Monument Valley is arguably one of the most photogenic places on the planet. But a large portion of it is off-limits without a guide. To gain special access to the backcountry, you may want to consider a Monument Valley sunrise tour.

There are two types of sunrise tours: basic tours and special photography tours, and you have several different companies to choose from for either type. Photography tours are more expensive, going for about $125 per person, while regular tours cost around $90. 

Monument Valley sunrise tours generally last from around 6:00-9:00, during which you’ll be driven around to some of the backcountry’s most scenic areas.

I chose a photography tour with Philips’ Photography Tours, and you can see the top photos from the outing below. For more info on booking your tour, if a Monument Valley sunrise tour is even worth it, and the best places to stay in the region, be sure to check the end of the article.

Sunrise at the Totem Pole

Waking up at a less-than-ideal 4:30 am, we got ready and drove from Mexican Hat, Utah to The View Hotel to meet our guide at 6:00 am. Sunrise was scheduled to take place a little before seven, and once in the van, we’d need time to make it to our first destination: the aptly-titled Totem Pole.

Monument Valley Sunrise Photography Tour

While I signed up for a group tour, nobody else booked except for me and my travel companion, so the tour was essentially private. But as just about every sunrise tour stops here, you won’t have the Totem Pole to yourself. Luckily, the area is big enough that not everyone is stepping on each other’s toes.

Our guide gave me some helpful tips on where to set up my tripod to best catch the light, which isn’t quite as obvious as one might think.

Note that if you’re doing a photography tour, you will definitely want to bring a tripod along, and you can learn about my budget travel tripod recommendations below.

Monument Valley Sunrise Photography Tour
Monument Valley Sunrise Photography Tour
Monument Valley Sunrise Photography Tour

After waiting around for a while and enjoying the silence, the sun finally began to appear through the gap between the totem pole and the formations next to it.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

It was a very cool sight indeed, but my favorite shots of the Totem Pole were actually those a bit before sunrise. If I’m being honest, I think sunrise photography in general is overrated, and the real magic is just before sunrise and the golden hour period after it. 

Fortunately, we’d still have a couple of hours and several destinations to visit when the lighting would be at its best.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

While I’d largely been focusing on the Totem Pole itself during the sunrise, I looked around and realized how beautiful the surrounding area was once the sun was finally in the sky.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

The Petroglyphs & More

Back in the van, our guide drove us to an area mainly known for its ancient petroglyphs and an arch called the Sun’s Eye. The glyphs were carved here many centuries ago by a group known as the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans.

The Puebloans were behind many of the Southwest’s top archaeological sites, like Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. While they mysteriously abandoned their cities around 1300 AD, their descendants live on as tribes like the Hopi.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour
Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

Monument Valley, of course, is now inhabited by the Navajo and is part of the Navajo Nation. While the Navajo and Puebloans didn’t always get along in the past, modern-day Navajo treat Anasazi petroglyphs and ruins with great reverence and respect.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

One of the main downsides of taking an established photography tour is that everyone’s going to end up with more or less the same shots. But sometimes certain conditions can change, opening up rare photo opportunities that few others get to experience.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

This happened to be the case during my visit, which occurred after several days of unusually heavy rain in the area. And certain sections that were normally dry were now flooded with rainwater.

What resulted was an amazing reflection of the nearby mesa in the large puddle below – a rare shot of Monument Valley with water in it.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

The Ear of the Wind

Our next stop was a place called Ear of the Wind, which is another arch. While you won’t see a single arch in the main Monument Valley Scenic Drive area, they’re abundant in the backcountry.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

What makes this particular arch so photogenic is that there happens to be a dead tree in front of it whose branches form a Y. And from the correct angle, one can view the hole of the arch directly in the middle of the Y.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour
Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

The guide, of course, will immediately tell you where to stand to see this vantage point (the spot to stand is even marked with a small x!). Needless to say, it’s not as satisfying as discovering it on your own, but it’s still a very cool view regardless – especially during golden hour.

Also nearby was yet another scenic arch known as Mocassin Arch.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

Even More

While I’m not entirely sure, I was under the impression that, ordinarily, the tour would be over by this point. But perhaps because there was no one else in our group, we were doing good on time and were allowed to make one more stop.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

While I’m not sure if this particular area has a name, we passed by a place full of numerous interesting boulders. In the distance, meanwhile, was the Three Sisters, one of the Monument Valley Scenic Drive’s most well-known landmarks.

While everyone will surely see it from closer up on the loop road, it was cool to see from this interesting alternative perspective.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour
Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

And that wrapped up the tour. Our guide and driver drove us back to the meeting spot around 9:00, and we still had the full day ahead of us. 

