommend posing on the horse, it’s hard to deny that the view of the horse and Monument Valley looks straight out of a Western.
Getting to John Ford Point
John Ford Point is only accessible via the Scenic Drive. It is just by the start of the loop and is clearly signposted, so you won’t miss it.
The view from Taylor Rock
It was only when doing a bit of research that we found out about Taylor Rock and how this formation opens out to this stunning viewpoint. It’s very easy to miss, even though it is yards from the car park at the View Hotel!
Plenty of tourists like to climb on the top for a photo, but we felt that it was better to go through the gap in the rock. It felt more like the secret opening to this incredible landscape.
Getting to Taylor Rock
Taylor Rock is by the car park for the View Hotel. Simply go to the edge and you’ll see the rock by the footpath (or you can get the location on google maps below).
The Wildcat trail is the only place where you can walk in Monument Valley, so give yourself time in the day to take a stroll through this beautiful landscape.
The trail leads down from the car park and around Western Mitten Butte, enabling you to get really close to this stunning butte and take in Monument Valley from an angle many overlook.
The trail is just under four miles and should only take about 1-1.5 hours. It is pretty easy going except at the end you have to walk up a sand dune - something that is never easy!
The trail itself is not the most exciting we’ve done but the views are definitely some of the most memorable. We wouldn’t say it’s worth $20 to hike but when combined with the Scenic Drive it definitely is.
Again, you can only access the Wildcat Trail by purchasing the $20 entrance ticket.
Getting to the Wild Cat Trail
The Wild Cat trail starts on a dirt parking lot that is next to the entry to the Scenic Drive. The trail goes out and back from this point.
Where to stay in Monument Valley
The View Hotel
We actually stayed at some tipis nearby but we don’t recommend them. We stopped for brekkie and a poke around at The View and wish we’d stayed there!
The views were phenomenal, seriously jaw dropping. Rooms look comfortable, not anything special but you’re not going to beat those views!
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Are you planning a trip to Monument Valley? What’s on your bucket list in the Southwest? Let us know in the comments below!