5 Stops Along The Monument Valley Scenic Drive (2024)

Beauty on a Grand Scale: Scenic Driving Bluff to Monument Valley

This stretch of road on U.S. 163 is beauty on a grand scale. While the landscapes to the north and east are characterized by dramatic ancient bucklings of the earth and by intricate, mazelike canyons carved by the persistent action of rushing waters, the country encountered on the drive between the town of Bluff and Monument Valley drive is more spacious and more serene in its magnificence. Rather than narrow canyons and steep, confining barrier reefs, U.S. 163 traverses land that is broad, open, and windswept. It is hot at the height of summer in this corner of the state. Otherwise, no real seasonal distinctions can be made, and driving poses no impediments for any sort of vehicle.

Bluff is a peaceful place whose biggest attraction is San Juan River excursions. The town has a nice little historic loop on the right just as you enter town. Note especially the Bluff library, a fine old stone building. TheBluff City Historical Preservation Associationpublishes an excellent tour brochure describing historical houses and other sites in Bluff with a guide to nearby rock art sites. Don’t miss theTwin Rocks Cafe,incredibly situated just underneath a couple of rock spires. The tour brochure is usually available there.

At nearbySand Island Recreation Area,2 miles past Bluff, an excellent Anasazi petroglyph panel features five representations of Kokopelli, the humpbacked flute-player. Watch carefully for the Sand Island Road, on the left, just before the major turnoff for Mexican Water. The small, basic (no drinking water)campgroundhere fills up quickly.

About 3 miles west of Bluff, U.S. 191 makes a sharp left turn and heads south to Mexican Water, Arizona. Continue straight on U.S. 163. The highway crosses Comb Wash, revealing the dramatic cliffs ofComb Ridge,a huge redrock escarpment running north–south. This eroded monocline begins just south of the Abajo Mountains (west of Blanding) and runs 80 miles south to Kayenta, Arizona. After driving through the gap in this striking formation, it is definitely worth stopping to look back and study the impressive natural barrier more carefully. Just past Comb Ridge, you climb out of the ravine and begin to see the outline of the Monument Valley’s dramatic formations way off in the distance.

Valley of the Gods

It’s about 16 miles from Bluff to the eastern entrance, on the right, ofValley of the Gods,a highly recommended side trip. Valley of the Gods is like a miniature version of Monument Valley without people. Its mesas and spires are formed of the same Cedar Mesa sandstone as the somewhat larger formations at Monument Valley. The 17-mile loop drive on (mostly good) dirt road is suitable for all but the most low-slung passenger vehicles in good weather. Definitely consider driving this beautiful, lonely loop—though not in a large RV and not dragging a trailer. Stay away after heavy rains.

Valley of the Gods is also a very good place to camp if you are entirely self-sufficient. There are no established campgrounds and no facilities, but there are plenty of places to camp in the wild. It is incredibly quiet, and watching the moon rise here is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

See Also
Canyon Page

The loop finishes on Highway 261 (paved) just south of the descent from the Moki Dugway and north of the turnoff for Goosenecks State Park. Highway 261 will take you south back to U.S. 163, but there are some things to see along Highway 261 so consider taking more side trips.

To see the impressiveMuley Pointoverlook’s expansive views, turn right on Highway 261 off the Valley of the Gods scenic drive and immediately climb the 1,000-foot graded gravel road up theMoki Dugway. (If you haven’t taken the Valley of the Gods option, turn right off U.S. 163 and head north on Highway 261 for about 9 miles to get here.)

Just at the crest and right before the pavement resumes, look for the turnoff to the left. Trailers and large RVs will find the long climb to Muley Point nerve-racking, but the steep switchbacks and unbeatable scenery make this one of the most thrilling drives in the state.