If you only have one day in the region, you can easily squeeze in a Monument Valley sunrise tour before the Scenic Drive and Valley of the Gods later in the day. You could also consider a sunset tour at Mystery Valley the previous evening.

But all these tours, of course, start to add up. Is a Monument Valley sunrise tour really necessary to get the full experience? Learn more below.

Monument Valley Sunrise Tour

Additional Info

As mentioned above, various companies offer these tours, while you’ll find both photography tours and regular sunrise tours.

Regular sunrise tours typically go for around $90, and you can easily book online. This three-hour Monument Valley sunrise tour has hundreds of positive reviews, while this is another highly-rated option.

In regards to photography tours, the two main options seem to be Philips’ Photography Tours ($125) and Navajo Spirit Tours ($150), which you can book by contacting the companies directly.

If you’re serious about photography, then a photography tour is worth the extra money. While I haven’t been on a regular sunrise tour, I can confirm that you won’t feel rushed on a photography tour and will have ample time to set up your tripod and get the shots you need.

In addition to the Monument Valley sunrise photography tour, I also took a Mystery Valley tour the previous evening. In the end, I think they were both worth it.

But when you factor in accommodation costs, things can really start to add up. If you can’t afford a tour, don’t feel like you’re completely missing out. Looking back, I still would’ve been perfectly happy had I only done the Monument Valley Scenic Drive ($8) and the Valley of the Gods loop road (free) during my visit.

With that being said, few who book these tours regret it.

As beautiful as Monument Valley is, it can be difficult to plan a trip here due to how expensive it is. The prices of staying within Monument Valley itself are astronomical. 

And given its remote location, when it comes to towns outside of Monument Valley, there are only a couple of options: Kayenta, Arizona and Mexican Hat, Utah.


First, let’s cover some of the popular options in Monument Valley itself for those who aren’t on a tight budget. The most iconic hotel in the area is Goulding’s Lodge, founded by Harry Goulding, the man who helped turn Monument Valley into a tourist destination in the 1920s.

The View is another popular option, and as its name suggests, guests can enjoy a stunning view of Monument Valley’s buttes from the hotel itself. As such, it’s more expensive than Goulding’s Lodge.

The cheapest option within Monument Valley is to camp or stay in your own RV. Some of these campgrounds are managed by The View and Goulding’s, so it’s best to contact the hotels directly about your reservation.

Monument Valley KOA is another camping option.

If you’re looking to rent an RV for your trip, consider using a site like Outdoorsy.


I stayed in the oddly-named town of Mexican Hat, Utah to the north of Monument Valley. The drive from town to the Monument Valley Visitor Center takes about thirty minutes.

Mexican Hat is named after its rock formation that resembles a Mexican sombrero, while the area is also home to Valley of the Gods, a scenic drive which many dub ‘Mini Monument Valley.’

I spent a single night at San Juan Inn. While it was double the price of almost everywhere else I stayed on my Southwest trip, it was still cheaper than anything else I could find. Conveniently, the hotel also has an attached restaurant.

For whatever reason, San Juan Inn is not on Booking, but you can find it on Hotels or book with them directly.


Kayenta is about thirty minutes south of Monument Valley, and the town only has a few options: Hampton Inn KayentaWetherill Inn and Kayenta Monument Valley Inn.

I can’t claim to be an expert on tripods, as I always prefer shooting handheld unless a tripod is absolutely necessary (like during sunrise at Monument Valley).

Luckily, compact travel tripods exist that are both lightweight and easy to carry around. But as stability is such an important issue when it comes to a tripod, you really have to be careful with what you buy. A shaky tripod can even make your photos turn out worse than if you were just shooting handheld.

After a lot of research on many different brands and models of travel tripods, I ended up going with the SIRUI Carbon Fiber Travel 5C Tripod, which sells for just over $100.

Now having used it in various locations, I’m satisfied with the way my photos have come out, while it’s also relatively easy to travel with.

You also want to make sure you have a shutter release for long exposure shots, and I can recommend the affordable Kiwifotos RS-80N3.

If you’re not on such a big budget, a very popular model right now is the Peak Design Travel Tripod. I also saw K&F tripods mentioned a lot during my research.

*Note: The above recommendations are solely for DSLR/Mirrorless camera users.

Monument Valley is quite remote and the only way to reach it is to drive. There are no major airports nearby, with the closest being Phoenix or Albequerque – both about five hours away by car.

As such, most people visit Monument Valley as one stop of a longer Southwest itinerary. Many visitors come from places like Moab or southwest Colorado, home to Mesa Verde National Park. Page, Arizona (home to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and other sites) is also just a couple of hours away.

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