Goosenecks State Park

The turnoff forGoosenecks State Parkis on Highway 261 about 8 miles south of the Moki Dugway on the right (on your left if coming up from U.S. 163). It would be a shame to miss this fascinating attraction. The overlook at the park will reward you with one of the most impressive views of entrenched river meanders in all of North America. The San Juan River snakes for more than 5 miles here in its deeply cut canyon to cover just 1 mile as the crow flies. There is a nice picnic area with a few primitive campsites (free) here but no water. When done with these side trips, return south to U.S. 163.

Mexican Hat

The namesake formation for the town ofMexican Hatis actually about 1.5 miles north of town on the left, well marked and with good dirt roads leading right to it. Local legend tells of the love of a young Mexican vaquero for a Native American maiden who, alas, was already married to an evil old medicine man. When the medicine man learned of the affair, he turned the vaquero to stone. If the rock doesn’t seem to look much like a sombrero to you, it might help the illusion to consider it to be upside down, suggesting the medicine man first turned his rival on his head. Behind the sombrero is an interesting geologic formation called the Navajo Rug, a wavy pattern in the cliff strata.

The little town of Mexican Hat has depended largely on several minor oil and mining booms; today it benefits from the fair stream of tourists to this remote corner of Utah. This is home base for several land and river tour companies and makes a good base for exploring the surrounding wilderness areas, though lodging is scarce.

EnteringNavajo Land

From Mexican Hat, cross the San Juan River and, as the sign says, you are entering Navajo land. The Utah section of the 25,000-acreNavajo Nationis home to a small portion of the Navajo’s nearly 300,000 members. While the Navajo have long been considered one of the most peaceful of the Native American nations, during the middle part of the 19th century they were a fierce and powerful people who caused more trouble for the invading white Anglo-Americans than almost any other indigenous group.

In 1864, after a long period of hostility between the Navajo and white settlers, the Navajo were forcibly evicted from their home in the Four Corners region and made to march east across New Mexico. When these attempts at forced relocation ultimately failed, the Navajo were allowed to return to their traditional home.

Today the Navajo are a friendly, hospitable people, proud of their desert home, rich culture, and beautiful crafts. The Navajo Nation depends greatly on tourism, and they are happy to share their land and demonstrate their culture. Still, the perpetual wave of tourism must at times seem annoying; perhaps some feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that the homeland for which they struggled so hard remains subject to constant invasion, albeit of a more friendly sort.

As soon as you climb out of the San Juan gorge, the views ofMonument Valleyspread out before you, turning your front window into an oversize, moving postcard. The next 25 miles are among the most attractive highway stretches in the entire country, memorialized in many films over the years.

After 21 miles you reach the well-marked turnoff on the left for the tribal visitor center at Monument Valley. This intersection is like an open-air shopping mall for souvenirs — most, except for the glorious handmade rugs, made in China or Mexico — and Native American art and food. From here it is 4 miles to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The Monument Valley visitor center and scenic drive are actually on the Arizona side of a dividing line that is only nominal on the reservation. Good literature on the park and the drive is available at the visitor center.

The entrance fee for Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is $10 per person or $20 per vehicle up to four people ($6 each additional). Children 9 and younger are free. Private vehicles are allowed to enter the park as far as the main viewpoint at the visitor center. In addition, 25 private vehicles at a time are allowed on the 17-mile Tribal Valley Loop. Entrance to the loop is regulated by a free permit upon arrival; permits are first come, first served. On the unpaved roads of the scenic drive, high-clearance vehicles are recommended. Guided tours are available, and may be a quicker way to gain access to the Tribal Valley Loop. The visitor center parking lot teems with local jeep tour companies, eager to whisk you off on guided tours of varying duration and difficulty. The valley’s more out-of-the-way spots can only be reached with a guide, but you can hike theWildcat Trailto get an up-close view of some monuments.

Scenic driving information adapted fromScenic Driving Utah(Globe Pequot Press).

5 Stops Along The Monument Valley Scenic Drive (2024)


How long does it take to do the scenic drive at Monument Valley? ›

The drive through Monument Valley covers a 17-mile (27 km) loop road. Most people spend about 3 hours driving through Monument Valley, but some people spend as little as 2 hours or even longer than 4 hours.

What is the best route to drive through Monument Valley? ›

From the Arizona border, Scenic Byway 163 travels northeast through Monument Valley past Mexican Hat and then ends in Bluff, Utah. The redrock desert and spires of scenic Monument Valley have been the setting for countless movies and advertisem*nts.

Is it worth driving through Monument Valley? ›

You can learn about the Navajo Nation and pay for a guided tour to embrace Monument Valley with the Navajo people. You can take a road trip through Monument Valley via Highway 163, passing Forrest Gump Point, Hollywood movie scenes, and stunning rock formations.

Can you drive through Monument Valley on your own? ›

If you're planning a trip near the region, a self-guided drive through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park will bring you the best of nature's wonderland–from gorgeous red rock creations to towering spires and buttes. And if you're wondering can you drive through Monument Valley, the answer is yes, and it's easy to do!

Can you drive the 17 mile loop in Monument Valley? ›

While visiting the Monument Valley, you will need to try the 17-mile loop drive for a view of the scenic beauty and magnificent formations.

Where is the best part of Monument Valley? ›

John Ford's point

This is probably the most iconic spot on the loop. Named after film director John Ford, who filmed Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande amongst others in the Monument Valley area. Here, you can even mount a horse to get that well known photo overlooking Merrick Butte.

What is the famous road to Monument Valley? ›

The length of US 163 in Utah has been designated the Bluff to Monument Valley Scenic Byway by the Utah State Legislature and forms part of the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway.

How long does it take to drive from page to Monument Valley? ›

Monument Valley is a 2-2.5 hour drive, one way, from Page, Arizona. Simply proceed South on Coppermine Road, then turn left on Highway 98 East, past Antelope Canyon.

What is the best time of day to see Monument Valley? ›

Most people will drive through Monument Valley in the middle of the day, but I think the best time to visit is the early morning or late afternoon. The rocks seem to change colour throughout the day and I definitely think sunrise and sunset was when they looked their best.

What is the best town to stay in for Monument Valley? ›

Kayenta, the best place to stay near Monument Valley

Kayenta is another option for you to book accommodation in Monument Valley. This town is about a 25-minute drive from the park and has all the amenities you'll need.

Is it worth staying overnight at Monument Valley? ›

Conclusion. Staying overnight in Monument Valley is more than worth it for those seeking to fully experience the beauty, culture, and tranquility of this iconic landscape.

How long does it take to drive Monument Valley Scenic Drive? ›

A self-guided Monument Valley tour on the scenic drive should take between two and four hours, depending on how long you spend at each overlook.

How long do I need in Monument Valley? ›

Sure, it's possible to drive right through Monument Valley, visiting the main sites in just two or three hours, but if you really want to explore it, consider spending at least one day here. We were surprised at how much there is to do in Monument Valley.

How many cars are allowed in Monument Valley? ›

Private vehicles are allowed to enter the park as far as the main viewpoint at the visitor center. In addition, 25 private vehicles at a time are allowed on the 17-mile Tribal Valley Loop.

Can you do Monument Valley in one day? ›

Monument Valley is an iconic Navajo Tribal Park located on the Utah-Arizona border. It is a stop that many people miss on their Utah road trip adventures, but I highly recommend spending one full day there (you don't need any longer) to experience its beauty.

How long does it take to drive from Monument Valley to Page? ›

Monument Valley is a 2-2.5 hour drive, one way, from Page, Arizona.

How long does it take to play Monument Valley? ›

When focusing on the main objectives, Monument Valley is about 1½ Hours in length. If you're a gamer that strives to see all aspects of the game, you are likely to spend around 2½ Hours to obtain 100% completion.

What is the best time of day to go to Monument Valley? ›

Most people will drive through Monument Valley in the middle of the day, but I think the best time to visit is the early morning or late afternoon. The rocks seem to change colour throughout the day and I definitely think sunrise and sunset was when they looked their best.

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